February 23, 2019 09:12:09
A truck driver with a passion for drone photography is becoming a social media star, showcasing some of Australia’s most remote and unique landscapes from the sky above the Nullarbor Plain
Ben Stamatovich and his co-driver, wife Jacinta Brennan, make the 64-hour, 5,700-kilometre round trip from Adelaide to Perth every week.
The couple have driven the same route for the past five years, clocking more than a million kilometres together behind the wheel of a prime mover and road train.
They transport produce for supermarkets and swap out of the driver’s seat every five hours while taking in views of the vast Nullarbor, an area about the same size as Great Britain.
During their rest stops they typically break for 15 minutes.
Ms Brennan makes a coffee and fills out the log books while Mr Stamatovich sends up his drone for a quick flight.
“I’m really passionate about it — it’s something I’ve fallen in love with,” he said.
“I don’t do ground photography. It hasn’t got the same kick in my heart, just because it’s same old, same old.
“I like the bird’s-eye view and showing something that can’t be seen by average people.”
Shutterbug goes viral on social media
Since creating his Facebook page, The Drone Way, in October 2017, Mr Stamatovich has attracted more than 25,000 followers.
It was quite the U-turn for the 45-year-old who lived on the streets as a teenager and admits he had virtually no interest in photography.
The only exception was the odd sunset shot he took on his phone or pictures of his three grandchildren.
He bought the drone three years ago, but it had mostly sat in the cupboard until he decided to bring it along on an interstate run.
“I took a photo of this truck out on the Nullarbor and put it up on a [Facebook] truck page and it went nuts,” Mr Stamatovich said.
“That was without any editing and I look back at it now and think, ‘Wow that’s really bad’, but it went crazy and so did the next one, so I started a Facebook page.
“I’ve spent hours and hours on YouTube and Google finding out how to improve myself and how to improve my photography.
“I was told I had a good eye for it, so I just had to brush up my skills on the technical side of it.”
Great Australian Bight a favourite for drone pilot
The Nullarbor Plain is dotted with outback roadhouses but is a largely untouched, unpopulated and almost treeless part of southern Australia.
Tourists passing through can see the world’s longest line of sea cliffs, where whale watching thrives for five months of the year from the Great Australian Bight.
Australia’s longest, straightest road — the famous 90-mile straight — is another novelty on the Eyre Highway.
“Personally, my favourite spot is on the Great Australian Bight,” Mr Stamatovich said.
“I love turning off the trucks when we’ve got empty trailers and there’s complete silence, and you just hear the boom noise of the waves hitting the cliffs.
“It’s just mind-blowing walking over to the edge to see it.
“I never get sick of it — never.”
Traffic monitoring by Main Roads WA shows about 590 vehicles cross the South Australia-Western Australia border every day.
Mr Stamatovich likes to think of himself as an ambassador for tourism and hopes more people will visit because of his photography.
“There are so many comments on my page that say, ‘This makes me want to go have a look at it’,” he said.
“A lot of people are pencilling it in and saying this is on my bucket list now, just from seeing one of my videos.
“It’s beautiful, it’s untouched. It’s definitely unique.”
Drone photographer constantly plotting next shot
Golden hour, the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset, is Mr Stamatovich’s favourite time of day.
He plans trips meticulously and will wait until light conditions are perfect.
At Penong, a small wheatbelt town and popular rest stop on the Eyre Highway in South Australia, there is a collection of about 20 donated and restored windmills.
Mr Stamatovich drove through Penong for months during the night until he finally got his chance.
“I waited six months to get a photo at the right time,” he said.
“I’m always observing where I’m going to take my next photo. I spend 30 hours of the trip thinking where my next photo is going to be.”
Mr Stamatovich said truck drivers on the same route became like a small community, communicating via the radio and meeting up at rest stops.
He said many drivers had been supportive of his photography.
“People who drove it [the Nullarbor] 20 years ago love it because they have never seen it like this,” he said.
“They haven’t seen it from the air. It’s just so much different — it’s magic.
“Because we drive during the day and through the night, we get four seasons in one day.
“It’s like a working holiday — there’s nothing I’d like to do more.”
Married life on the road
Sharing a confined space for such long drives with his wife might not be the idea of a dream job for some, but Mr Stamatovich said he would not have it any other way.
The couple live in the small community of Hamley Bridge, about an hour north of Adelaide, and love their simple routine.
Mr Stamatovich said life on the road was comfortable, with their prime mover equipped with two bunk beds, a fridge and microwave.
“It’s not like the old days with no air conditioning, windows down and only the flies for company — we travel in style,” he said.
“Some people say, ‘How can you spend so much time with your wife?’ I say, ‘You obviously haven’t got a good relationship with your wife if that’s how you look at it’.
“We love it.”
Wife thinks her husband’s photos are ‘amazing’
While the ABC was interviewing Mr Stamatovich on the side of the highway, Mrs Brennan was making spaghetti bolognaise in the truck.
The couple say they prefer to make their own meals because it is healthier and cheaper than stopping at roadhouses.
They have broken trailer axles, had near-misses with wildlife including kangaroos, camels and wedge-tailed eagles, survived bushfires and luckily have had only three flat tyres in five years.
Mrs Brennan said she loved life on the road and knew plenty of husband-and-wife truck driving teams.
“We get to spend time together and sometimes we have arguments, but most of the time it’s good fun and we’ve seen stuff we would never get to see,” she said.
“It’s taken us around Australia, I love coming west. It’s the best job in the world it really is.
“I couldn’t say it’s for everyone … not everyone wants to be married forever, but we love it.
“It takes a bit of getting used to and it’s definitely a lifestyle.”
And what does she think of her husband’s photography?
“I think he’s amazing — it’s amazing from where he started,” Mrs Brennan said.
“It’s like everything he does, he’s got better and better.
“It’s great that we get to do this and see the places we do.”