As any honest photographer will admit, sometimes it is a matter of luck, as Allan Peate found during some early morning bird-watching at St Lawrence in Queensland.

"Before daylight, I crept into a natural freshwater billabong teaming with birdlife," he says. "A small flock of egrets was feeding along the edge of the billabong when a lone egret flew in. A fight broke out just in front of where I was sitting and I was lucky enough to get a series of shots of the fight."

Peate’s wonderful image has earned the Tweed Heads resident the photographer of the year title in this year’s ANZANG awards. His shot adorns the cover of a collection of the best photos received in the competition.

Timing also counted for Mindy Oberne, visiting Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean from her native United States, when she captured a colony of royal penguins greeting or feeding each other, or was it a courtship ritual?

The ANZANG competition is now in its fifth year. It was set up in 2004 by the Perth ear, nose and throat surgeon, nature enthusiast and keen photographer Stuart Miller. In the same week that he visited a wildlife sanctuary near Perth he was sending off his photos to the World Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in Britain. The thought occurred to him that the unique natural world of his own region was deserving of its own competition.

So ANZANG – Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea – was born. In that first year 620 entries were received; now it is about 2000 and will probably continue to grow, Miller says.

"It’s still in a very formative stage. These things take some time to find their place."

The competition has 10 categories, including animal behaviour, animal portrait, botanical subject, underwater subject and wilderness landscape. There is a section for threatened plants or animals, such as the vulnerable New Zealand falcon, captured by Andrew Trowbridge, of Christchurch, watching carefully as her chick finds its voice.

Maternal protection, too, is shown by the hibiscus harlequin beetle, only 10 millimetres long but putting her body on the line to guard her eggs, as photographed by Mark Rayner of Meldale in Queensland.

There is also a section dedicated to illustrating the human impact on the environment, whether negative or positive. Unfortunately, the negatives dominate, with heartbreaking photos of bird and sea life variously impaled with hooks or entwined in ropes, or dumped rubbish spoiling otherwise spectacular landscapes.

Each year the CSIRO publishes a collection of the winners and highly commended, featuring comments from some of the photographers and technical details about their equipment.

Steve Parrish Publishing is also going to produce a 2009 calendar featuring some of the best. Funds from the sale of the merchandise, after expenses are covered, are donated to charities working to protect the natural environment. Recipients of funds include the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Birds Australia, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and the Australian Bush Heritage Fund.

The photographs also form part of a travelling exhibition that tours Australia each year. This year’s winners are now showing in Western Australia.

Last year’s collection is still touring and will be at Penrith City Library until December and then in Willoughby City Council offices in Chatswood in January and February.

Australasian Nature Photography: ANZANG fifth collection edited by Stuart Miller, CSIRO Publishing, $39.95.

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