View from the office – Mt Stirling

October 17, 2008 09:55 by Tracey-Ann Hooley

MV camera hard at work on Mt Stirling
Image credit: Benjamin Healley. Source: Museum Victoria

It doesn’t get much better than this if you love mountains and fieldwork!  The alarm goes off at a startlingly early 4.30am and a glance out through the window of the hut reveals a dark, dark, far-from-the-city sky bursting with stars. The Southern Cross and Pointers are just to the right of the big Snowgum and we’re looking out towards the east.  No sign yet, but sunlight will soon be spilling across the horizon and into the first of several thousand photos in Ben’s time-lapse sequence for the day.
We head to the summit, kicking steps in the snow.  It’s still too dark to make out colours in the little line of prayer flags strung across the summit cairn, but the wind shooting up the mountain flicks their shapes violently.  And it’s cold, very cold!  The camera is already in position by the outcrop of granite boulders and, after clearing the ice from the protective casing, Ben soon has it warmed up and clicking away at 10-second intervals.

We’re on the summit of Mt Stirling to capture our ‘hero image’ for the alpine section of the new exhibition. We’re after a sense of seasonal change, trying to represent those complete transformations that shape life in the mountains. In winter, this place is a snow-encased, blizzard swept, environment with few obvious signs of life – an occasional Pied Currawong call, here and there a scattering of Gang-gang Cockatoo chewed gumnuts, some squiggles left on the snow by telemark skiers.  But things change very quickly up here and soon all the snow will have melted away to reveal a rich diversity of alpine life.  In this environment plants race against time to grow and reproduce – we’ve already found some Alpine Marsh Marigolds flowering under the ice waiting for the very first chance of pollination.  Later in the year bushwalkers and mountain bikers will relax on the summit after a decent climb up, and the shrubs, grasses and Snowgums will be filled with a feeding frenzy of robins, honeyeaters, swallowtails, crickets, skinks and many other creatures feasting while conditions are good.

We’ll make several visits here between now and August next year, each time to get a full dawn-to-dusk run of shots that can be edited into sequence - first snowfall, mid-winter, spring melt, first flowering, late flowering, first snowfall…  And hopefully we can capture some of those remarkable contradictions and contrasts that mountains give us - the blanketing silence when snow falls and the cacophonous cascading when it melts, the glaring heat and breathtaking cold, the sense of vulnerability and of invincibility that you sometimes have when you’re up here, the macro-lens details in the flora and those wide, wide angle views out across ridges of blue towards infinity.

The camera keeps clicking away and Ben adjusts the settings as sunlight creeps into the corner of the shot and starts to reflect off the snow. It’s warming up at last and the first coffee of the day is not too far away.