2 April 2024

From an elusive emu to tales of the past, photographer Brad Chilby brings landscapes, history to life

| Zoe Cartwright
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Have you ever seen the elusive Gerringong emu?

Have you ever seen the elusive Gerringong emu? Wollongong photographer Brad Chilby has been lucky enough to snap it not once, but twice. Photo: Chilby Photography.

A knack for seeing the extraordinary in the world around him sparked Brad Chilby’s foray into photography when he was just eight years old.

Now he’s one of the best landscape photographers in the region, combining his love of the natural environment with a passion for local history on his social media pages.

Brad began to take photos of the Illawarra escarpment when, aged about eight, his grandparents would take him hiking up the back of Corrimal.

“It was with a little old compact camera, nothing spectacular,” he said.

“One day my brother took me with him to shoot Lake Illawarra at sunset and I think I just fluked the first shot I did, a flying ‘V’ of birds at sunset and I fell in love with it.

“It’s just been a progression from hiking in wilderness areas, spending so much time in nature you get to know all the waterfalls and old fig trees on the escarpment.

“You come to understand the weather pattens, where to be when there’s a storm, where the autumn colours are brightest, or which waterfalls to go to after a storm.”

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One of his most iconic photos, of the Gerringong emu, however, was sheer luck.

Driving through the region one day in 2015 his wife spotted the emu and called out and Brad was able to pull over in time to get a photo before it took off.

He spotted the lone bird again in 2018 and snapped an equally striking shot.

Prior to the first photograph, he had no idea Gerringong had a resident roaming emu, although he knew of other populations further down the coast at Potato Point, and a single emu called Heckles that once upon a time roamed the streets of Sussex Inlet.

“I couldn’t find any information about the Gerringong emu, so I posted the photo and asked if anyone [knew] where it came from,” he said.

“There are a number of different theories; some people say a farmer had it and let it go, someone said there was a guy farming emu eggs up by the water tank near the Mt Pleasant lookout and this one might have escaped.”

Although it’s been a few years since his last sighting of the emu, Brad said a number of people say they have seen it since while travelling on the train between Kiama and Gerringong.

Photo: Chilby Photography

This spectacular sunset photo was captured from Bald Hill at Stanwell Tops by photographer Brad Chilby. Accompanying his Facebook post is a wealth of historic information about the area, including the 107-year-old Interbane Mansion. Photo: Chilby Photography.

Brad tries to include as much local history as he can with his photos on social media, sharing tidbits unearthed from family lore or found while reading about the area.

He began to share pride in the region in the lead-up to the 2022 UCI Championship in Wollongong.

“I’m not a historian by any means; there are some amazing local scholars who know a lot more than me,” he said.

“I was always fascinated by my grandparents’ stories about the 1930s – 40s, the Great Depression and the war years. On Dad’s side our family has been in Wollongong since 1818.

“We also had a neighbour growing up who was an old miner and he would share stories.

“When I plan a photoshoot I’ll do some research on the area, so it’s a combination of those things.”

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Brad said his granddad’s respect for and friendship with the local Aboriginal community inspired him to include both settler and Indigenous history in his posts.

He’s careful not to share sensitive information, and says it’s important to include different perspectives.

He hopes to curate a positive space on social media where people can appreciate the beauty of our region and learn something new.

“The bigger reach a post gets the more likely there is to be negative feedback, but I try to keep it positive,” he said.

“That’s intentional, with all the chaos in the world to give people something positive to think about and talk about instead.”

To view more of Brad’s photos, or read his historical posts, follow him on Facebook or head to his website.

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