Aussie Character


National Geographic’s Sam Abell Captures Natural Treasures Found Down Under

A plane ticket to Australia costs ,300 on Travelocity, but Washingtonians can get a magnificent glimpse of the land down under for free at a new National Geo-graphic photo exhibit at the Meridian International Center.

The exhibit, “Australia Through the National Geographic Lens,” documents the nature, character and treasured landscapes of Australia as seen by the magazine’s acclaimed photographer, Sam Abell.

Abell’s photos, covering the walls of three rooms at the stately Meridian’s White-Meyer House, depict Australia’s wild, otherworldly beauty in the most intimate terms. The 38 images transport the viewer to a world of lush color and rugged landscapes in one of the most remote corners of the globe.

In one photo, the ancient gorges of the Pilbara region plunge into 2 billion-year-old sandstone. Dotted with waterfalls and secluded pools, the deep chasms provide a playground and haven for birds, kangaroos and reptiles.

A tree hugging a rock face in the Hamersley Range injects vitality into the otherwise foreboding, grizzled outcropping. The exhibit also gives visitors a glimpse of the Tasmanian Coast as clouds roll in and cover land that was once reserved for criminals convicted of the worst crimes imaginable.

In one of the few urban photos of the exhibit, Abell captures the lonely city of Perth glowing at dusk. Perth is separated from Sydney and other eastern Australian cities by 2,000 miles of desert and mountains. The city’s electric glow illuminates the surrounding Australian bush, reminding us that even in the city, nature remains very close at hand in Australia.

A photo of ancient black tree stumps protruding from drab brown sand after an immense sandstorm is reminiscent of the fictional Tatooine Desert of “Star Wars” fame. Nearby, a photo of a black crocodile makes a similar, if more sinister, contrast on the sands of a coastal beach.

Another menacing yet gorgeous photograph features a kaleidoscope sky framing a shot that depicts a dead mangrove as a spiky barricade against the outside world, demonstrating the harshness of Australia’s forbidding northern coast.

Many of Abell’s photos—like so many National Geographic shots—have a timeless quality to them. The viewer might have difficulty deciding if the image was shot yesterday or 40 years ago. For instance, a photo of Australia’s Pinnacles Desert reveals two centuries of shifting dunes that have exposed thousands of limestone knobs. Wind, rain and sand sculpted the pinnacles—the main attractions of Nambung National Park.

Abell captures something more akin to hell on earth in a photo of the Australian Outback on fire. The image burns a fiery red with angry dots of amber as a shroud of gray smoke hovers at the top of the frame. In juxtaposition, an image nearby depicts the cool, soothing blues of Shelburne Bay as sand dunes dot the horizon.

Abell, who learned photography from his father at a young age and has worked for National Geographic since 1970, has a talent for capturing nature in its most revealing, beautiful and unsullied state—something Aussies clearly have in abundance.

Australia Through the National Geographic Lens through Jan. 28 Meridian International Center’s White-Meyer House 1624 Crescent Place, NW For more information, please call (202) 939-5568 or visit

About the Author

Michael Coleman is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.