The two-hour trip includes a half-hour stop at Etmilyn siding to allow for a short meandering loop walk around rocky pools and along forest tracks.
Ian Robertson heads to Dwellingup, south of Perth, to sample the many photographic delights of the Hotham Valley Railway’s unique Forest Train.
Life is a journey, not a destination,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, and this is certainly true in Dwellingup, a small town in the south-west of Western Australia. Previously a timber mill town, Dwellingup is situated a comfortable hour-and-a-half drive south of Perth within the Darling Ranges. Gazetted as a town in 1910, it’s named after the aboriginal word for a “place nearby water”. Still heavily forested from regrowth and situated alongside a waterway, you can see why Dwellingup was originally chosen for milling timber. The water supply was used to support the steam train which transported the timber in the early days.
Adjacent to the town centre is the visitor’s centre and railway station. This is the start to this journey as it’s now home to the Hotham Valley Railway’s collection of vintage steam and diesel locomotive trains which depart from the town to wind their way through verdant forest and valleys. The click-clack of the train wheels on the track resounds against the stillness of its surrounds, creating a restful, rhythmical experience.
We picked an ideal day... starting out with stormy, rain-bearing clouds which did indeed deliver on their promise. This is ideal, you ask? Yes, because after rains, the forest aroma permeates and coats the vegetation in a more saturated green.
This helps the photography aspect which, of course, is really why we are here. Sunny days create unwanted highlights on leaves and trunks which can be subdued by use of a polarising filter, but an overcast day is the ideal choice.
If you take your family – which includes grandchildren in my case – then you have a ready source of ‘people shots’ to add another dimension to the images you may capture. Including people can
help tell a story, provide scale to objects, merely add human interest to the scene, or provide a sense of space.
As we were to be in the middle of a forest, I decided to pack my Nikon D-SLR on which I’ve had the sensor converted to infrared B&W capture. Put simply, this makes green foliage appear as white and darkens blues. I was sure there would be some great contrasting opportunities with the trees and the rail stock. A soft ‘fairytale’ appearance can be created given the right balance of foliage and subject. As always, though, composition is paramount. Use foreground interest or suggested leading lines to give the sense of depth to your images.
There is no shortage of close-up detail photography among the rail paraphernalia. There were ideal colour contrasts with the red-andgreen locomotives and yellow-and-blue features in the carriages. Even a close-up of the brass numbers on the locomotive can be an effective image to capture. Before embarking or when the train stops at the halfway point are good times to take these shots as you, with safety in mind, wander around the train. The 30-kilometre journey passes previous mill settlements now defunct
since the beginning of the late 1800s when timbers such as jarrah, marri and blackbutt were first milled. Only signage remains, marking the location of these timber towns as they were not rebuilt after a massive forest fire in 1961 razed all, including Dwellingup. However, Dwellingup was the only town chosen to be rebuilt.
The two-hour trip includes a half-hour stop at Etmilyn siding to allow for a short meandering loop walk around rocky pools and along forest tracks. It is a relatively easy walk, skirting rocky pools and passing along wooded tracks. There are various clearings which afford pleasant compositions with forest backdrops. Look for patterns or balance in the tree trunks as a base for these images. If macro photography is of special interest, then take your tripod too as there are a number of flowers on show… with most being of the miniature variety.
AFTER THE RAIN
As always, though, composition is paramount. Use foreground interest or suggested leading lines to give the sense of depth to your images.
As mentioned earlier, visiting this area after rain makes for a wondrous assault on the senses. Then, in springtime, the wildflowers begin to bloom. Summer is more limited photographically mainly because it can get very hot and the railway journeys are limited to diesel runs only as there is too much risk of bushfires starting from the embers produced by the steam locomotives.
Use the full combination of all the types of shots described above to tell the story of this absorbing photographic adventure to whoever may view your images. Your pictures should tell the story of what it was like to be here... was it cold, wet, tranquil... without necessarily needing a narrative. That’s photography at work.
However, if you do wish to recount the day’s activities after the trip, then around the corner is The Wine Tree winery and cidery. A log fire and the relaxing sounds of Irish musicians jamming greeted us on our afternoon visit.
Make this area a specific destination or use it as part of Western Australia’s world-class 1000-kilometre Bibbulman Walk Track. If you are one of the two-wheel brigade, then Dwellingup may also attract you as it is part of the new Munda Biddi mountain bike trail.
Either way, Dwellingup and the Hotham Valley surrounds are a great place to dwell while indulging in your photographic passions.
The train waiting at the Etmilyn siding, captured in infrared.