Australia, 1992. / by Bill Frakes

I often seek solace in the company of books. I spend a lot of time searching bookstores for gems that I might not otherwise run across. Online can be a great place to buy if you know what you want, but there’s nothing like the advice of an educated and passionate bookseller – the kind I find in places like Books + Books in Coral Gables, FL, Square Books in Oxford, MS, or Powells in Portland, OR.

Yesterday I was roaming through Books Inc., a small independent bookstore in Mountain View, CA, when a new title by an old acquaintance caught my eye.

In November of 1992, I was still recovering from Hurricane Andrew cutting a wide swath of destruction through my then hometown of Miami, FL, when Sports Illustrated Director of Photography Heinz Kluetmeier called with a dream assignment. He sent me to Sydney, Australia to work for the Australian edition of SI.

Not only was it a huge relief to get a break from a still reeling South Florida, but sports-crazed Oz was a haven for a photographer. Gorgeous light, amazing subject matter, a generous expense account — fun stuff.

One of my first assignments was to work with an Australian writer, Thomas Keneally, who at the time was not widely known in the US in spite of his great achievement in literature.

Together we worked on a piece on how the different football codes in Australia influenced the towns where they were played, and vice versa.


It was a serious eye-opener for me, accustomed only really to grid iron (American football) and soccer. Seeing Aussie Rules played at the MCG in front of 150,000 fans. Rugby League in front of huge crowds in Sydney as fans loudly chanted, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” Footie on the Gold Coast, covering the great Abbott in the Geelong. Pickup games in the Red Center near Alice Springs. Mourning the loss of Fitzroy from Melbourne to Brisbane.

Traveling with and listening to the master raconteur work was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had teamed with a writer, and I have had some excellent ones.

Funny and intense in seemingly equal measures, he coached me through the intricacies of the intersection of sport and culture in Australia.

On one of our flights, he mentioned one of his books had been optioned as a movie. In that casual, familiar Australian way, he asked if I had heard of the film’s director and what I thought of his work.

The next year, Keneally gained world-wide fame when Steven Spielberg released the film done from that book, Schindler’s List. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.