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The Great Southland - Ken Duncan’s passion for God’s creation

By Don Gillespie

Technical Aspects:
Equipment:
Nikon F90 as a light meter and 'to grab a few 35mm shots along the way:
Linhof 6175: 90mm lens
'My main camera:
Noblex
Pro 6/150U 135U
Linhof tripod.
Film: Fuji Velvia
Vehicle: Toyota Landcruiser

Ken Duncan is well known for his incredible photographs of Australia. His landscapes are unequalled anywhere in the world. When Ken takes a photograph, he is not just taking a `photograph'. Waiting sometimes weeks at a particular site, he first starts to learn what the Lord is trying to show him about this particular area, and then endeavours to capture the spirit of the land before him.

In the USA, he is known as the Ansell Adams in colour. Upon the release of his latest book The Great South Land, Ken talks about the environment, dreamtime, spirituality, photography and his driving passion for God's creation, this Planet called Earth. Ken's home and studio are nestled in a deeply wooded area of the Central Coast of New South Wales. We sat around the dining room table and talked for several hours. Dominating the wall of the dining room was a panograph" of a scene from Africa, from a series of photographs taken for a book for World Vision.

Tell me about your latest book `The Great South Land'.

The Great South Land is one of the most exciting books I've ever done, because to me this is speaking the prophetic statement that was spoken over this land originally by the Portuguese when they first came here. I forget the name of the guy but he called it Tierra Austrialia Del Espiritu Santo, which means The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that is a prophetic statement that has been spoken over Australia that will come to pass, so that's why I wanted to give the book that name. I believe that Australia is going to become the Great South Land, but it's only going to happen when Christians start to move in unity and allow the Holy Spirit to move throughout this nation.

What I've tried to do is not preach with words, but try and really show the awesomeness of God, Creator, to this nation. In His Word, in Romans 1:20, it says that through His creation He shows Himself, so that men are without excuse. It's not just for the saved, it's more for the unsaved, which is the majority of Australia.

There's one particular shot in there called Tears for a Nation, which is a prophetic statement over this nation. God is grieving about the division that's happening in this nation between black and white and between Christians. I don't think anyone can say there's unity in the body of Christ right now, and we need to really work at that, because until we can show unity in our relationships as Christians, how are we ever going to bring unity to the larger picture? I believe the only thing holding up revival is us, at this moment. The Christians have the answers and I believe the book is going to stir up a lot of people. The book itself is dedicated to the Holy Spirit.

I don't believe we're ever going to save this nation until people realise that we're all going to have to give an account to God. Politicians and movie stars think they're accountable to nobody but themselves, but one day every man will have to give an account.

In the end God's not going to say to me, `I loved your pictures', He's just going to ask me, `What did you do with the Son?' and that's what it all comes down to. I really try and make people look beyond themselves and I think creation does that. As Christians I think we should be very conservation minded because this is our Father's handiwork we're destroying. So at the same time, the book is also about protecting the land because, and this is going to sound very funny to a lot of people, I believe the land holds the stories of what's happened. I've spent a lot of time with aboriginals, before I became a Christian, and I think as Christians we can learn a lot from the aboriginals about the reality of the spiritual realm.

Often, as Christians, we talk about this wonderful guy Jesus who did all these miracles years and years ago, and occasionally we see little glimpses of that, whereas I believe God wants us to go beyond little glimpses and really open up that whole spiritual dimension. With the aboriginals, they're more interested in seeing who you are spiritually than what you've got to say, because they have great spiritual discernment. You can go out there and preach a great sermon, but it doesn't really mean anything, because they're looking to see the reality of who God is in you and they want to know that He's bigger than Dreamtime, or the gods they've been serving.

I believe there are certain shots in the book which, when people look at them, will touch them. It won't be because my photography is great, but because I believe it captured a moment of God's creation, just one of His little moments.

Ken, there's a fantastic photograph of Kangaroo Island in the book. How did that come about?

Well, this is an example of trusting in God, because I spoke to a lot of my photographer friends about going down to Kangaroo Island and they said, `Ken, not this time of the year. It's too dry.' I really felt at peace to go, so I went. When I first arrived there, I thought maybe they were right, but I had a peace from the Lord about it.

I was looking for a particular place someone had told me about and I tried to get there, but the gate was locked, so I went to a farmer nearby and said, `Look, I want to get down to this place called Snug Cove.' He said, 'I-can probably get you there tomorrow, but while you're here, would you like to look at the little cove on my property?'

I didn't want to offend the farmer, so I went, and there was this awesome place. The next day we went down to Snug Cove and it was boring by comparison. It is the way God works. Often you can aim for one thing, but always have to be prepared to go where God wants you, not where you were going.

That's how we got that shot. Without the drought, you wouldn't have had that yellow grass, so that contrast is because of the drought. I saw that little boat in there as the refuge in the barren place.

King George Falls is a great photograph.

The page just after the acknowledgement page is called King George Falls. I was camping for a couple of days, and just watching it, drinking it in, beautiful, pristine wilderness, 300 kms from the nearest humanity. God gave me such clarity. I was talking to the Lord like a best friend. I understood the fact of walking in the cool of the evening with the Lord because it was the evening which seemed to be the most powerful time.

The grandeur of this place - and I was the only person there before these people just happened to come in. I praise God that they did, because it gave me perspective and a reference point. It was hard to actually take photographs, because I was enjoying the experience too much. The pristine wilderness areas are still Gardens of Eden, I believe. We all know what happened to Adam, because he ate the apple. Well, we're much more advanced and we just clear fell the whole forest! That's what's really sad. You can drink this water, it's crystal clear! Now we buy water in plastic bottles. This is just insanity.

You said before the land holds a lot of stories.

When I say the land holds a story, a lot of Christians have got a shocking attitude towards conservation. You know, `Jesus is returning anyhow, so let's just trash the whole lot, because it doesn't matter. It's all going to get destroyed in the end.' And that is disgusting. The thing is that this is the Garden of Eden, and when you go into pristine wilderness, you can feel the presence of God so strongly it's just unbelievable. Now, the world is trying to destroy this earth, because it's having to continually deal with the fact of God's presence. It's like God's signature there and they just want to mess it up.

Australia is probably one of the lands with the greatest amount of pristine wilderness still left, yet I've been very outspoken in this book, because there's clear felling of forests down in Tasmania, of huge trees, 700 year old trees. That is just insanity that we can even think of allowing that to happen.

At present they're trying to dam rivers up in the Kimberleys. In the past I've just been concentrating on showing the beauty of God's creation, but now I'm starting to get a bit outspoken, because I've had enough. They're trying to wipe away my Father's handiwork and I'm sick of it, because these are signs of an awesome God, of how beautifully He does things. Being a Christian is about trusting in God, but also being practical in the real world and using whatever gifts you've got to bring glory to Him, but also to care for what's happening.

This book we're doing here is the beginning of a series and the next one I believe will be America.

Tell me, how did the idea of an American book come up?

One night at 3 o'clock in the morning, when God knew He would get my attention, I was woken up, and He said, `If America takes In God We Trust off their money, I will abandon them as a nation'. I just thought, `God, why don't you tell an American?' I love Australia. I don't want to go to America, but God laid this on my heart, so I just thought, `Well Lord, what do you want me to do?'

I woke up the next morning and it was still so real, I couldn't forget it. So I thought, `Okay God, if you want this to happen, I'll start walking in that direction, but what do you want me to do?' He said, `I want you to go and walk the land, get the stories and find out just what's going on.' So that's what I started to do and God is now opening doors in America for me. I believe in America it's not God they trust at all at present. That was the foundation, but it has become In Money We Trust. It's so important for America to stand, because America is like a symbol of godliness, of the blessings of God upon a nation, and I believe it's at a crossroads right now.

One thing I've found about God is that He stretches you, always stretches you beyond your wildest imagination. I'd like to stay comfortably in Australia, but God's not into comfort and I know that, because comfort is probably the greatest killer of Christianity.

So the next book is another one of a series?

Yes. The Great South Land has set the format now. When I went over there, I was with the Navajos and it was exactly the same as it's been with my aboriginal friends. You have the Indians who have the earth base and the white people. We've got to learn from each other.
After the great flood, the Bible talks about people going off to populate various parts of the world. Now they all took with them then the knowledge of God. When I was with the aboriginal elders, they said to me, `The reason white man came is because the aboriginals departed from their knowledge of God and were into a lot of immorality and all sorts of stuff.' You don't hear this of course, because everybody's trying to glorify Dreamtime mythology.

White man, because he looks at things intellectually, has been constantly fighting about the Bible for centuries now. People still argue about certain texts, but the Bible has been kept pure. But in doing that, they've lost the ability to actually move in the spiritual understanding of that Word.

But the aboriginals understand the spiritual realm. Man, they've been living it, they've been in it and that's reality to them, more so than the Word, and He's brought us together, that we may learn from each other.

When we actually get on with that job, we're going to see a phenomenal revival and I believe it's going to happen in the aboriginal people, but there aren't enough Christians doing anything with the aboriginal people. Occasionally Christians do the Christianly thing and go and do a crusade with them. Well, that's really great, but what about going out and working alongside them, being a doctor, being a nurse, just being part of their community and showing Christianity in their lifestyle, because to aboriginals, that means more than a guy coming in with his big tent doing a crusade.

They have this expression called `walk a while', which means that if you're prepared to walk with me a while, I'll walk with you, and that means that you care. We're all rushing off to Russia and other places, which is great, but in our own back yard, we've got people having to come out here, rushing here to do the work for us! It's ridiculous!

What do you think about the restrictions that are being placed on photographers at the sacred sites, such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta?
Well, I'll probably become a test case for that at some stage, because how can you copyright creation? I mean, get a grip! I have a very good relationship with the aboriginals out there and they let me into places that most people wouldn't be. I've been into all these sacred areas, because I was allowed in there by the tribal people.

If you read on from Romans 1:20, it says `but rather than worship the Creator, they began to worship the creation'. It also talks about sexual immorality, homosexuality, all of that. That's what's happening, this is where we are. We are living Romans 1:20 onwards.

I'm often out there with the tribal elders and when I was out there recently, I asked, `Who made the snake (Rainbow Serpent)?' They can't answer that! We do not come from the belly of the snake, we are created people. Christians should not embrace Dreamtime mythology. It is totally not from God, it is demonic. I don't care what anyone says. A lot of Christians have these great opinions on Dreamtime mythology. They've never walked it.
Although there are some truths in the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, it's like everything. Satan starts with a lot of good and then as you go further on, you lose all that until you finally realise who you're serving.

When I went back to Uluru, because I'd known the power of the Dreamtime, it was very important to me to know the Power of God. I don't expect God to do party tricks or anything like that, although he is my personal lighting technician.

Because I'm a professional photographer, I had to write down on my application form why I was there. I wrote I m here to shoot Uluru in the rain, because that's what I really wanted. They just laughed at me and said, `Look, you are here at the wrong time of the year for rain, plus there are no weather patterns that are going to give you rain, so good luck!' On the second or third day there, all of a sudden these clouds just came from nowhere and it started to pour and I got that shot, Tears for a Nation, a prophetic shot.

The cover shot is called Heart of a Nation. I was there at the time with my father, which was great, to share with him. Behind me are huge storms and Dad was looking at these storms, and he said, `Son, look, there's no way you're going to get the sun through today.' I'm saying, 'But Dad, I really believe God is going to do it.' It's not that my father's not a great man of God, but he just said, `Well, that's really good, I'll go back to the car and I'll meet you there when you get there.'

He was walking away and then all of a sudden, the sunset found a hole in the cloud. I got all these pinks and pastels and reds coming off the rock and it was just about 15 seconds of light. My Dad turned around and just looked at me, and he knew, the same as me, that it was divine intervention. I had to see the power of God compared to the other power. God is just awesome!

Another shot in this book is a shot of Kata Tjuta from an angle that very few photographers are allowed to shoot now, but the aboriginals said I could go in there. And what happened? A rainbow appeared for a couple of seconds, then went. The rest of the day was overcast. It was just an awesome time. Our Godis far more powerful than anything of the Navajo, or the Dreamtime. But we've got to learn from each other, and I think the aboriginals helped me to walk in the reality of the good and bad of the spiritual realm, more so than I'd learned in churches.

Are there any particular photographers that you look up to?

Not really, no. I dedicated a shot to a guy called Peter Dombrovskis, who's an Australian guy, who did some great stuff down in Tasmania.
Ansell Adams was good in America and when I go over there, they refer to me as the Ansell Adams in colour. But no, I've never really looked at other photographers' work a lot, because I find that it's like listening to too many of other people's sermons. You end up doing it like them. Whatever comes across my face, I believe it's of God, because He shows me things I don't actively go and seek.

Who in your life has been your greatest motivator?

My wife, Pam, she's great. We're a team really. A lot of what we do is a joint effort. She's really good with the business side and frees me up in that area. Also, a couple of good friends like Peter Garrett, who's been a good friend and motivator.

You took what is now that classic photograph of Midnight Oil. How did that come about?

I spent three years in the bush and everybody wondered where I'd been. Because I'd had everything, people thought I'd flippped out. When I came back people were interested and wanted to know
what I'd been doing.

The manager of Midnight Oil, a friend of mine, called me in, and I showed him some shots and I happened to show Peter some of the shots and they said, `Wow, this is really cool. We'd really like to use one of these for our album cover.' So that's what happened, they used one for Diesel to Dust, and then they asked me one day, `Can you do some rock and roll shots?' I wasn't really into that but I ended up doing it and winning International Music Photographer.

I only ever shot one band, never shot any others, and I probably won because I didn't know what I was meant to be doing. Mate, it's so different. I had all these international magazines ring me up saying, `Can you please send me your portfolio. We've never heard of your stuff before and we'd really like to do some work with you.' And I'd say, `Well, I only shoot one band, Midnight Oil.' I had offers to do others, but I wasn't interested, because I really wanted to shoot God's creation.

What's your hobby?

Photography. I love taking photos, I just love it.

So it's business, relaxation, everything?

Well, my photography is probably the time that I'm closest to God. I'm out for say three weeks at a time and it takes me n little time to get into it, but I really start feeling things around me, really tuning in and I can probably be, not hard to be with, but I'm preoccupied.

You've lost a toe, you've suffered hypothermia. Isn't that a little crazy?

God has been just awesome and I think the only way you'd ever find that ‘I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me’ is to put it to the test. People see art galleries and things like that, and they say, ‘Oh, wow, he's really going for it.’ But you know, just by doing this book we put everything on the line. Publishing a book like this is a big expense and to get the price to do it we had to order 15,000, so if something went wrong, well, you've just blown it. But the thing is, if God says to do it, you've got to do it.

Now with America, He wants us to do it and that's a huge step for us, but if He wants it, we'll do it. So, you've got to be prepared, I believe, always to put it all back on the line. I've been rich and I've been poor, and being poor is pretty easy really. You really know who your friends are and it sorts out a lot of things. I've had people tell me to be careful because I could lose everything. I said, `Look, I can't lose everything I've got, because you know, I can't lose Jesus. You can never take my treasure. My treasure is Jesus, not my possessions.'

How did you get into photography?

When I was about sixteen, I went to a Christian camp of technology in the city and there were two courses, photography and electronics. Electronics didn't do much for me so I chose photography.

I went out and took some photos, I'll never forget it, and then the next minute, we're back in this lab processing them and I'm seeing this print come up in a tray. That was it for me! From that moment on, my schoolwork, everything, came second. I just wanted to take photos.

When I left school, a friend and I were told by a teacher that we were the least likely to succeed. Years later, I met up with this friend and he was General Manager of Channel 9 at the time. There we were talking about a million dollar project - two people who weren't meant to succeed in life! So, God can do anything. My favorite scripture is I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.

What are you doing next?

I've got to shoot two books for the Olympics, one on Sydney and one on Australia, so people coming can see the environmental aspects of Sydney and of Australia, and then I'll be mainly shooting America, so that's where we're going right now.

Ken Duncan Galleries: Sydney:
73 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW. (02) 9241 3460
Central Coast:
5740 Oak Road, Matcham, NSW. (02) 4367 6777
Melbourne:
Shop U6 Southgate, Melbourne, Victoria.
(03) 9686 8022
Ken Duncan Gallery on-line: http:// www.kenduncan.com