Photographer documents life in the drought-hit Murray-Darling basin: An Australia I had always dreamed about finding
Matthew Abbott was in a one-man tent about 20km outside Lightning Ridge when he began to feel a profound sense of unease. The Sydney photographer was documenting life in the hard-up towns in the drought-hit Murray-Darling basin, Australias longest river system; he had rocked up the day before to the Coocoran opal fields and befriended a man who lived in the miners camp.
Its sort of like a farmers property, but its more like a lawless town, Abbott explains. Its home to some of the roughest people you will come across in the state. One guy I photographed had done 20 years in prison for murder.
I was hanging out with this [other] guy; he had a family in [another town] and he was out there by himself. During the day he seemed normal, Abbott says but, as night fell, the man took to the bottle and his behaviour became increasingly erratic.
I left him about 11pm to go outside to my tent, says Abbott. By 2am, he says, the man was ranting, had become violent, and was breaking and throwing objects. Abbott sat alone in his flimsy tent, unsure of his next move. The only other person he knew in the town was the convicted murderer hed photographed earlier.
Coocoran is the kind of place where, if youre murdered, no one would ever find you, Abbott says. Theres thousands of opal holes, exploration shafts that go down 10 to 20 metres. I had been told by the locals that people go missing there all the time, normally over personal disputes and things, and they never find the bodies.
Deciding to cut his losses, Abbott crawled from his tent, yanked out the poles and hastily stuffed the fabric into his dust-covered 4WD Pajero. I burned out of there, he says.
But then I was lost in the middle of this place with no signage. Theres no lights, no internet, no phone reception, nothing. All I had was a compass and I just drove north-east. I ended up driving close to 40 minutes before I hit this main road.
Abbott says it was like a scene from the outback horror film Wake in Fright apocalyptic and full of shady characters it was an Australia I had always dreamed about finding.