We talk to Queensland author Ben Allmon about how a chat with a farmer led to an unforgettable journey and a book about the history of the Scenic Rim’s roads.
Most writers sit down to write their books. Ben Allmon walks to write his.
2016 saw the release of his book ‘Foot Notes’, the true story of his epic 1000 kilometre trek down Australia’s east coast. In 2018 he gave his feet a bit of a break in order to sail off down the Nerang River in a handmade bark canoe with prominent local Indigenous elder Kyle Slabb and his family, in order to document an ancient First Nations maritime trade route for ‘The Saltwater Story’. Now he’s just released another travel book, this time one about his time walking the roads around the Scenic Rim with photographer Carin Garland.
‘The Black & White Braid’ is stunningly presented piece of work that helps to illuminate some the Indigenous history of the Scenic Rim, and to draw attention to some of the lesser-known aspects of the area, including the plight of the rural communities who live there.
The rich history of the area is explored through stories and photographs of individuals who live, work and play upon the unique and at times drought-stricken and fire-ravaged landscape of the Scenic Rim.
And the project happened pretty much because of Tamborine-Oxenford Road, says Ben.
“I was talking to this old farmer and I told him I’d been down Macdonnell Road which becomes Tamborine-Oxenford Road,” Ben explains. “And he said ‘Oh we call that Do It Yourself Road. We got sick of the waiting for the government to put a road in, so in 1958 we got some money together and some bulldozers and we did it ourselves’.”
Fascinated, Ben sought out 93-year-old local Bill Geissmann who was one of the four intrepid pioneers who got the road going.
“Bill told me all about the history of making that road which was a really good story,” he says, “and that coincided with another story – it’s laid over an old Aboriginal route between Saltwater and Freshwater country.”
Thus the idea for ‘The Black & White Braid’ was born.
“Black and white is not just the colour of the road, but it also refers to the black and white culture that combined to make the roads,” Ben explains.
In true Allmon fashion, Ben decided the only true way to get to know the roads of the Scenic Rim was to walk them, embarking upon an ambitious 30 day trek around the area with photographer Carin Garland, absorbing the environment, meeting locals and gathering their stories.
“She’s never walked anything like that before, was never into camping,” says Ben of Carin. “But she just said ‘yeah alright’, packed 18kgs of camera gear on her back, and off we went.”
While Ben had some inkling of what he was getting into, Carin had none, he tells us.
“I’m was so impressed with her fortitude. We ran out of water, we got lost and an almost dried up pond kept up going, she did freezing dawn shoots, freezing sunset shoots, and not once did she complain.”
Carin’s adventurous spirit would pay off in spades via the stunning photography in ‘The Black & White Braid’, which perfectly captures the spirit of the area and its people.
The duo interviewed and photographed 140 people over the course of the project, and walked 183 roads in total, during rain, drought, and the even the horrific 2019 fires that took down Binna Burra.
Ben hopes the book – which ended up being six times longer that he expected and taking years longer than he had anticipated to complete – should resonate with anyone who has a connection to the Scenic Rim, as well as local history buffs in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
“And I suppose anyone who’s ever had that need for adventure, that feeling of wanting to know what will happen and who you’ll meet when you walk out of your door,” he adds.
‘The Black & White Braid’ is available now from benjaminallmon.com, Big B books in Burleigh, Under The Greenwood Tree on Mt Tamborine, and Council Chambers in Beaudesert. The stories and photographs from ‘The Black & White Braid’ will appear in an exhibition at The Centre Beaudesert, 82 Brisbane Street, Beaudesert 4285 until 21 May 2021.
IMAGE: Josie Arthy by Carin Garland