SALT OF THE EARTH
A Journey With All-terrain Adventurer Caleb ‘Salty’ Davenport
Part nomadic adventurer, part thrill-seeker and wanderer, WA’s Caleb ‘Salty’ Davenport is also an award-winning photographer and filmmaker who spends up to six months a year stepping out of his comfort zone. Gretel Sneath looks through the viewfinder on his recent trip to remote Kalaamayn / Paynes Find, Western Australia.
Caleb ‘Salty’ Davenport is like a laid-back Aussie version of Robinson Crusoe - but instead of being marooned on an island waiting to be found, he’s on an endless quest to get lost.
“I'm just forever on a search for new and remote locations where people may not have walked for thousands of years – if at all,” he says. “Trying to discover and learn and understand those landscapes and everything that survives and thrives there, whether it's out on a salt lake, in the middle of the arid desert or on a super-remote bit of coastline.”
Salty’s work ethos is escapism, but the 34-year-old assures he’s not the only one escaping the daily grind; he’s focused on taking the rest of us along for the ride. “There are a lot of people out there getting photos of beautiful things, but I want to give people that deeper understanding of a place rather than just getting from A to B, having beers and going back,” he says.
His travel kit essentials include multiple hats, a knife, matches, water, a paper map, and - when he’s not barefoot – some R.M.Williams Gardener boots. “There is a reason why Gardeners are the staple bushman and stockman's boot - because they last,” Salty says. “I was finding that a lot of other brands weren't surviving the conditions I was putting them through.”
There is a reason why Gardeners are the staple bushman and stockman's boot – because they last,” Salty says. “I was finding that a lot of other brands weren't surviving the conditions I was putting them through.”
From kayaking the Murchison River when it was barely a trickle to getting stranded by the tide on isolated coastal cliffs and camping in Tasmania’s Great Lakes during heavy snowfall, Salty’s adventures are all-terrain. So, too, are RMW Gardener boots. The 2.2mm kip upper is made from the toughest leather in the R.M.Williams boot room; it’s also highly water resistant and allows for extra warmth, with half-lining through the shaft leaving room for a thicker sock.
“They withstand mud, moisture, sand - all the extremes – and while the soles are thick, they aren’t heavy; it’s almost like you’re wearing a city boot that’s made for desert conditions,” Salty says. “I love the fact that they’re sturdy boots that offer plenty of support on uneven rock, but they’re also comfortable.”
The need for a soft landing is starkly at odds with someone who lives for stepping out of his comfort zone. Every one of Salty’s adventures begins by meticulously studying satellite maps and images in order to establish just how difficult it will be to reach that distant land he’s often found simply by placing his finger on a map. “There's much to be said about the entire experience of planning and wonder, and then actually getting there and just having your mind blown and not seeing any tracks around,” he says. “I love that feeling of finding spots that you have just taken a chance on.”
From there, he survives on bush skills and an eye for beauty, for he’s usually alone unless dogs Morrison (pictured) and Buckley are in tow. Salty says solo travel challenges a part of his mind that he doesn’t otherwise reach. “You can get complacently comfortable with having someone around and knowing that you're going to help each other in a struggle, but I think I feel safer and stronger being alone,” he says.
There’ve been some memorable exceptions; at El Questro station in the Kimberley, he spent a month with the ringers out mustering. “We were up in the helicopters, we were in bull catchers driving around in the dust, and then at the end of the day, you would jump into this tiny river with heaps of fresh water crocodiles and drink beers under the boabs,” Salty says. He also spent a month exploring the South Island of New Zealand in a vintage pop top Kombi with his partner Esa. “It was just the greatest little old chugger of a car ever,” he says. “It was the simple life; it was almost like we had been thrown back in time.”
But it’s in the far-flung corners of Australia – and the empty places in between like WA’s Kalaamayn / Paynes Find, where Salty really loves to roam. “It's almost like you're the last person on earth, and I don't think you can really find that in many places,” he says. “Your senses are heightened to the sights, the sounds, and the smells, and a lot of that is because you're not caught up in conversation; there is nothing to distract you from what's going on, so you really are out there in body and mind.”
In Lake Ballard north-west of Kalgoorlie, Salty discovered the magic of sleeping on salt lakes. It was purely by accident, after rowdy campers plonked right beside him in an empty car park. “They literally parked like three metres away, so I just grabbed my hiking gear and my light tent and walked off with my dog,” he says.
It was a four-kilometre trek out to the middle – and the best night’s camping he’s ever had. “Not even the flies and mozzies make it out there,” he says. “It was dead still with nothing but vast, open space, and because you are just on this white salt flat, all the colours seem to change.”
Salty says there’s a true sense of calm that comes with rising before dawn to witness the slow awakening of the earth. Out in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, the sunrise seems to last forever.
“When you're in the city, you see the sun pop over the hill and it's high in the sky before you know it, but in the desert, it feels like an hour and a half glow before it actually even peers its head up,” he explains. “It's a stillness that I can't really convey, but it will pull me back forever.”