ARNHEM LAND, Australia (Reuters) – We are deep in a forest crowded by Australian paperback trees, the air thick with humidity but eerily silent save for the screeching of tropical birds, when Marcus shouts: “Look, crocodiles!” As a Reuters photojournalist, I’m a trained observer, but I can’t see any crocs. I can’t see anything beyond mud and what little water is left in the small billabong. Aboriginal hunters Marcus and Roy, a father and son team, take off running past a herd of water buffalo and by the time I catch up Roy is standing ankle-deep in murky water, his shotgun pointed at the surface. Hang on a minute: wasn’t your son pointing at crocodiles in that water ten seconds ago? Is this safe?
Roy treads carefully as the water rises to his knees, seeming for a moment to lose sight of his prey. Then in one swift action he steps back, takes aim and shatters the outback calm, and a crocodile, with a single booming shotgun blast.
Gove, also known as Nhulunbuy, Australia
By David Gray
It’s around 10pm, and we have just entered the ‘Malay Road’, so named by English explorer Matthew Flinders to commemorate his meeting with “Malay” fishermen during his circumnavigation of Australia in 1803. Captain ‘Dusty’ Miller gives his patrolmen their final briefing in the bow of a landing craft sailing west along the coast of Arnhem Land. His indigenous soldiers seem extremely calm and relaxed to me, but then one, who is from an Aboriginal community located a long way from the coastal regions, asks to be excused and is violently sea sick for the rest of the journey. ‘He is simply not used to riding in boats’ is the explanation from a fellow soldier, who can’t help but laugh at his mates’ discomfort. ‘Dusty’ continues his briefing, and explains that the patrol’s orders are to look for signs of any illegal or unusual activity, which usually involves illegal fishing boats, in the area encompassing what are called The English Company’s Islands (named by Flinders after the East India Company). They will be part of Operation ‘RESOLUTE’, the Australian Defense Force’s contribution to the government effort to protect Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests.
Captain Miller and his four patrolmen, 33-year-old Lance Corporal Danny Daniels, 24-year-old Lance Corporal Vinnie Rami, 27-year-old Private Jonah Thinglere and 24-year-old Private Drew Perry, are Australian Army Reservists serving with the North West Mobile Force, the Regional Force Surveillance Unit better known as NORFORCE. Formed in 1981, this infantry regiment conducts reconnaissance and surveillance patrols in remote areas of Northern Australia, including the indigenous Aboriginal reserve known as Arnhem Land. It consists of 600 soldiers, which includes 60 regular army officers, and around 240 indigenous soldiers from remote Aboriginal communities. These indigenous soldiers are really what make this unit unique. Their local knowledge about the terrain, the flora and fauna, and the means to which these can be used to sustain their time out on patrol in the ‘bush’, make them an invaluable part of an army that performs active patrols in the largest area of operations of any military unit in the world – some 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) – that includes some of the most remote areas on earth.
S ISLANDS, Australia (Reuters) – A group of soldiers start to unload from two inflatable boats after a long, bumpy night-time journey off Australia’s northern coast, torches scanning the shoreline for the telltale red eye reflections of saltwater crocodiles.
A splash and a cry of “Croc!” sends two men scrambling back into the boats before a large ray reveals itself as the cause of the scare.
SOUTH TARAWA, Kiribati (Reuters) – The ocean laps against a protective seawall outside the maternity ward at Kiribati’s Nawerewere Hospital, marshalling itself for another assault with the next king tide.
Inside, a basic clinic is crowded with young mothers and newborn babies, the latest additions to a population boom that has risen as relentlessly as the sea in a deeply Christian outpost where family planning is still viewed with skepticism.
Kiribati, In the middle of the Pacific
By David Gray
The first sign you see of the equator-hugging central Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas), is a small patch of green that breaks the seemingly endless monotony of blue that is the Pacific Ocean. Tropical storm clouds fill the sky, rising so high you feel uncomfortably small. Descending, the tiny atolls that reach just a few meters above sea-level at their highest point and make up this small island nation, come into focus, and even from this height, it is obvious that land is an extremely precious commodity out here in the vastness of an ocean that is cut by the International Date Line.
The immigration check once you are inside the quaint arrival hall is made up of just two small palm-leaf stands marked “Visitors” and “Residents.” The rental car, which should be called a “borrow” car, is waiting for me in the dusty car lot out the front, with the key handover no more than an acknowledgment that I am staying at the motel I have named. Showing some identification, let alone a driver’s license, is not even a thought – just a welcoming smile and a handshake will suffice. I think it best to ask how to find the motel and I am told: “Well, just keep heading down the one road we have on the island, and you won’t miss it.”
By David Gray
I met Steven O’Donnell at his house in the outer suburbs of Canberra just before dusk. He had agreed to take me on what can be described as one of Australia’s most unpopular and controversial activities – kangaroo shooting.
By day Steve is a professional plumber, but by night he is a government-licensed kangaroo shooter whose job is to annually cull the kangaroo population, which is estimated at over 50 million. When we met Steve was quick to explain why the thousands of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, known locally as “roos” in the Australian Capital Territory, had to be culled. Mobs of kangaroos can quickly damage the environment and compete with livestock for scarce food, impacting the livelihood of farmers.
By David Gray
Starting last Wednesday, I have been riding my bike to the Japanese embassy in Beijing to cover protests against the Japanese government purchasing disputed islands in the East China Sea. These protests started off with just a few people – perhaps a few dozen – as ‘Beijingers’ are not used to being allowed to voice their opinions loudly (and most importantly, in large numbers) on the streets about anything.
The day it was announced that Japan had bought the islands, small groups of protesters were ushered into position by officials outside the main entrance to the embassy, and allowed to yell slogans and hold banners for around 10 minutes at a time. Some occasionally threw a water bottle or small stone over the gate, but they were quickly led away by plainclothes police with what can only be described as a ‘friendly’ warning.
By David Gray
I have been photographing Michael Phelps for over 8 years, which has included 3 Olympic Games and 3 World Swimming Championships and I have never seen him like this – a goldless man.
I even saw him in a race that for the first time did not result in a podium finish. And then the U.S. team only finished second in the 4X100M freestyle relay race, which included Phelps and his now great rival team mate, Ryan Lochte. I never thought this would be possible.
By David Gray
China never, ever fails to amaze. What better way to preserve a former Communist Party military leader’s cave headquarters, then to make it into a bar? Not just any bar, but a ‘Military Bar’, decorated with furniture made from old ordnance. What better way to use old artillery shells and land mines than to turn them into bar stools? Brilliant. It does make you ponder the question – now why didn’t I think of that?
Deep in the mountains west of Beijing, and extremely difficult to find, lies a cave where the former Communist military Marshal Lin Biao made his headquarters during certain military ‘disagreements’ with Russia in 1968. However, from this cave it is alleged he was also plotting the assassination of Chairman Mao Zedong. He died in 1971 when his plane mysteriously crashed in Mongolia, and shortly thereafter, he was officially condemned as a traitor by the Communist Party.
By David Gray
Blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng grabbed the world’s attention in April when he refused to leave the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping from his village where he was under home detention. The end result was that he and his wife were put on a plane to New York. Over the next few weeks, the Chen family that still lived in the family home were subjected to beatings and house raids by local plainclothes security personnel. During one of these raids, Chen’s nephew tried to stop the invaders, and as a result is in detention for attempted murder – a crime that carries the death penalty in China.
Just three weeks ago I photographed Guangcheng’s elder brother, Chen Guangfu, who had managed to slip out of the same village as his brother in an attempt to obtain a good lawyer for his son’s case. As I was photographing Guangfu he recounted the beating he had suffered as retaliation for his brother’s escape. He said he no longer has any feeling in his left hand. When the interview finished I thought I would probably never see this brave man again but when we received word it might be possible to visit his village, we headed straight there.