Photographer Of Mystery – Photographs Of History

942-36 Sydney

Wool train along side R.R. Power Station on Hay St. Australian Mercantile L. and F. Co. Ltd. Wool storage beyond power plant.

A new year is well and truly underway, and with it, comes all sorts of resolutions. Mine – to digitise over 1200 negatives before the year is out! The above and below images are just two of the early images to be shared by the blog – two of hundreds of beautiful images taken by an unknown photographer. The photos all date from circa 1936, and provide a powerful and unseen glimpse into Australia’s history.

Some of the images in the collection highlight home life, examining types of houses, and their captions even making mention of whether the homes were of the ‘better class’, ‘old style’, ‘modern apartments’ or ‘homes of the poor’. Other photos, like the one above, turn the photographers lens on the working past of Australia – industry, transport, agriculture, and the buildings which once hid a bustle of activity, from wool scouring to generating power.

954-36 Sydney copy

Terraces of old houses in the Glebe. Girls playing. Campbell St.

The saddest aspect of this – the photographer of these amazing images, so beautifully framed, intricately catalogue, described and carefully preserved, is completely unknown. The only glimpse we have of him (so far) comes from a negative – the one above, where his shadow appears. In the printed photo which accompanies the negative (and nearly every negative has one), it was edited out, but I love the original, complete with the ghost of the photographer.

As I begin the digitising process though, another clue surfaces. I notice a handwritten note on the back of one or two images – ‘fig . . .’

I wonder – has anybody seen these images in some publication? If you ever recognise one of the photos on the blog (and I will be posting many, many more over the coming months) from some publication or other, or even a public collection – please contact me. I would love to put a name to this mysterious photographer.

 

Bark Selectors Hut

A Selectors Bark Humpy Front.jpg

The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.

Flowers Of The Allies And First World War Postcards

Flowers of the allies
This week, with Remembrance Day having just passed us by, it seemed the perfect time to share the postcard above. This is a fascinating card, bringing together ‘The Allies’ in a floral tribute. Of course, not all allies are represented (New Zealand is missing just for a start!), but the card itself represents one of a vast number of patriotic postcards produced during the war.
Postcards were ‘invented’ in the late 1860s in Austria, though at this time they were not illustrated. They were simply cards made to reduce the time and cost of letter writing. By the time of the First World War though, they had not only evolved to be what we recognise as postcards today, they were wildly popular. During the First World War, the sending of postcards reached it’s absolute peak, with thousands using the cards to send hasty messages to loved ones. Many were sent home from The Front, while those left at home had an endless choice of Patriotic Cards to send to their loved ones serving abroad.
Of course, cards were not purchased just to be sent to loved ones, but also as additions to postcard collections, which were also very popular during this period. Postcards helped to commemorate events, with many postcards showing bombings on the home front, or the aftermath of a battle, and also to boost morale, with many beautifully illustrated patriotic cards, such as the one above, being produced. At home, they were available everywhere from chemists to cinemas, while on the Front, war cards were available in YMCA canteens, at rest huts and even in military training camps.

Tessa The Golden Guide Dog

Tessa

This week, The Past Present is focussing on something a little different. Many postcards focus on a place; a street, a building, a beach, even an industrial site. Yet there are those postcards which focus on something else, in the case of the card above, a monument. This card makes no mention of the location of the monument, the focus is the statue and the implied story behind it.

The monument is located in Newcastle, in Stockton to be precise, at the Lynn Oval. Where many monuments honour a person or an event, this one honours an animal who, in her lifetime, did amazing work, not just for her owner, but for all blind people. Tessa, the dog in the photo, was a guide dog, and between 1958 and her death in 1971 she was owned by Mrs Jean Dowsett. So what was it which made this dog so special? Tessa and her blind owner were a world record breaking fundraising team! They would make the journey from their home to the Stockton Ferry Wharf, where they would ask passengers for donations to support the blind. In their years of service, they were able to raise $45000 which, at the time, was more than any other dog and owner worldwide! After Tessa died her owner wanted a monument to be created to remember the amazing dog and the Stockton Lions Club honoured this request, erecting a statue to ‘Tessa The Golden Guide Dog’ in the years following Tessa’s death.

Rabbit Poison Carts On An Australian Sheep Station

Rabbit carts

Rabbits are a well recognised feral problem today, but we aren’t the only generation to recognise them as a pest, as this postcard image shows. The the exact location of the Australian Sheep Station is unknown – perhaps it was close to Sydney, perhaps it was somewhere back of Bourke! Whatever the case, rabbits were a problem all land owners had to deal with.

Rabbits first arrived in Australia when the European colonists arrived – with the First Fleet. They did not immediately become a problem though. These early rabbits were bred as food, and were kept in enclosures. Although Tasmania began to have a rabbit problem as early as 1827, the mainland rabbit population was well maintained and safely caged. Many fine houses in the colony had rabbit enclosures, and by the 1840s even the ‘common folk’ were keeping rabbits. The problem arose, it appears, when in 1859 Thomas Austin released 24 rabbits on his property in Victoria. He planned to use these rabbits for hunting purposes, but they did as rabbits do and multiplied. Other farms followed Austins lead, releasing rabbits into the wild and it was widely thought that the introduction of rabbits could do no harm. Within 10 years though, this was proven to be a massive miscalculation and 2 million rabbits could be shot or trapped each year without having a noticeable effect on their population.

The image above shows just one of the many rabbit control measures which have been used in Australia. Shooting was an early control measure, but really only worked to keep already small populations of rabbits under control. Poisoning remains the most popular of the conventional control methods, and as these carts show, was quite a popular method in the early 20th century too.

World War Two Humour

Finito Mussolini Front copy

This week, with the anniversary of VE Day falling yesterday, The Past Present felt it was the perfect time to share one of the later postcards in the collection, dating from World War Two. VE Day, also known as Victory In Europe Day is celebrated on May 8th and marks the end of World War Two in Europe. The postcard above dates to World War Two and is an excellent example of not only the type of correspondence used during the war, but of wartime humour.

During World War Two (and indeed also during World War One) postcards were a common and important form of communication. The war saw families separated with soldiers leaving to serve their countries with many not returning. Communication between these separated loved ones was very important, not only for those left behind, but also for those serving far from home. Many communicated using postcards, where a brief message could be accompanied by a picture. Often these images were patriotic or encouraging, but many others were humorous, aiming to lift the spirits of those who received them. The postcard above (and below) is a fun novelty of the era, showing a caricature of the Italian leader Mussolini if held one way but a very different image if the card is rotated!

Finito Mussolini Front 2