Media releases for the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Competition.

Media contact:

Ashleigh Glynn
Communications Officer, South Australian Museum

0466 389 019 or

Huddle up, it's cold. By Gary Meredith

Birds huddled on a branch reminds visitors what they’ve missed most in 2020

In a year when a 1.5m gap has become the norm, a photograph of rainbow bee-eaters bunched together on a branch has been named People’s Choice in the 2020 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year at the South Australian Museum.

Huddle up, it’s cold! was taken by West Australian photographer Gary Meredith in a remote area of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia. The rainbow bee-eaters pictured roost together at night, flying out each morning to sit together in the warmth of the rising sun. In winter the birds huddle together to stay warm.

Mr Meredith said the behaviour displayed is quite rare, with very few documented occurrences.

“I have spent the last four years photographing this behaviour each winter once these birds have migrated north after breeding in the south of Australia over summer. These birds are spooked easily, so to minimise my chance of disturbing them, I set up a photography hide made out of branches and leaves in front of their favourite perch. I felt great pride in the fact that I never caused these beautiful birds to take flight when they were trying to warm up in the pursuit of photographing this behaviour.”

Mr Meredith said he was honoured to have won the People’s Choice award.

“What I am most pleased about is that this award is based solely on the general public visiting the South Australian Museum and voting on images that they can physically see in print. There are many wonderful images in this year’s exhibition so I am very grateful to those who felt my image deserved their vote,” Mr Meredith said.

Reflecting on the events of 2020 and the impact of COVID-19, Mr Meredith pondered if social distancing influenced people’s votes.

“In a year where we’ve not even been allowed to shake hands, it’s interesting that a photo that shows these rainbow bee-eaters huddled closely together would win the people's choice award. I do believe that certain images can draw emotion from whoever is viewing them, so it may be the case this year that visitors felt the image showed what many people were missing, and that is a feeling of togetherness.”

Director of the South Australian Museum Brian Oldman said that Mr Meredith’s photograph appealed on many levels.

“Not only does this photograph portray a lovely and rare moment in time, it also depicts a sense of closeness and connection - something that has been missed by many in 2020.”

Visitors to the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year at the South Australian Museum also had the chance to win a getaway to Kangaroo Island thanks to Exceptional Kangaroo Island and Australian Wildlife Journeys.

Executive Officer of Australian Wildlife Journeys says,

“On behalf of Australian Wildlife Journeys and Exceptional Kangaroo Island, we offer a big congratulations to the winner of the People’s Choice competition and all of the talented entrants that have done such a beautiful job of capturing why it is so important to protect and regenerate our wildlife habitats.”

The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition and resulting exhibition is run annually by the South Australian Museum.

The exhibition is open until Sunday 15 November. Visit the South Australian Museum’s website for more information or to purchase your ticket.

Border Fire Mt Barney (detail) by Ben Blanche

Powerful reminder of tragic summer wins photography competition

Friday 28 August 2020

As another Australian fire season looms, a confronting image of a fire in Mount Barney National Park has won the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition in 2020. “Border Fire Mt Barney” by Ben Blanche captures one of the many heartbreaking fires that ravaged Australia this past summer.

Ben Blanche from Queensland took the winning photograph in November after a lightning strike hit the extremely dry national park, located about 120km south-west of Brisbane

“The fire was rather slow moving and took some hours to move across the mountain, luckily I had a local telling me what the fire conditions were like leading up to the day so I could plan,” Mr Blanche said.

“I got to the location with ample time before the sun had gone down so I could form a rough idea of when the balance of fire and ambient light would be right,” Mr Blanche explained.

“I think this is an iconic and powerful image that records a part of the 2019/2020 bushfire season in Australia. When I took this image, many Australians were grappling with the very real effects of climate change and how it is impacting our environment, communities, economies and way of life,” added Mr Blanche.

Mr Blanche has been a photographer for nearly 20 years. His prize is $10,000 and a Coral Expeditions holiday prize.

When asked how it felt to be named the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2020, Mr Blanche said:

“It’s rather unreal and I feel incredibly lucky. I have entered this competition many times since the inaugural competition and the standard of work is extraordinary and very competitive. It is a great achievement that I will cherish and really helps solidify that all the hours and photos that haven’t worked over the years were worth it”.

The 2020 competition judges are:

  • Michael Aw – a wildlife photographer, explorer and conservationist.

  • Drew Hopper – an Australian documentary and editorial photographer.

  • Georgina Steytler – a nature photographer with a passion for birds, ethics and conservation.

The judges said: “This image not only skilfully captures a landscape, it captures a defining moment in the modern history of Australian nature. Its raw beauty is confronting, as it documents the energy and scale of the recent bushfire crisis. In the wave of flames snaking across the mountain we see the true scale of the fire, and for every burning tree that we see, we imagine the shrubs, the vines, the insects, the marsupials and the birds that we can’t.”

Mr Brian Oldman, Director of the South Australian Museum, said that Mr Blanche’s photograph had been judged the winning entry among 1796 photographs.

“This image really depicts the reality of bushfire season in Australia, capturing the scale and ferocity of the damage fires can cause,” Mr Oldman said.

“I think all Australians will connect with this image and take a moment to pause and reflect on the impact bushfires have on our environment,” he added.

“Each year the entries astound me, they capture moments in time that are often invisible to the naked eye. We’re very proud to produce this competition and resulting exhibition every year,” he explained.

Ms Chrissie Goldrick, Editor-in-Chief, Australian Geographic said:

“Each year we get an opportunity to see the wild world presented from new viewpoints and with fresh interpretations of familiar subjects and themes. The entry period for this year’s contest spanned a catastrophic bushfire season in Australia. The scale of the devastation was unprecedented and the toll on native wildlife heartbreaking. It’s a con­text that’s reflected in this year’s winning image and one that’s likely to influence how we view the photographs presented here, which so artfully demonstrate both the magnificence and the fragility of the natural realm that we hold so precious.”

The winner and runners-up of the ten categories have also been announced.

Animal Portrait:
Winner: Leopard Anemone, Richard Robinson (NZ)
Runner-up: Wyulda, Matt Clancy (VIC)

Animal Behaviour
Winner: A Fever of Cownose Rays, Alex Kydd (WA)
Runner-up: Spawning Jewel Anemones, Richard Robinson (NZ)

Animal Habitat:
Winner: Storm Dragon, Jari Cornelis (WA)
Runner-up: Firestorm, Raoul Slater (QLD)

Winner: Enchanted Forest, Kevin De Vree (Belgium)
Runner-up: Gondwanan Link, Nick Monk (TAS) 

Winner: Bolt on Stormy Ocean, Mat Beetson (WA)
Runner-up: The Main Range, Karl Strand (NSW)

Winner: Phil’s World, Charles Davis (NSW)
Runner-up: Face Off, Andy Wingate (QLD)

Junior (photographers under 18 years of age):
Winner: Graceful and Green, Tess Poyner (NSW)
Runner-up: Scrub Python, Robert Irwin (NSW)

Our Impact (depicting human impact on nature):
Winner: The Wreck of the Penguins, Richard Robinson (NZ)
Runner-up: Don’t Forget to Check for Me, Doug Gimesy (VIC)

Threatened Species (threatened, rare, vulnerable or endangered species):
Winner: Tasmanian Devil, Jasmine Vink (QLD)
Runner-up: Facing Extinction, Kevin De Vree (Belgium)

Portfolio Prize (best portfolio of six or more images):
Ethan Mann (QLD)

In 2020 the competition welcomed the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife on board as a sponsor for the Threatened Species category.

CEO, Ian Darbyshire, Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife said:

"It is with great pleasure that we support the Nature Photographer of the Year, particularly in the category of Threatened Species. Our Foundation is built on "Growing Parks and Saving Species" and there's no better way to capture the beauty of our natural environment than in a timeless photograph. Congratulations to all of the finalists for your amazing work in preserving the legacy of Australia for generations to come."    

The South Australian Museum is hosting a public exhibition featuring all finalists from Friday 28 August until Sunday 15 November. The Australian Museum in Sydney will also host the exhibition as part of their grand opening later this year.

For further information and to view the full gallery please visit:

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