Saturday, 10 December 2011

The day I met a living Legend…..
Guest blog by Anita Bromley
Images by Anita Bromley and Danielle Lancaster

I noticed him immediately, sitting in a vinyl lounge chair on casters, legs covered with a multi coloured crocheted rug, staring up at the flat screen TV. I wondered if he actually knew what was currently showing and if he even was taking in the information or it was simply a way to pass time, a different view from his room with pale walls and a few token framed photographs reminding him of times gone past. 

Times where he was yes, younger, but back when his daily view was of wide open spaces in outback Queensland. Views of sunsets you have only ever seen in print and wonder to yourself – was that photo enhanced? Could there actually be sunsets that stunning in colour? Views of dust storms rolling in over the local Pub, sweeping the red dirt and the many stories each speck holds down the wide streets of a very, very small town. When you have worked all your life on the land being self sufficient and self-funded until the ripe old age of 92. How does that change the workings of your mind when you retire to a small nursing home and your legs just aint what they used to be.

Frank Purser is a character that everyone it seems in the greater western Qld knows or knows about. Just the day before when I was speaking to a group of photography students I came to an image in our presentation, one that has become quite iconic to me personally, I heard from someone in the group  “That’s Frank! Frank Purcell! He’s just over the road here in the nursing home….”  

I can only imagine how shocked I would have looked. I first saw this image back in 2009 on my first visit to Bluedog and have since lost count of the times I have viewed this image of Frank. Frank, standing in front of the iconic Birdsville Hotel, beer in hand, grin on his weathered face, black headphones (his hearing aid) on his head with a large and looming dust storm encroaching over the roof of the Pub. Never did I imagine back then that I would actually have the chance to meet him in person.

The image of Frank outside the iconic Birdsville Hotel as a dust storm rolls in
as seen by Anita so many times in the Bluedog Photography Beginner Workshop - composition session. Image by Danielle Lancaster

So how does the mind weather over time when it makes that big change from being active along with your body, to still and seemly confined when you compare it to the bulk of your life? Well it seems, for some, for Frank at least the mind stays pretty well sharp. Within minutes of Danielle and I arriving at the Nursing Home, Frank recalled the day Danielle took that image and the next half hour the two of them relived old times, stories and the people they both knew. Maybe an active life in your younger and adult years keeps the mind sharp in old age? Maybe that is the secret? Time will only tell. All I can say is that when I shook Franks hand as we left to catch our flight back home my thoughts were already anticipating my next visit to Charleville where I certainly hope Frank is still in residence.

Danielle and Frank catch up.
Images by Anita Bromley

I can only image the pride Danielle must feel to know that the image that has become so iconic to myself and many others associated with Bluedog, stands framed along with the article written about Frank, pride of place on his mantel in his room.

Note from Danielle:
I won't say I did not have a tear in my eye when I farewelled Frank this day Anita speaks of above recently in Charleville . I remember well as we were entering the nursing home saying to Anita, 'He'll most probably not remember me." And he did immediately. I felt such a privileged person when his face lit up with that smile I had come to know and love so much on my visits west. To have worked till nearly 93 and now just about to enter his second year on the pension is a story that needs to be told.

We did laugh about all sorts of things: snakes in swags, the bonus of a nip or rum nightly that his doctor says won't hurt him a bit, our mates and what's happening in Birdsville, how Don and Cooper are fairing up taking over in Frank's shoes keeping the beer cold at the Birdsville Hotel and how the old red girl is still going (she was Frank's truck).

Frank was awarded the 'Legend of Birdsville' this year - that's another image taken by me hanging in the framed print given to him for a story I did a few years ago now for 4x4 Australia, RM Williams Publishing and News Limited and some others. 

Thank you Anita for writing this, it is a blog I will cherish as one of those special ones in my life.

Good on you Frank, you are truly a legend.

You'll find them hanging in galleries, at Outback Spectacular, printed in books and magazines, on pub walls, and there's too many more in her archives to make a list, however Danielle's compassion and dedication to photograph most she meets has produced an amazing collection of portraits of the people of western Queensland at their home, in play and at work.
 Image by Anita Bromley

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