Paul Jurak estimates that he has taken over 100,000 photos of Lake Burley Griffin and its surrounds over the past decade.
What began as therapy as he recovered from cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy, taking photos on his red kayak, rapidly became part of Canberra folklore.
“A plumber with a camera who takes a few photos” is how he describes a passion that developed into a life of its own with the moniker, Kayakcameraman.
Paul came to Canberra in 1989 to spend time with his then-girlfriend, Julie, who had been posted to a teaching position in the ACT. She later became his wife
Paul, 21 years old, the son of a Croatian immigrant, was working in Newcastle laying gas mains when he received the offer of an apprenticeship as a mechanical services plumber and gasfitter.
“I started work for Benmax at Charnwood High School as a plumber-gasfitter,” Paul remembers. “I was only going to come to Canberra for a year, but the city was too good.”
Through his job, Paul worked on iconic Canberra buildings, including the National Gallery, Black Mountain Tower, the ANU and Woden Valley Hospital.
His life changed dramatically in 2010 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The source of the pain and swelling was a four-centimetre tumour.
“Initially, they thought they had removed it all, but it came back six months later.”
As he describes it, he was belted from pillar to post by chemotherapy. Mentally and physically, it was taking a toll.
“I was sitting in the chair at the hospital when I saw an advertisement for kayaks. I hadn’t ever kayaked before, but I went to a store and bought one. I couldn’t paddle, but I started as a way to rebuild myself physically.”
As he built physical strength, the mental health benefits became the most important aspect of the daily ritual of an early morning paddle on the Lake.
“Some days I might only paddle 100 metres in an hour. I usually put the boat in the water with no real plan. I just immersed myself in the beauty of the Lake.”
By chance, he took a photo on his phone while paddling with son Tully, and it went from there.
“I started taking more photos while I was paddling, and my friend and journalist, Emma Macdonald, encouraged me to take it further. I continued to take photos of the Lake, and then I did a course at CIT, and the kayakcameraman was born.”
It quickly became a phenomenon with his photos of the Lake and Canberra from his red kayak becoming the talk of the town.
“I’ve taken over 100,000 photos,” says Paul, “My website has been archived by the National Library of Australia as it shows the changing nature of the Lake.”
But his daily ritual of paddling Lake Burley Griffin is about to come to an end. Julie and Paul have sold their home in Ainslie. They plan to move back to Newcastle with their youngest son, Louis.
Paul’s wife Julie is a highly respected music teacher in Canberra. They have three sons: Tully, who lives in Latham with his partner; Finn, who is currently starring on a football scholarship at Oakland University; and 13-year-old Louis.
“It’s been one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made,” says Paul. “Canberra is such a great community. We plan to return regularly.”
It is through Paul that we have grown to see and appreciate the beauty of Lake Burley Griffin. His images will remain a reminder of his wonderful contribution to the Canberra community.