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Matthew Abbott wins Australian Life contest

Australian photojournalist, Matthew Abbott, has won the City of Sydney’s Australian Life photography competition grand prize for Hunting with Fire, which shows two indigenous Australian women hunting for snakes in West Arnhem Land.

Photo: Matthew Abbott.

As the title implies, the two women light a fire to frighten the aquatic file snakes, with the orange flames lighting the night scene.

‘Fire is woven into everything the Nawarddeken people do,’ Abbott said. ‘It was fascinating to watch Stacey and Evelyn hunt in the glow of the lit paperbark. The paperbark only stays alight for a few seconds – there was small window of opportunity to capture the red glow!’

One of the contest judges, Melbourne-based fine art photographer Atong Atem – a master of colour and vibrancy – was drawn in by the ‘beautiful red colour’. ‘But there’s also such a beautiful sense of narrative with the two characters. Like it feels almost surreal. I think it’s just so stunning,’ she said.

Abbott wins $10K – not at all shabby a prize for a local photo contest with free entry.

The Australian Life photography competition also includes a People’s Choice Award, decided through public vote of the finalist images which are exhibited at Hyde Park. The People’s Choice Award, which garnered 2819 votes, was won by Wollongong-based photographer, Katelyn Slyer, for her picture Wombarra Bowling Club.

Photo: Katelyn Slyer.

It’s a black-and-white photo of punters mingling at a Pinheads gig, a garage rock band of South Coast royalty. The picture has a timeless Australiana Rennie Ellis vibe, and Slyer acknowledges this work has a big influence on her. No surprise it resonated with audiences.

‘Rennie Ellis is an inspiration to me and I feel this photo highlights that – it has a relaxed Australian vibe,’ she said. ‘My style is documentary, alternative and voyeuristic – I like to create an image where people feel they are there with me. When shooting events and festivals I focus on the people, their raw emotions and their experience in the moment – this photo really highlights that.’

The Australian Life photography competition aims to showcase the magnitude of lifestyles and issues that exist across the nation. Organised by esteemed curator, Sandy Edwards, the competition garnered 1700 entries and was whittled down to just 28 for the Australian Life exhibition.

‘I believe Australian Life is the most democratic exhibition of photography in Australia, and this year features complete newcomers to previous Australian Life finalists, to well-known photographers and photojournalists,’ said Edwards.

Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, describes the images as ranging from ‘thought-provoking, joyful, harrowing’.

‘Each one captures a moment in time somewhere in Australia and together they form a record of the challenges and richness of Australian life.’

– The Australian Life exhibition is showing at Hyde Park until October 9. Here are a few finalist images:

‘The iconic NGV Water Wall is a constant source of delight for children. Yet here I saw a reminder that times have changed. We are deeply changed, which I perceived in the glint of the girl’s eye, an impression that we need to be mindful, and continuously adaptable like water. Photo: Claire Edwards.


‘The photograph explores the hidden world of neurodiversity. It evokes the raw feelings of helplessness, courage and resilience within the viewer, feelings many neurodiverse people and families face daily. Our Bathroom Floor was created with no expectations, no pressures. He is free to be present. To feel the water. Neurodiversity, kept safe within our walls. Photo: Amy Iacullo.


‘An Aboriginal woman and a South Sea Island woman embrace their Maori sister as she mourns her recently passed husband. Prayers and tears and solidarity and sisterhood in full flight. Photo: Anabel Litchfield.


I collaborated with synchronised swimming team the Sydney Emeralds to create an entire photographic series from the less explored aerial viewpoint that focused on geometric patterns. Photo: Brad Walls.


Artist Antoinette O’Brien pictured in her home and studio after a record breaking 14.4m flood ravaged through the town of Lismore, leaving thousands of homes condemned or deemed uninhabitable. Antoinette, along with thousands of others residents, are now displaced and devastated at losing everything they own. Photo: Elise Derwin.


We want that cure for Rett Syndrome and want Jovie’s seizures to stop. In the meantime, you need to be present in the life you’ve been given and not miss out on things that are kind of wonderful right now. Photo: Joel Pratley.


After taking a belting through Sydney’s second Covid-19 lockdown, what was a deserted CBD, slowly started to regain confidence around the end of October. On a normally packed street corner at sunset, it was surreal to see the streets still so empty as people slowly returned to the CBD. Photo: Mike Keevers.


Friends Ivy, Bean and Gracie explore the flooded streets of their hometown, Lismore. More than 2000 homes were rendered uninhabitable from the 2022 flood disaster that hit the NSW Northern Rivers and schools in Lismore were significantly damaged and earmarked for rebuilding. Photo: Natalie Grono.


The annual Marilyn charity swim event has raised more than $670,000 for the Cancer Council over the last 7 years. Participants swim/paddle 400m around the Brighton Jetty, Adelade every February dressed head to toe in their favourite 50s icon, Marilyn Monroe. Fun event for a great cause. Photo: Phil Duval.


Late afternoon on Tuff Street, two girls watch the steady procession of classic cars at Summernats 34. After being cancelled in 2021 due to Covid-19, the infamous Canberra car festival returned in January 2022, albeit with a reduced-capacity crowd. Photo: Rachael Willis.


This couple asked me if I was a wedding photographer. I told them no but if they were getting married I’d take their photo. They weren’t altogether clear if they were getting married, but they did want their photo taken. Photo: Tony Blackwell.

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