Born to explore
Meet Chris Bray, an Aussie explorer and photographer with a passion for big challenges and preserving the natural world. WORDS: Michelle Hespe PHOTOS: Chris Bray
From the beginning...
Having spent years as a child sailing around the world on a homemade boat with his family, Chris Bray was bound to roam. “I remember visiting wildlife reserves in Africa, watching whales and dolphins out at sea, snorkelling with sea lions in the Galápagos and learning to take photos of it all on my second-hand film camera Dad bought for me,” Bray says. “Though with only $3 pocket money each week, it took a while to save up and develop each roll!”
Life was never going to hold a moment of boredom from then on in, as Bray grew up assuming that constantly visiting new and wonderful places and cultures was normal. “It certainly set me up to chase a lifetime of travel, adventure and seeking challenges,” he says with a laugh.
These days, Bray runs photography courses and safaris to teach others how to capture the natural world, and in doing so has set himself up with what many would say is a dream existence based on travel and art. It’s hard for him to even decide upon his favourite experiences, because there are so many unfolding before him every day. “I’ve been privileged enough to experience many beautiful natural displays,” he says. “I’ve had a pod of orca encircle and nudge my little wooden sailboat in the Arctic, crouched in my blow-up dingy and watched an iceberg slowly overbalance and roll over beside me, and have had Arctic wolves, Arctic foxes and other animals walk right up to me out of curiosity, having never seen humans before,” he says, highlights of the past three decades rolling off his tongue. “But perhaps the most moving encounter I’ve had was watching in awe as a huge polar bear strode toward my friend and me on the Arctic coast of Victoria Island.” To put this into context, Chris and his friend Clark Carter walked across the island, completely alone for months at a time. “Then suddenly, recognising us as human, this enormous bear turned and fled for its life, looking over his shoulder with an expression of sheer panic. It was a disturbing welcome back into the realm of man,” he says, shaking his head with reflection.
Sharing knowledge and education the next generation
Bray has written a book called The 1000-Hour Day about that gruelling walk, and also released a documentary based upon the book. “It’s all about two young fools struggling to be the first people to walk across the Arctic island,” he says. The 'ill-prepared' pair failed the first time, monumentally misjudging the conditions, their equipment (“and everything else” says Bray with good humour) but they returned after two years of hardcore training and their dream became a reality three years after their first attempt.
“Out there, I found that life became both brutally honest and wonderfully simple – I learnt to fix that which can be fixed and move on from what cannot – in a mental and physical sense. Above all, that expedition taught me self-reliance, decision-making and problem-solving, which lead to greater self-confidence, greatly expanding all my horizons.”
The experience has led Bray to another great opportunity where he can share his knowledge with a younger generation and he now lectures final year engineering students on decisions when lives depend on them”.
“With today’s ‘cotton-wool’, risk-adverse society where kids are so often micro-managed and not given the opportunity to make decisions, make mistakes and learn how to accept consequences, I count myself very fortunate to have been able to learn these things and it’s really helped me achieve much more than I ever thought possible,” he says.
Saving the world, one photo at a time
Bray’s adventures, explorations and contact with so many of the world’s most incredible and endangered creatures has led him to establish ‘Conservation United’ – offering affordable crowd-funding for the world’s critical conservation projects – conservationunited.org.
“It is a huge tragedy that tigers, rhinos, elephants and other large mammals are in danger, however, their plight is quite well-known and requires enormous cooperation to resolve,” he says. “Personally, I am more dismayed by the countless other species that are quietly slipping through our fingers that could be saved much more easily if the will and funding existed. Animals like the Kakapo (parrot) in New Zealand; the Saola (an ox-like bovine) now only found in one mountain range shared by Vietnam and Laos; as well as the more obscure species such as the Christmas Island Pipistrelle – a tiny species of bat last seen in 2009 that’s now presumed extinct. I believe most people care, at least a little bit, about the natural world. However existing conservation mechanisms can be too expensive for some and leave many feeling insignificant and unempowered. I believe through Conservation United, I can help others to make a difference while doing all that I can myself.”