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Pemberton Southern Forests Western Australia


Pemberton -film location for Jasper Jones

Visiting Pemberton Western Australia is like stepping back in time. It was the perfect location for the recent filming of Jasper Jones, starring Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving.

Pemberton is one of the few remaining south west towns  that still have surviving buildings from earlier times. Rustic timber mill houses, a main street, meeting halls and back alleyways all speak of yesteryear.

Pemberton mill town workers' cottages Pemberton, Western Australia
Mill workers' cottages

Pemberton Millhouse Cafe, Pemberton, Western Australia
Vintage cars on a jolly, stop at a main street cafe

Pemberton Misty morning karri forest near Pemberton Western Australia
Misty morning karri forest near town

A Brief History

Pemberton history goes back a long way. Nyoongar people hunted, gathered and traveled extensively throughout the region for thousands of years. By comparison Europeans have only been here for a blink of an eye. 

karri forest mist australia
Pemberton forest

Grazing and Timber

Around 1860, European settlement started with grazing and pastoralists. In 1907 the construction of Trans Australian Railway Line created a huge demand for thousands of wooden sleepers. Meeting this demand a hardwood timber mill was established in Pemberton and supplied by the local forests. Prized hardwoods, such as karri and jarrah trees were used in the construction of the Indian Pacific line.

Cattle grazing Autumn Pemberton Western Australia
Cattle grazing Autumn

Early Agriculture

Yet agriculture in the south west was still struggling. In a bid to boost population and clear more land for agriculture, the State Government embarked on the Group Settlement Scheme around 1920. The Scheme enticed post World War One British ex-servicemen and their families to take up farming. Many applicants to the Scheme had no agricultural experience. Nor where they made aware that the land promised was uncleared karri forest. With little more than an axe and spade supplied by the government, the settlers were faced with clearing land for crops and cattle with their bare hands. Needless to say, it was an abject failure with many families starving and walking off the land.

Beedelup Falls above Karri Valley Dam

Hops and Tobacco

Tobacco were grown within the region for a short time.  During World War Two there was a tobacco shortage and production was at its peak. However production declined not long after.

Hops for beer making was grown for nearly 50 years. They were used by Perth's Swan Brewery. To irrigate the hops, Waterfall Dam also referred to as Karri Valley Dam was constructed at Beedelup Brook. Eventually the hops market became less viable. Eastern States hops could be produced at lower cost, which spelt the end to that industry.

Gourmand Awards Karri Valley Dam Karri Valley Resort Pemberton
Relaxing early morning fishing at Karri Valley Dam

A second wave of migration of European migrants occurred after World War Two. Agriculture was still slow to develop until tractors became more widely available. This lead to the rapid clearing of land. Many of the migrants came from farming backgrounds. What followed was an expansion of cattle farming and agriculture.


Four National Parks

With time other industries such as tourism developed. The town's close proximity to several national parks gave visitors a range of attractions. There are towering karri forests, secluded rivers, inland sand dunes and rugged coastline.

White sand and tannin water Donnelly River

Donnelly River Pemberton
Sunset, Donnelly River D'Entrecasteaux National Park

Donnelly River Cruises near Pemberton.
Majestic rivers and rugged coast Donnelly River near Pemberton.

There are several national parks adjacent to Pemberton.  These include the Warren National Park, Beedelup National Park, Gloucester National Park, and the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. There are rugged coastlines and extensive inland sand dunes.

Winter flow, Lefroy Brook, karri forest, Pemberton, Western Australia
Winter, Lefroy Brook Pemberton

D’Entrecasteaux National Park, Western Australia
Limestone cliffs D’Entrecasteaux National Park

Yeagarup Dunes, Pemberton region, D’Entrecasteaux National Park, Western Australia
Sunrise and low mist at nearby Yeagarup Dunes D’Entrecasteaux National Park

Others consist of heavily forested regions with sheltered rivers and creeks. Farmlands and vineyards boast large  dams which characterise much of regions’s unique landscape.

Warren River at Moons Crossing, Pemberton region, Warren National Park, Western Australia
Warren River at Moons Crossing Warren National Park

These parks and the proximity to the Southern Ocean contribute to a clean environment for food, wine and tourism.

Sundews Jarrah forest Pemberton
Sundews Jarrah forest

Pemberton Artists

Artists have been drawn to the Pemberton region for years. If you are visiting the area call by the studio of Peter Kovacsy. Peter is a renowned artist who has been living and working in the region for several decades. Through the mediums of wood metal and glass, Peter references the environment and the interplay of light. He is the only local creative with a studio arts practice. His studio gallery is well worth a visit, you may even be lucky enough to see a work in progress.

peter kovacsy gallery 2008
Peter Kovacsy Studio

Climbing Giants

At around sixty metres tall, karri trees are some of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia. To the ever resourceful forest workers they also served as useful fire lookout towers. You can climb these lookouts but it is not for the faint-hearted. Two fire lookout trees open to the public. The Bicentennial Tree in Warren National Park and the Gloucester Tree in the Gloucester National Park.

Climbing the Gloucester Tree

Pemberton Cool Climate Wine Region

With its clean environment, proximity to the Southern Ocean and buffering by national parks the region  attracted the attention of the wine industry. Described as a cool climate wine region it offers the advantage of a slow and controlled development of the grapes. This is desired by wine makers for enhancing flavour development.

Pemberton cool climate vineyards
Morning mist lifting off vines near Pemberton

Initially just a handful of vineyards and cellar doors had set up around Pemberton. The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation gazetted the Pemberton Wine Region in 2006. It extended south of Manjimup towards Northcliffe with Pemberton at its centre.

Pemberton Wine Region Book

In 2008 I published the hardcover book Pemberton Wine Region Western Australia. It is the first premium quality photography book to focus on this emerging region.

Pemberton vineyards
Vineyard beside towering forest

pemberton grape harvest
Hand picking grapes

The region's unique terrior is visually explored, showcasing its outstanding natural beauty. Images of majestic forests, rivers, massive sand dunes and rugged coastline capture the landscape that shapes the region’s wine and character.

Gourmand Book Awards 2010

Silkwood Winery Pemberton
Vineyard lunch beside the water

The book was the Australian finalist in two categories at the Gourmand Book Awards recently held in Paris 2010. The categories were Best Wine Photography and Best Book on New World Wines.

Australian Wine Region Pemberton Autumn Colours Picardy
Vineyard in Autumn

Pemberton wine region Autumn colour
Autumn in the vineyard
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Early morning photography Pemberton Western Australia

Lefroy Brook Pemberton

Early morning photography

Early morning photography provides the photographer with many opportunities. One such opportunity is this image of Lefroy Brook near Pemberton. It was the pay off for leaving my warm sleeping bag early, hiking along a dark track through karri forest with only my head lamp, until I came to my river location.


When I headed out I new exactly where I was heading. My location was predetermined from the previous day’s walking and scouting for images. When I passed by this location the previous day the light came from behind me illuminating the scene. The direct sunlight made the shape and composition look too harsh in contrast.  To retain as many visual elements successfully in this composition I new I needed a quieter light. I was anticipating a sudden drop in the overnight temperature and combined with the body of water was expecting the possibility of mist rising from the river through the forest.

6×12 Roll Film Back

The evening before I selected equipment for the next day’s early hike. In my back pack I carried my 4×5 wooden field camera, two lenses and a 6x12cm Horseman Roll Film back loaded with Velvia 50 ISO. If the conditions were right I was planning on a double page spread image for my book, and the 6x12cm frame was the ideal format for this. This format allowed me to avoid the sky, the reason for which I’ll explain a little later. Other basic photo gear included my light meter, focus cloth, tripod.

The first dull blue-grey hues of morning light were barely perceptible when I arrived at my location. No real mist here, but there was a cool, calm stillness of the forest as it enveloped the steady sound of the brook. It was cold in the valley, and there would be no direct sunlight streaming through the forest canopy for several hours.

Leaning against my tripod surveying the scene before me, I could see some boulders near the river’s edge that could provide a good vantage point. In the dull glow of daybreak I picked my way carefully through undergrowth towards the rocks. Jamming my tripod legs at various angles onto the rocks, I confirmed my composition I had in mind. There would be no mist in this picture. Expectations had not matched what I was being presented with, time to let go of preconceptions and reconsider what is in front of me. I now wanted an image preserving the cool hues of this winter’s early morning photography.

Setting Up

I unfolded my wooden camera from my backpack and attached it to my tripod. The 90mm lens was chosen as it would give me a sufficient angle of view and afford me reasonable depth of field stopped down to f32. In this light with 50 ISO Velvia this was going to be a long exposure. With my head under the focus cloth I tried to focus the barely discernible image that projected upside down and back to front onto the ground glass. Under the focus cloth the ground glass fogged from my breath, obscuring my view.

Satisfied with my set up, I closed the lens shutter and set it to “B”. I read the scene in front of me with my one degree spot meter, allowing for adequate exposure in the low to mid tones. The 6x12cm format allowed me to compose an image avoiding expanses of sky which would have exceeded the film’s exposure latitude. Sometimes the best way to control excessive exposure latitudes is to exclude either the brightest or darkest elements from the composition. In this case I wanted to retain the darker, shadow details.

I don’t recall the exact exposure, but it would have been at least 60 seconds. Velvia, during exposures longer than one second displays a distinct colour shift towards blue-purplish hues. This film characteristic would enhance the coolness of the image.

The Final Spread

The image was published as a double page spread, with good shadow detail whilst retaining its “low light” atmosphere. With very little movement in the foliage and the lens stopped down, focus was maintained from the foreground rushes into the distance. The large film image holds plenty of detail and would work well in a larger image. If you are one who spends your mornings sleeping in you must try some early morning photography once in a while.

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Lefroy Brook Pemberton Wattie tree karri forest understorey

Wattie tree Lefroy Brook Pemberton

Lefroy Brook near Pemberton meanders through spectacular karri forest following parts of the Bibbulmun Track. A Wattie tree forming part of the karri forest understorey arches gracefully above the brook’s winter rapids. There are trout and marron farms along the brook and it serves as Pemberton’s water supply.

This image was made within the Gloucester National Park, using a 90mm lens using Zone VI wooden field camera and velvia 4×5 film. It has been published in my Pemberton Wine Region Western Australia book and in my Southern Forests postcard series.

Wattie tree Lefroy Brook is available as a 16×20 inch photograph and larger.

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Pemberton photos karri forest trees in mist Western Australia

Forest Pemberton Australia

Pemberton photos karri forests and wine region

Pemberton photos nearly always have karri trees somewhere in them. These Australian hardwood giants dominate the region and lend themselves to much of Pemberton's visual character and timber town history.

In 2008 I had only recently acquired my first digital camera. It was a Pentax K10D, with a 10 megapixel APS-C  CCD sensor. This is about 2/3 area of  a full frame 35mm film SLR. What was exciting about this camera was two fold: 1) it could take my existing Pentax K-mount lenses which I already owned and 2) I was in the throws of publishing a coffee table book about the beauty of the Pemberton region.

As a result, karri trees in mist Pemberton was one of my first digital camera landscapes during the photographing of my book Pemberton Wine Region. This relatively small file image has been successfully printed for a client requiring a customised image over 1.7 metre long and slightly over 1.1 metres high. The softness of the misty image does not lend itself to high degrees of sharpness and there the small file is adequate.

Pemberton's surrounding karri forest, valleys, and open farmland with large bodies of surface water create ideal conditions for mist to form in the coolest part of the evening. The mists settles in the low lying valleys and usually burns off quickly after sunrise, but for those who bother to get up early you will be rewarded from time to time with some truly ephemeral landscapes.

Karri trees in mist Pemberton was one of a few landscapes I included in the book made from digital media. Many of the landscapes were made on 6x12cm and 4x5 inch format films.

The digital camera was ideal for many of the working winery and vineyard images which I wanted to capture in a candid fashion rather than posed. Since publication I have received comments from the wine industry that my book contains some of the very few images of actual work being carried out in wineries and vineyards.  Most vineyards and wineries are represented with highly stylised images.


pemberton photos Cleaning wine fermentation tanks.

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Gourmand Awards Paris Pemberton Wine Region Book

Gourmand Awards Karri Valley Dam Karri Valley Resort Pemberton

Gourmand Awards Paris: My recently published book Pemberton Wine Region Western Australia  was the Australian finalist in two categories at the Gourmand Book Awards recently held in Paris. The categories were Best Wine Photography and Best Book on New World Wines.

The Belgium-French and Italy entries finally took home the awards. Italy won Best Wine Photography in the World with Lombardia, Il Mosaico del Vino, Andrea Zanfi, Gio Martorana, (Carlo Cambi). The Belgium-French entry won Best Book on New World Wines in the World with: Chile, País de Vinos y de Montañas  Papianile Mura (Versant Sud). Congratulations to the other publishers and authors.