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Australian Story -

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Introduced by Anja Taylor from the ABC's Catalyst program

Next week's program documents one woman's unlikely pathway from the fine art auction rooms of inner
Sydney to whale conservation in the Kimberley.

Annabelle Sandes first featured on Australian Story ten years ago.

She was, unmarried, in her thirties, living alone with her cat and feeling stuck in a rut.

Then she joined her parents on a holiday in the Kimberley.

From that point the life of Annabelle Sandes assumed undreamed of new dimensions...

ANJA TAYLOR, PRESENTER: Hello, I'm Anja Taylor from the ABC science programme Catalyst. Last year,
on the Kimberley Coast, I met a woman whose wildlife photography has helped raise awareness about
the largest breeding group of humpback whales in the world. She's Annabelle Sandes, and she first
featured on Australian Story a decade ago when she left her affluent city life to go west and marry
a much older man on a remote outback station. None of it worked out the way she expected. This is
Annabelle Sandes' story

JOHN CAREY, 'PEW GROUP' - GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT ORGANISATION: There's something about Annabelle that
draws people to her. She's a photographer, a community activist; she's really an interesting
character of the Kimberley.

ANNABELLE SANDES: Taking wildlife photos is a bit like sports photography, nothing can happen for a
long time and then suddenly it's all happening very fast. There is something quite amazing about
whales. I suppose partly because they're submerged for a lot of the time and you don't really see,
see them coming to the surface necessarily until they break the surface. And suddenly you hear an
amazing whoosh and there's something the size of a bus surfacing right beside you.

ANDREW SANDES, BROTHER: I always used to tell people that she's an artist and now I tend to say
that she's very passionate about the environment. So it's the art side and the photography side is
the tool that she can use to explore her passion and get a message out there.

RICHARD COSTIN: Well I think Annabelle's got bitten by the Kimberley bug pretty well right from,
right from the word go. It's not a matter of just trying to awareness about the country, it's more
a matter of then just protecting protecting your home.

JOHN CAREY, 'PEW GROUP' - GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT ORGANISATION: There are few places left on earth like
this region. And so it sort of underlies the courageous and extraordinary step Annabelle has taken
to move across the continent, being an inner city girl from Sydney and coming to the Kimberley, and
taking the responsibility to tell the story of the Kimberley.

(Excerpt from Australian Story 2002)

ANNABELLE SANDES: I found Sydney could be quite lonely in a way. You go home from work, and when
you're at home, you shut your front door and don't necessarily have a lot of interaction with other
people. I was just feeling probably a bit miserable. I hadn't had a boyfriend for a while.

ANDREW SANDES, BROTHER: Annabelle wasn't the most outdoors type person when she was in Sydney.
She's a very cultured individual, and her sort of passion is fine arts and antiques. So she worked
as an auctioneer for Lawson's Auctioneers in Sydney for quite a while.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I'd worked really hard in my job, I think, and worked really long hours, and at
the end of the day I was really starting to think, is this it? It's easy to sort of perhaps get
sidetracked from what you really want just because you get stuck in a rut.

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: I think it was time for a change in her life. I think we all need change,
and yes, we did see a lot of Annabelle, she lived not far from us.

ANNABELLE SANDES: There is that sort of element that I think that people - I don't know whether
feel sorry for career women, or women in their sort of 30s who don't seem to be having a family.
But I sort of had nights at home with a glass of wine feeling a bit sorry for myself. Mum and Dad
had planned a holiday to Broome. I sort of had second thoughts about coming. I thought, you know,
being in your early 30s, going on holidays with your parents, maybe it doesn't look so good. And
then I thought, 'no, we just get on so well.'

GORDON SANDES, FATHER: We'd always wanted to go on the Gibb River Road. We were told by one of the
local agents that the place to go was Mount Hart, because there was this bloke, Taffy, who was very
entertaining, so we did.

ANNABELLE SANDES: And Taffy came out to meet us and looked like... looked like a bushranger to me.
He's the sort of archetypal bushie with the big beard And he said

TAFFY ABBOTT: G'day folks how are you welcome to Mount Hart. I'm Taffy."

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: We were totally amazed; this lovely garden and green lawns. And he took us
down to the river and explained the history of Mount Hart.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I thought at the time, just 'what an interesting man'. Just very different in
style to, I suppose, all the people I'd met in Sydney. You just don't find people like Taffy in

TAFFY ABBOTTS: And they arrived, very nice, pleasant family, and had a daughter with 'em, you know.
But I wasn't looking for a wife or anything else like that. I've got me three dingoes. Why would I
look for a wife?

GORDON SANDES, FATHER: Annabelle and Taffy obviously had something in common, and Taffy suggested
that Annabelle go back there and work.

TAFFY ABBOTTS: Then a few days later I get a call. It was Annabelle, and she said "were you serious
about that job?"

ANNABELLE ABBOTTS: I arrived back out here on the 2nd of July. And Mount Hart's a pretty busy
place. It's an ex-cattle station which Taffy took over as a wilderness lodge.

RICHARD COSTIN: I was quite amazed that she was actually coming from Sydney and getting settled in
there at Mount Hart into, you know, quite a different lifestyle and in a very, very isolated place

ANNABELLE SANDES: I ended up doing the housekeeping for a week. I just thought, I'll have this
three months just to really enjoy myself, throw myself into painting. And one night my feet were
just killing me, and after dinner, everybody else had sort of started to disappear, and I ended up
sitting in the bar with Taffy, and he said, "Oh, your feet look so sore. Here, I'll massage them
for you." And, well, that was the beginning of the end. (laughs)

TAFFY ABBOTTS: I felt strong enough that it would work and it would be the right thing to do, that
the true end commitment is to marry.

RICHARD COSTIN: I looked at you know Annabelle sort of moving in there. And I knew Taffy pretty
well, you know, he's a bit of a rough diamond and getting on a bit. And yeah I was really surprised
that he was able to pull such a gorgeous a lady as Annabelle. And well half his luck and good luck
to him.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I suppose I was quite worried about how Mum and Dad would react. In lots of ways,
the best thing to do was just jump in feet first and tell them, I suppose.

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: Well, it was quite a shock. I said, "well, congratulations, darling. We're
very happy for you." Gordon was even more stunned than I was, and really, I think, when it actually
sunk in after we'd finished speaking to Annabelle, he actually went to bed. And I think that the
shock was very, very big for him. But he got over it, as we both did.

GORDON SANDES, FATHER: When we got to thinking about it later that day, or the next few days, we
thought we didn't know very much about Taffy, and we had to get to know something about him fairly
soon. So we quizzed Annabelle.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I didn't tell them until the next day that Taffy had been married before. I
didn't want to sort of hit them with too much all in one go. I guess they just had to sort of trust
my judgment on that one.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: Yeah, I did worry about them rushing into it, because she'd only been
out there for less than a month, and it was the middle of the dry season, she hadn't even been
through a wet season, and Annabelle always hated the heat. So it wasn't as if she was going in
there knowing what it was like, and making that big decision.

TAFFY ABBOTTS: When we decided to get married, and Annabelle wanted to, you know, have it at St
Mark's in Sydney. I said "well, getting engaged is one thing. Going to Sydney for a bloody
wedding's another one," you know? Like, I thought that Mount Hart was the perfect location.

ANNABELLE ABBOTTS: We got married in Easter 2001. We had quite a really diverse group of people at
the wedding. It was lovely, and they all mucked in to help decorate. It was lovely, we had plenty
of time to talk to everybody.

RICHARD COSTIN: I was lucky enough to get asked to actually take the wedding photos for them at the
wedding. So that was, that was all good.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: I made a speech at her wedding, and I hadn't actually really thought too
much about it until I stood up and I was saying that we used to have lunch together all the time.
And I realised that we probably wouldn't ever really be doing that again in the same way. And I
couldn't finish the speech.

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: She started off and she was fine, and then I think she just became totally
aware of the fact that this had actually happened. That Annabelle was now married, and this is
where Annabelle was going to be. And it was as far away as she could possibly be from Sydney.

(End excerpt)

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: I guess I just had to let them move on with what they were doing. But I
didn't feel happy leaving her there. I just had a sort of instinct that she was, that it wouldn't

RICHARD COSTIN: The tourist venture at Mount Hart is only just a seasonal operation. So it was
full-on basically for six months a year, and there was no respite, no rest for either Taffy or
Annabelle. It was a bit of a rough set-up to start with when Taffy was running it. Annabelle just
added that bit of a touch of class to the whole operation, and it really made a difference to the
tourism operation out there.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: Annabelle had planned to paint a lot when she went out there and I think
the combination of being busy and the fact that the climate was really intense, it was very humid
and it was quite exhausting to be out there. And the place she lived was very basic. There was no
air-conditioning, and I think if she wasn't working she was just having a rest.

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: Gordon and I did take trips out there. When we went out, I mean I spent
most of my time in the kitchen with Annabelle. It was relentless, relentless, because they'd have
little planes coming in for morning teas, passengers coming in for lunch, passengers. And all this
had to be, you know, prepared for.

ANNABELLE SANDES: Coming from a city where you actually can lock your front door and going to a
place where, particularly if you employ staff and any station will, people are around you basically
from dawn 'til - until you go to bed, not just dusk.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: Annabelle kept a really cheery face and all her emails were very
positive for a long time. And maybe after a few trips to Sydney she - on her own without Taffy, she
showed a little bit of anxiety about going back to Mount Hart.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I had really wanted to have a family and Taffy already had several children. And
it just became something that showed that we were on different paths. It really sort of happened
relatively quickly. And that was a source of great sadness for both of us. I was 37 when Taffy and
I split up and I landed in Broome suddenly with nowhere to live, no job, suddenly single and it was
terrifying. I really wouldn't wish that on anybody. I also just didn't really feel I wanted to go
back to the city because in lots of ways that would have been the easy thing to do.

RICHARD COSTIN: When Annabelle just got herself settled into Broome after Mount Hart she was pretty
much at sea, so to speak, just sort of wondering what direction to take and what to do.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: Richard Costin's a documentary filmmaker and photographer and he likes
to travel out into the bush and that's his choice of material. And that's similar to what Annabelle
was doing with her botanical illustration.

ANNABELLE SANDES: He has produced two beautiful documentaries which he made entirely self-funded by
himself, just by walking and spending months and, well, years really, out bush with a camera.

RICHARD COSTIN: We both decided to take the houseboat up into Camden Sound for three months. And it
also gave her an opportunity just to settle down a bit and refocus in her life. It was a good time
for her to just reconnect to the country and sort of reconsider where she wanted to go in her life.
Our relationship had started you know shortly after that

ANNABELLE SANDES: He's a really interesting person because he has a lot of depth. He's very
independent but in a funny sort of way I suppose I'm quite independent as well.

ANDREW SANDES, BROTHER: The partnership for Richard and Annabelle has really been fantastic for
both of them because they've really found a soul mate in terms of what they're passionate about and
what they love doing.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I'd always been really interested in natural history, even as a very little girl.
I did a postgraduate course at Newcastle Uni in plant and wildlife illustration, and part of that
course as well as painting and drawing was photography. The Kimberley has the world's largest
population of humpack whales. We have this incredibly important humpback whale nursery in Camden
Sound and right along the Kimberley coast

RICHARD COSTIN: The Camden Sound area, it's around about 300 kilometres north-east of Broome. And
that's the area that the mothers and calves tend to want to go. And they hide behind those reefs
just trying to get away from the bulls chasing the cows. So it's a pretty special area.

ANNABELLE SANDES: 2007 was really the year that the photography came together for me. I was sitting
on the houseboat one afternoon and heard a sound like a canon going off. Richard had been out
filming whales, but when he came back I told him. So he said "grab your camera, Annabelle, we'll go
off in the dinghy and have a look." And there was humpback whale cow with a calf, tail slapping
right in front of Wilson Point with this iconic Kimberley tide line right behind her. And just as
we got there she started breaching. So I was snapping away madly and Richard was saying "stay on
it, stay on it."

JOHN CAREY, 'PEW GROUP' - GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT ORGANISATION: There's that old saying that a picture
can say 1,000 words and I think that image of a whale breaching the ocean in front of the cliffs is
incredible. Annabelle's work is iconic and it really has become the face of the campaign to protect
the Kimberley.

ANNABELLE SANDES: There was potential industrial development going to happen. (Emotionally) And
it's so beautiful that we just couldn't let it happen.

there's this big wave of industrialisation as we've got demands for new resources.

REPORTER (ABC News, May): Police and anti-gas hub protestors have faced-off near Broome.

ANNABELLE SANDES: There are billions of dollars at stake driving this push for development. It's an
issue which is really dividing this town.

REPORTER (ABC News, July): Western Australia's environmental watchdog has approved the proposed
Browes LNG project at James Price Point

RICHARD COSTIN: We pretty soon realised that one of the few things the environment ministers had to
consider when assessing any of the projects was threatened migratory species such as humpback
whales. The interest in the survey work started after we went up to Camden Sound and spent three
consecutive winters up there; just recording the numbers of whales up there and the distribution of
whales in that area and also trying to get an idea about their natural behaviour

ANNABELLE SANDES: Although the whales are protected under federal laws there was no specific
protection for them in Camden Sound. We felt that it really should be a marine park in recognition
of the importance of Camden Sound as the maternity ward for the humpback whales.

RICHARD COSTIN: Communication between the whales and in particular between the mothers and calves
is just so critical. So if you've got huge industrial traffic moving through that area, the risks
to mothers and calves in that situation is really great. So it's important to keep the industrial
development away from these main calving and breeding areas. We've been able to combine all the
land survey work, the boat survey work and the aerial survey work to give us a really good
understanding of what's going on.

ANNABELLE SANDES: We're not funded by any organisations so we can say it the way it is. We've used
up all our savings basically to be doing this. Yeah, we don't really have a lot.

RICHARD COSTIN: I think we've probably spent round about $120,000 of our own savings. We've been
very, very lucky to have had the community support and the charter boat industry and also some of
the aerial companies supporting what we've been doing. And that's enabled us to carry on with the
more expensive, extended survey work.

JOHN CAREY, 'PEW GROUP' - GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT ORGANISATION: Look they're not scientists but I don't
think they ever pretend to be. Their work is helping issue a challenge to State and Federal
Governments. So rather than these industrial developments just coming and you know industry funding
research and data, we actually need more independent work being undertaken. So they're laying the
foundations for that.

RICHARD COSTIN: Earlier on this year we finished our 2011 whale report. So that was the the
collation of a lot of information over about three years. So we sent that report out to a lot of
the agencies and a lot of people, you know, right across the country.

ANNABELLE SANDES: We delivered a copy to Parliament House earlier this year. It's important, I
think to us, to get be able to get the information out there and make decision makers aware of the
importance of the whales to that part of the Kimberley.

RICHARD COSTIN: The Kimberley Coast deserves that same level of protection that the Great Barrier
Reef has. And I think over time it will start to be recognised as one of the most important marine
environments in Australia.

ANNABELLE SANDES: We knew that the Camden Sound Marine Park announcement was in the wind.

ABC NEWS PRESENTER (April): The state government has announced the details of a new marine park to
protect an important whale breeding ground off the Kimberley coast. The Camden Sound Marine Park
will be located 300 kilometres north-east of Broome covering nearly 7,000 square kilometres.

JOHN CAREY, 'PEW GROUP' - GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT ORGANISATION: There's no doubt that they've made a
significant contribution. They have provided on-going intelligence and data about what's happening
in those areas.

ANNABELLE SANDES: Six years ago if somebody said to me "oh Annabelle it'll never happen in our
lifetime." I think I found a sense of vindication that it actually had come to pass. And that's as
a result of a lot of hard work by an awful lot of people. I was glad that we were able to really
contribute to that in a meaningful way.

RICHARD COSTIN: But we're only two people among hundreds that have contributed to that process.
It's sort of really quite gratifying to see all that work hasn't been in vain.

ANNABELLE SANDES: When I come back to Sydney I do really try to make time to spend with my family.
I hope my nieces and nephews think I'm leading an interesting life.

JENNIFER CASTALDI, SISTER: My three boys are in awe of Annabelle for her whale watching. I don't
think she has any regrets.

ANNABELLE SANDES: I think any time that you, start to wonder about what might have been with
something else. I remind myself that very few people have been able to do what I've been able to

LUCILLE SANDES, MOTHER: Annabelle has made a huge transition, I think. I mean she coped with her
life at Mount Hart extremely well, and we didn't really think that she would be able to cope with
it. And she's made a new life for herself and she's moved on. So hopefully it's the right path.

ANNABELLE SANDES: What has kept me going is that I do really love the Kimberley, particularly
outside the towns. I love the coast. I've really felt, and I think Richard has too, this sense of
just wanting to be able to share that with other people and communicate how spectacular and how
important this place is. Which is why every time I have felt burnt out I think I sit down and look
at some photos that I've taken and then just really remember what has driven me to this point.


Last month the WA Environmental Protection Authority recommended 'strict conditional approval' of
the James Price Point gas hub.

The project's developers, Woodside, say they are pleased the Camden Sound Marine Park has been
established to protect humpback whales.

The company says it is 'confident the environmental impacts arising from the potential
development... can be minimised and managed effectively.'