How to capture a continent:

In the lavish new book "A Day in the Life of Australia," American photojournalist Rick Smolan and 100 of the world's top photographers distill the essence of that country. About 50 people, including 20 of the photographers, gathered at the Australian Embassy last night to celebrate its American publication, and munched curried lamb with Australian wines.

On March 6, 1981, project originator and coordinator Smolan and Australian photographer Andy Park sent 100 hand-picked photographers running all over Down Under to seize the day. The book features 367 photographs from the 96,000 shot in those 24 hours at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

Smolan, who said he was "the 100th" photographer of 100 chosen to shoot Life magazine's 1974 issue "A Day in the Life of America," said he got the idea for the book while on assignment for Time magazine in Japan, where he met Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Fraser, himself an amateur photographer, has a self-portrait in the book. Smolan accepted Fraser's invitation to his family home and "fell in love with Australia."

"Part of the appeal was nobody knew what would happen. If we had shot it the day before or the day after, it wouldn't have been the same book," said Smolan. "And also to spend $1 million in one day," he added, grinning.

"We were honored that so many accepted the invitation. We really didn't have a lot to offer them; there was no money in it for them. We went way over budget," Smolan said. "But I always felt these people were a community that had never met, or were always on other sides at the same place."

Smolan was running around the party snapping pictures of friends with a new NIMSLO 3-D camera. "It's a gimmick, but it's fun," he said. "I'm a gimmickaholic."

"I shot the Barossa Valley," said National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb.

"They told us they wanted to match up people with their areas of expertise--so I got a wine-growing region and a horse stud farm," she said with a laugh. "It was a lot of area to cover for one person, but it was only this much on the map of Australia." And she pinched her fingers together to demonstrate.

"It was 100 of my closest friends -- a 10-day cocktail party and 24 hours of hard work," Cobb said. All of the photographers were together for a week at a hotel in Sydney. "Lots of us knew each other, some we knew only by reputation, and there were some who had been your heroes all your life, like Eddie Adams and David Allen Harvey."

"This book shows that Australia is still, in many ways, a frontier land," said Australian Ambassador Sir Robert Cotton, adding that he gave the book "a strong blessing and a good heavy push" when Smolan approached him about it. "Americans seem to have a great deal of affection and curiosity about Australia."

"Someone asked me what did the book tell Australians about themselves," Smolan said. "And I said, 'The mere fact that we're doing the book says something's going on. They've always felt very left out and all of a sudden everyone's paying attention.' "

"A lot of people asked, 'Why Australia?' " Smolan told the small group. "We thought it was the only country in the world that would support such a crazy idea."

The crowd, including Cotton, laughed loudly.

"There goes your visa!" joked Park.