Kati Thanda: An Ephemeral Landscape

From above, the ethereal landscape of Kati Thanda aka Lake Eyre is glorious. Pastel swirls of pink salt pans, long winding fingers of rivers reaching into the centre of the continent, and expanses of abstracted red earth suggest a vast, intriguingly beautiful place. From the earth, things are different. It’s flat and hot and the textures, patterns, and colours so clearly visible from above transform themselves into an endless mirage, the horizon always just a little further away.

Diametrum, by Luke Austin

Kati Thanda is as low as you can get in Australia (about 15 meters below sea level). It’s a sink of sorts – with rivers such as the Diamantina, Georgina, and Cooper Creek draining into it. No water ever drains out, it just evaporates, leaving a thick salty crust in its wake.

The rivers and creeks that feed the lake (which when full covers around 9500 square kilometres) are ephemeral – meaning they only run at certain times. Usually, like the lake itself, they’re dry. When they’re not and the lake fills, what once seemed a dry and inhospitable place is transformed into a salty wetland wonderland brimming with birds, fish, and invertebrate life, somehow all just appearing with the water.

Humans have been drawn to the mystery and beauty of Kati Thanda for thousands of years. Firstly the Arabana people – the traditional owners of the land on which Kati Thanda sits, and then Europeans like Edward John Eyre who checked it out in 1840 and after whom it’s named.

Artists have been transfixed by its enigmatic beauty for years too, with iconic Australian artist John Olsen returning time and again to paint it’s mystery and its stories.

Most recently, a group of landscape photographers called The Light Collective have captured the phenomenal natural beauty of Kati Thanda in a book called Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre: Interpretations from the Air. The images are purposely without sky or horizon line, encouraging viewers to interpret the shapes, colours, and textures in their own way. Like the landscape itself, they’re perplexing and incredibly beautiful, encouraging closer examination and exploration. “Lake Eyre’s immensity and complexity is illustrated in our images. It’s told through the detail of the landscape, rather than it’s obvious grandeur,” says photographer Paul Hoelen.

The book is the first in an ambitious trilogy called RGB after the colour space. Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre is Red, and they’re thinking about the Great Barrier Reef for Blue and the Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania for Green. “Some of our most amazing natural areas are disappearing,” Paul says. “If we can support their conservation by evoking a sense of connection through our imagery then we’re succeeding.”

All images supplied by The Light Collective.

River Run, by Paul Hoelen
Salt Stream, by Luke Austin
Intricate Artist, by Adam Williams
Bloom, by Adam Williams
Ascending, by Adam Williams
Alluvial Fan, by Paul Hoelen
Pink Moon, by Ignacio Palacios
Earth Alchemy, by Paul Hoelen
Cnidaria, by Luke Austin