Posts Tagged ‘The Sydney Morning Herald

03
Oct
21

Text/Exhibition: ‘Mervyn Bishop: Australian Photojournalist’ at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Acton, Canberra ACT

Exhibition dates: 5th March – 4th October 2021

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 40.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

In our sight, in our mind

Can you imagine, please, being the first person to step foot on the moon. Or the first person to discover radium. Now imagine being the first Indigenous Australian photojournalist, for the very first time taking photographs of your culture from the inside, photographs that picture the ongoing suffering of Indigenous people but also, as importantly, their strength and joy. Such was the calling of that legend of Australian photography, Mervyn Bishop.

Bishop was the first in a long line of Indigenous photographers who unearth, investigate, picture and honour their community, although interestingly none of the later photographers are photojournalists. Artists such as Tracey Moffatt, Michael Riley, Ricky Maynard, Lisa Bellear, R e a (rea saunders), Michael Cook, Brook Andrew, Bindi Cole and Christian Thompson) follow in his footsteps. Indeed in this posting, there is a photograph by Bishop presumably of the father of the photographer Ricky Maynard, Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania (1975, below), followed by a photograph by Maynard himself of muttonbirding on Dog Island from his series Portrait of a Distant Land. The songlines of place and ancestors are strong in Aboriginal culture, and “show the connectedness between places and the Creation events and ceremonies associated with those places. People born in that country are forever tied to the creation history of their birthplace and have custodial obligations to that place.”

The stories Bishop shares through his images are different from the colonial ones of yesteryear because they come from within the spirit and soul of the communities he is photographing. Less than 20 years before Bishop’s first photographs things were very different. The Australian journalist and writer Stan Grant observes that, “…there are images in our history, of Aboriginal people in chains. Aboriginal people tied together, with armed police standing either side of them.” In an article on The Guardian website we learn that “Neck chains were still being used on Aboriginal people in Western Australia in 1958. Witnesses at Halls Creek in the Kimberley reported seeing Aboriginal prisoners chained to a veranda post of the police station for weeks at a time… At peak periods, from the 1880s to the 1940s, hundreds of Aboriginal people were chained for alleged cattle theft, and marched out of their country, some for up to 400km. Each neck piece weighed 2.4kg.”1 Even in Dawn – A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of N.S.W. created by the New South Wales Aboriginal Welfare Board and aimed at Aboriginal Australians (running monthly from January 1952 until December 1968) – in which there was an article in February 1965 on a young Mervyn Bishop training to become a photographer (see below) – the forces of colonial assimilation were hard at work, as can be seen on the back cover of the Dawn October 1965 issue, where Leslie Ryan makes her debut at a “Deb” Ball for kindergarten children, where she “seems to be getting a better deal out of life now that (s)he has love and attention.” Now that she has love and attention. Just let that sink in. Today, the dripping irony and sadness of this photograph in relation to what is now known as “The Stolen Generation”2 is apparent, the two young children taken from their families, taken from their culture, dressed to the nines in formal Western attire at such a young age. Remember, this is less than 60 years ago.

As much as Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) was a working photographer making “Documents pour artistes,” declaring his modest ambition to create images for other artists to use as source material, so Bishop was a working photographer who created “Documents for people” at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra from 1974 onwards, where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. As Mervyn himself says, “Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public.” There it is in a nutshell… an intimate understanding of the the art and technique of photography (the construction the image plane, lighting, point of view, scale, printing, etc… ) and the stories he wanted to tell. And he tells those stories straight down the line, with no bullshit. When asked in an audio recording in this posting about why his award winning photograph Life and death dash (1971, below) was misunderstood, he says “it has nothing to do with blackfellas, put it that way… people say it’s a nun running away with a little black kid, the Stolen Generation – nothing to do with it! Not a bloody thing! … people interpret their own way. Who would know that I was black? People still go on about it but people are talking through their … whatever… so, you don’t know what your talking about.” There you have it.

Like his personality, Bishop’s wonderful photographs are strong and direct, informed and understanding of the work of Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. In Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge (1988, above), an Aboriginal mother sits at a kitchen table in a corrugated iron shack and pours tea from a large battered teapot into enamel mugs, one for herself and one presumably for the photographer. Light pours through a hole in the roof. The table is covered in a floral probably plastic table cloth. There are plastic flowers set upon it. The chairs are vinyl. Behind her is an old kitchen unit from the 1950s with a wire screen at eye level, used to keep flies out. To the right are boxes and detritus while to the left a plastic bucket sits on the battered sink. Her child plays next to her oblivious of the camera flash while she stares directly at the camera. Much as Lange’s Migrant Mother, this women possesses her own inner dignity which Bishop captures so well: an unexpected intimacy with the subject in which we confront uncomfortable truths.

Other photographs, such as Children playing in river, Mumeka (1975, below) capture the pure joy of Aboriginal life, or the resoluteness of a people having to survive the trauma of cultures and societies and their complex histories (Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour 1988, below). But let us be clear… this is not a vanishing race, nor an assimilated race but a proud, creative and intelligent race now picturing its own history and future. As Ricky Maynard states, “The contest remains over who will image and own this history. We must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose, as well as the tools used for the telling of this.” Bishop was at the very beginning of this imaging and ownership of Aboriginal history, not by colonial photographers of the past, but from within the community itself, in the present. His photographs are about speaking up about injustice and making sure that Indigenous perspectives were heard and not railroaded by non-indigenous people – Bishop was at the beginning of this – and about how the image speaks truth to power (a non-violent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the received wisdom or propaganda of governments they regard as oppressive, authoritarian or an ideocracy),

Towards the end of the documentary “The Bowraville Murders”, Stan Grant observes that Aboriginal people are kicked every day… [and this remains] out of sight, out of mind. He reminds us that between 1991 and 2021 there have been more than 470 Aboriginal deaths in custody… and not a single conviction. Out of sight, out of mind. Indeed, “fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.”3 And this is what we all do. That is, until a photographer and artist like Mervyn Bishop comes along and reminds us through his photographs of the integrity, vitality and presence of Aboriginal people, spirit that stretches back thousands of years – despite our capacity to forget the trauma that Indigenous Australians have endured. This is the purpose of Bishop’s photographs … they bring to the forefront of our knowledge and imagination an understanding of the history and future of Aboriginal people. They remain, in our sight, in our mind.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

    1. Chris Owen. “How Western Australia’s ‘unofficial’ use of neck chains on Indigenous people lasted 80 years,” on The Guardian website Sun 7 March 2201 [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.
    2. The Stolen Generations refers to a period in Australia’s history where Aboriginal children were removed from their families through government policies. This happened from the mid-1800s to the 1970s.In the 1860s, Victoria became the first state to pass laws authorising Aboriginal children to be removed from their parents. Similar policies were later adopted by other states and territories – and by the federal government when it was established in the 1900s. For about a century, thousands of Aboriginal children were systematically taken from their families, communities and culture, many never to be returned. These children are known as the Stolen Generations survivors, or Stolen Children.These children were taken by the police; from their homes; on their way to or from school. They were placed in over 480 institutions, adopted or fostered by non-Indigenous people and often subjected to abuse. The children were denied all access to their culture, they were not allowed to speak their language and they were punished if they did. The impacts of this are still being felt today.There are currently more than 17,000 Stolen Generations survivors in Australia. Over one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are their descendants. In Western Australia almost half of the population have Stolen Generation links.Anonymous. “Who are the Stolen Generations?” on the Healing Foundation website [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.
    3. Wade Davis. “The Unraveling of America,” on the Rolling Stone website August 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.

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Many thankx to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The contest remains over who will image and own this history. We must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose, as well as the tools used for the telling of this.”

.
Ricky Maynard, 2007

 

“Australia in many ways is a crime scene. And the first crime is Captain Cook ordering his men to shoot at Aboriginal people. That’s the shot that we still hear all around Australia. And of course, there are images in our history, of Aboriginal people in chains. Aboriginal people tied together, with armed police standing either side of them. This is what has happened in our country, so it isn’t a great step to go from frontier attitudes of violence to deaths of three children in Bowraville. Because for us, it’s the same thing. It’s a killing that never stops.”

.
Stan Grant quoted in the documentary “The Bowraville Murders” directed by Allan Clarke on SBS on Demand, Australia, 2021

 

 

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia will celebrates Mervyn Bishop, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, with a new exhibition 5 March – 4 October 2021.

Mr Bishop’s images of culture, politics and people have significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history. This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, the artist’s private archive, and enriched by sound and moving image from the NFSA.

Mervyn Bishop features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community. Spanning the past 60 years, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work.

 

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his hometown of Brewarrina, venturing to Sydney, where he successfully applied for a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald. He became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer and in 1971 won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph Life and Death Dash, 1971.

Bishop went on to work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974 where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This included his iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner.

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]
Nd

 

Indigenous Australians in neck chains

 

Indigenous Australians in neck chains. Historical records say they had been chained after killing an animal. Neck chains were used by police across Western Australia from the 1880s to the late 1950s. Photograph: State Library of Western Australia

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975, printed 1999

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975, printed 1999
Type R3 photograph
30.5 x 30.5cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop/ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill Walk-Off) led by Vincent Lingiari

On 23 August 1966 200 Gurindji stockmen, domestic workers and their families walked off Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory and refused to keep working for the station owners. The disagreement over wages and land ownership lasted for seven years. In 1974 some of the Gurindji people’s homelands were returned to them. This influenced the first legislation, passed in 1976, that allowed Aboriginal people to claim land title. In September 2020 the Gurindji claim for native title to Wave Hill station was granted, 54 years after the walk-off that helped to spark Australia’s Indigenous land rights movement.

 

Why did the Gurindji people strike?

In the 1960s Wave Hill station was owned by an international company called Vestey Brothers. Vestey Brothers paid the Gurindji people working on the station very low wages. On 23 August 1966 the Gurindji people stopped working and walked off Wave Hill station in protest. They were led by elder Vincent Lingiari.

In 1967 the Gurindji set up a camp at Daguragu (also known as Wattie Creek). It soon became clear that the Gurindji did not simply want fair wages. More importantly they wanted the government to return some of their land. For seven years the Gurindji stayed at Daguragu and sent letters and petitions to the Northern Territory Government and the Australian Government asking that their land be returned to them.

How was the dispute resolved?

In 1972 the Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam came to power. The Whitlam government was interested in establishing Aboriginal land rights. Around the same time, Vestey Brothers finally agreed to hand over a small section of Wave Hill station around Daguragu to the Gurindji people.

In 1975 Prime Minister Whitlam visited Daguragu and in a ceremony he returned the land to the Gurindji people. Whitlam famously poured a handful of soil through Vincent Lingiari’s hand and said, ‘Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people’. …

The Gurindji strike helped to make the Australian public aware of Aboriginal land ownership claims. It also influenced the first legislation in Australia that allowed Aboriginal people to apply for ownership of their traditional lands, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

 

“I bin thinkin’ this bin Gurindji country. We bin here longa time before them Vestey mob.”

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Vincent Lingiari, 1966

 

“We originally took the picture under the shade of a bough shed and it didn’t have a nice look about it.”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

What’s the backstory to your famous land rights photograph?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

 

An historic handful of dirt: Whitlam and the legacy of the Wave Hill Walk-Off

On the prime ministerial jet that morning, public servant turned Aboriginal affairs adviser H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs urged Whitlam to keep his speech short and invest the day with a sense of ceremony.

Coombs recounted a story told by anthropologist Bill Stanner: how Wurundjeri elders had formalised their people’s 1835 land treaty with encroaching settlers at Port Phillip by placing soil into the hand of explorer John Batman. Hearing Coombs’ suggestion that the PM might reverse the gesture with Lingiari, Whitlam revised his performance plan for Daguragu on the spot.

When it came to his turn to speak, Whitlam congratulated the Gurindji and their supporters on their victory after a nine-year “fight for justice”. Promising that the Australian government would “help you in your plans to use this land fruitfully”, his speech concluded with the words:

Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people, and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever.

.
In finishing, Whitlam handed Lingiari the new deeds to the Gurindji’s land, now officially dubbed NT Pastoral Lease 805. Then, to the joy of assembled photographers, he stooped down, grabbed a handful of red earth, and poured it into Lingiari’s open palm. …

Lingiari – who according to one reporter was struck with a case of nerves – responded to Whitlam and the crowd in his own language:

The important white men are giving us this land ceremonially… It belonged to the whites, but today it is in the hands of us Aboriginals all around here. Let us live happily as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… They will give us cattle, they will give us horses, and we will be happy… These important white men have come here to our ceremonial ground and they are welcome…

You (Gurindji) must keep this land safe for yourselves, it does not belong to any different Welfare man. They took our country away from us, now they have bought it back ceremonially.

.
After Whitlam gave the old man even more dirt for the benefit of the press, photographer Mervyn Bishop’s images of the “handover” became some of the most recognised in Australian political history. The power of the photos rested in the symbolism of Whitlam’s gesture, made on behalf of millions concerned by Aboriginal dispossession.

The handover implicitly acknowledged the moral rightfuness of the Gurindji’s stand, and the historical injustices done to them by the Europeans on their country. It was by dint of the Gurindji’s hard slog at Wattie Creek that they had successfully brought all this to the nation’s attention. The handover day was the old Gurindji men’s finest hour, and their victory.

Charlie Ward. “An historic handful of dirt: Whitlam and the legacy of the Wave Hill Walk-Off,” on The Conversation website August 21, 2016 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

 

 

Mervyn Bishop: pioneer, artist, and source of inspiration

Hear from National Film and Sound Archive of Australia curator Tara Marynowsky as she describes the ‘insider’s knowledge’ visitors to the Mervyn Bishop exhibition will receive, and how his story brings together those of the famous faces he captured.

 

 

In this excerpt from ABC series art+soul curator Hetti Perkins talks with artist photographer Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Canberra
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA 1 - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Canberra
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition entrance

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition entrance
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA, featuring images and footage of boxer Lionel Rose. See Bishop’s photograph Lionel Rose at his press conference (1968, below)
Photographs by Grace Costa

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lionel Rose at his press conference' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lionel Rose at his press conference
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

Mervyn Bishop cameras

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing some of his cameras
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop with camera

 

Mervyn Bishop with camera
Courtesy NFSA

 

 

Teenage Mervyn had already in a sense begun his career in the mid 1950s. He started to take documentary family snaps on his mother’s Kodak 620, followed by a more expensive fifteen pound Japanese 35mm of his own in 1957. He was encouraged by with the help of a Church of England Bush Brother [priest] Brother Richard and Vic King a local photographer who had a dark room that Merv frequented. He then began to hold backyard slide nights of his family and neighbourhood snaps.

By the beginning of the 1960s the search for the exotic authentic had shifted from the south-east to northern Australia. Although Australian painters such as Russell Drysdale and Arthur Boyd had created images from their trips to western NSW post WWII, photographer Axel Poignant and US Life magazine photographer Fritz Gorro both visited Arnhem Land in the 1950s to document and ‘compose’ their subject matter. …

‘Merv Bishop Graduates from Photographers’ Course’, Dawn magazine’s headline said. After leaving Dubbo High in 1962 he spent a year as a clerk with the ABC before starting as a cadet photographer at the Sydney Morning Herald in 1963, (the first Aboriginal photographer ever hired by the paper) and entered the first photographic course at the Sydney Technical College, Broadway Sydney, graduating in 1966, Next year was the important year of the referendum concerning Aboriginal people and ‘the state’…

Djon Mundine. “Brewarrina Boy,” on the Australian Museum website 12/07/2021 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

Mervyn Bishop media call 4 March 2021 - Curator Coby Edgar and Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop media call 4 March 2021 – Curator Coby Edgar and Mervyn Bishop
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop in a recreation of his darkroom at the exhibition media call

 

Mervyn Bishop in a recreation of his darkroom at the exhibition media call
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing at left, Pool game, Burnt Bridge (1988, below); at second left, Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads (1974, below); at centre Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge (1988, below); and at right, Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour (1988, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pool game, Burnt Bridge' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pool game, Burnt Bridge
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

“I don’t think there were even Indigenous journos in those days. As my friend said: ‘You were the lone ranger'”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

How diverse was your photographic subject matter?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge' 1988, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge
1988, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
40.0 x 30.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing at middle, Elders, Amata (1977, below); and at right, ‘Bob’s catch’ Shoalhaven Heads (1974, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Elders, Amata' 1977, printed 1991

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Elders, Amata
1977, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
29.9 x 40.5cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) ''Bob's catch' Shoalhaven Heads' 1974, printed 1991

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
‘Bob’s catch’ Shoalhaven Heads
1974, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing in the bottom photograph, Life and death dash (1971, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

 

“People say it’s about the stolen generations, but it’s got nothing to do with that – not a bloody thing.”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

Why is ‘Life-and-death dash’ misunderstood?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Life and death dash' 1971

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Life and death dash
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
40.4 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Far West Children's health clinic, Manly' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Far West Children’s health clinic, Manly
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Alan Judd, ABC trainee radio announcer, Sydney' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Alan Judd, ABC trainee radio announcer, Sydney
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lois O'Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lois O’Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
30 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Lowitja Lois O’Donoghue Smart, AC, CBE, DSG (born Lois O’Donoghue; 1 August 1932) is an Aboriginal Australian retired public administrator. In 1990-1996 she was the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (dismantled in 2004). She is patron of the Lowitja Institute, a research institute for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (/ˈʊdɡəruː ˈnuːnəkəl/ UUD-gə-roo NOO-nə-kəl; born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, later Kath Walker (3 November 1920 – 16 September 1993) was an Aboriginal Australian political activist, artist and educator, who campaigned for Aboriginal rights. Noonuccal was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Photography cadets with model, Sydney Morning Herald' 1967

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Photography cadets with model, Sydney Morning Herald
1967
Gelatin silver photograph
29.8 x 40.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina' 1966

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
30 x 40cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Roslyn Watson' 1973

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Roslyn Watson
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children playing in river, Mumeka' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children playing in river, Mumeka
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 29.9cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children playing in river, Mumeka' 1975 (detail)

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children playing in river, Mumeka (detail)
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 29.9cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled. 2 Boys posing, Tony Mundine's gym, Redfern' Nd

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled. 2 Boys posing, Tony Mundine’s gym, Redfern
Nd
35mm black and white slide
2.5 x 3.5cm
Mervyn Bishop Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'H Thomas, C Dixon, K Smith ACT' 1976

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
H Thomas, C Dixon, K Smith ACT
1976
35mm colour slide
2.5 x 3.5cm
Mervyn Bishop Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Murray Island' 1977

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Murray Island
1977
35mm colour slide
3.5 x 2.5cm
Mervyn Bishop archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Exhibition dedicated to photographer Mervyn Bishop opens in Canberra

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) to showcase work of award-winning artist from 5 March – 1 August 2021.

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is celebrating Mervyn Bishop, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, with a new exhibition opening in Canberra tomorrow Friday 5 March. Mr Bishop himself will present a floor talk on opening day, at 12pm.

Mr Bishop’s images of culture, politics and people have significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history. This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) collection, the artist’s private archive, and enriched by sound and moving image from the NFSA.

Mervyn Bishop features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community. Spanning the past 60 years, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work.

NFSA Acting CEO Nancy Eyers said: ‘We are pleased to bring the work of Mervyn Bishop to Canberra and share his story with our audiences. Mr Bishop’s photographs present us with a wonderful combination of history, artistic excellence, and self-representation. In addition to the striking prints from the AGNSW, the NFSA’s audiovisual collection will bring a new dimension to the exhibition.’

‘This comprehensive exhibition was developed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), but there are new additions from the NFSA collection for Canberra audiences. It’s been fantastic working with them; there are not many exhibitions that combine photography with mixed media, and I think visitors will be amazed by this combination.’

AGNSW Curator Coby Edgar added: ‘Working with Mervyn Bishop and the NFSA to build this show has been a truly collaborative process with the aim to present Australia through Mervyn’s eyes. He has captured many of our country’s most pivotal moments politically and socially, and this exhibition is a celebration of his life and practice and the Australian peoples and cultures that he has documented.’

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his hometown of Brewarrina, venturing to Sydney, where he successfully applied for a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald. He became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer and in 1971 won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph Life and Death Dash 1971. Bishop went on to work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974 where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This included his iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. Bishop’s childhood, his life experiences and career will be explored by former Reuters journalist Tim Dobbyn in an upcoming biography tentatively titled A Handful of Sand.

Mervyn Bishop said: ‘Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public.’

An AGNSW touring exhibition, presented in collaboration with NFSA.

 

About Mervyn Bishop

Born and raised in Brewarrina, New South Wales, Mervyn Bishop was encouraged by his mother to take his first photograph. After witnessing the ‘magic’ of the developing process, he became passionate about photography. In 1963 he successfully applied for a four-year cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald and completed a Photography Certificate Course at Sydney Technical College during these years. Bishop continued to work for The Sydney Morning Herald and was Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer. In 1971 he won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph, Life and Death Dash, 1971.

Bishop started work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974, in the early years of an important era in Indigenous self-determination. Here he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, including the historical moment in 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. This image – representing the Australian government’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights – became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography. In 1989 Bishop received his Associate Diploma in Adult Education at Sydney College of Advanced Education and went on to teach photography at Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe, Sydney and the Eora Centre TAFE (Technical and Further Education) in Redfern, Sydney.

Bishop’s diverse career, combining journalistic and art photography, was celebrated in 1991 in his solo exhibition and accompanying monograph, ‘In Dreams: Mervyn Bishop Thirty Years of Photography 1960-1990’. This important exhibition was curated by Tracey Moffatt and opened at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, before touring nationally and internationally. The timely and intimate photographs celebrate Bishop’s contribution to Australian art and photojournalism. In 2000, Bishop was presented with the Red Ochre Award from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council, in recognition of his pioneering work and ongoing influence.

Biography by Jonathan Jones, first published in ‘Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014.

 

Mervyn Bishop’s journey to be one of Australia’s best-known photographers is paved with triumphs, setbacks and tragedy. Bishop left Canberra in 1979 to return to The Sydney Morning Herald in a career choice that ended with his departure in 1986. While looking for work he was befriended by people from the Sydney arts scene, leading to his first solo exhibition in 1991, the In Dreams show. But this victory is forever linked to the death of his wife Elizabeth on the same day as the exhibition’s opening. His later work is dominated by portraiture that demonstrates his ability to put people at ease and a sympathetic appreciation for the human condition.

Synopsis from the upcoming biography A Handful of Sand, by author Tim Dobbyn.

Press release from the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Fisherman Charlie Ardler, Wreck Bay' 1975, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Fisherman Charlie Ardler, Wreck Bay
1975, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Womenfolk, Bowraville' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Womenfolk, Bowraville
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

What is your legacy? And whose work do you admire?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

 

Additional images not in exhibition

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Aborigine Trains as News Photographer," 'Dawn' magazine, February 1965

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Aborigine Trains as News Photographer," 'Dawn' magazine, February 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Aborigine Trains as News Photographer
Dawn magazine, February 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Your Career – Photography," 'Dawn' magazine, October 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Your Career – Photography
Dawn magazine, October 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975) "Untitled [Deb Ball]" Dawn magazine, October 1965 back cover

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Untitled [Deb Ball]
Dawn magazine, October 1965 back cover

 

 

Dawn – A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of N.S.W.

Dawn was an Australian magazine created by the New South Wales Aboriginal Welfare Board and aimed at Aboriginal Australians. It ran monthly from January 1952 until December 1968. Two issues were published in 1969 before the disbanding of the Aboriginal Welfare Board led to the publication ceasing. The magazine was relaunched in April 1970 under the title New Dawn, published by the New South Wales Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare. It continued to be produced on a monthly basis; production slowed in 1974 and a final issue was published in July 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal children, cousin Helen Bishop, Gibbs children, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1965, printed 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal children, cousin Helen Bishop, Gibbs children, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1965, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bishop Town picnic, Brewarrina' 1966, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Bishop Town picnic, Brewarrina
1966, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lil and Larry Cargill at the rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1967, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lil and Larry Cargill at the rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1967, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'A woman drinks a pint of beer in a Glebe pub on the eve of its closing' 1967

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
A woman drinks a pint of beer in a Glebe pub on the eve of its closing
1967
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Patrons drinking at a pub on the eve of its closure, Glebe, New South Wales' 1967, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Patrons drinking at a pub on the eve of its closure, Glebe, New South Wales
1967, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

''YES' for Aborigines pamphlet' 1967

 

‘YES’ for Aborigines pamphlet
1967
Donated by Janelle Marshall, the child pictured on the pamphlet
National Museum of Australia

 

 

It is 1967.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are citizens, can vote and are as entitled to government pensions as all other Australians.

But they are not formally counted in census returns, and the Australian Government does not have the power to make laws for their benefit.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are subject to individual state controls and laws, rather than uniform national ones, and in several cases the states are not legislating for the benefit of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inhabitants.

To change this situation there needs to be a change to the Constitution, by a referendum, a national vote.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'The Murai tree at the Rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1969, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
The Murai tree at the Rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1969, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.3 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Guests at Lorraine Taylor's wedding at Terrigal, New South Wales' 1973, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Guests at Lorraine Taylor’s wedding at Terrigal, New South Wales
1973, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Warning sign 30 kilometres from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Warning sign 30 kilometres from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

“Do not take picture with camer. If someone take it? The law said, please, when coming in here, take only the park painting, no money, but someone else body is ten dollars and countrie is eleven dollars. This is going all over the world to white men and blacks.”

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'School bus, Yarrabah' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
School bus, Yarrabah
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'The bus stop, Yalambie Reserve, Mt Isa' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
The bus stop, Yalambie Reserve, Mt Isa
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Sawmill workers, Cherbourg' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Sawmill workers, Cherbourg
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal man beside humpy, Yuendumu, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal man beside humpy, Yuendumu, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Woman attend home management course at Yuendumu' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Woman attend home management course at Yuendumu
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Yuendumu is a town in the Northern Territory of Australia, 293 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs on the Tanami Road, within the Central Desert Region local government area. It ranks as one of the larger remote communities in central Australia, and has a thriving community of Aboriginal artists.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Melba Saunders surrounded by stuffed koalas at an Aboriginal craft shop, Brisbane' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Melba Saunders surrounded by stuffed koalas at an Aboriginal craft shop, Brisbane
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40.2 x 27cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'John Nykamula treating patient Gurrumuru Mala, Arnhemland, Northern Territory' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
John Nykamula treating patient Gurrumuru Mala, Arnhemland, Northern Territory
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40.2 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bishop and Gurindji men outside the Murramulla Social Club' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Bishop and Gurindji men outside the Murramulla Social Club
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'An Aboriginal school teacher and two children, Maningrida community, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
An Aboriginal school teacher and two children, Maningrida community, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 29.8cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953; Trawlwoolway) 'Coming Home' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953; Trawlwoolway)
Coming Home
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 52.0cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

Shearwaters, a type of muttonbird, also called yolla or moonbird, are harvested for food (the meat tastes like mutton), feathers for mattress fill, and the omega-3 rich oil, which is squeezed out of the birds’ guts, for medicinal use. Harvesting is a confronting job to outsiders: chicks are pulled from their burrows and their necks are quickly snapped. …

Indigenous people have been catching muttonbirds for thousands of years. “Millennia,” Maynard emphasises. “It’s just evolved. Our old fellas used to go to the rookeries, and get these birds when they were there because they were a great food source; a seasonal tucker.”

Dog Island, where the muttonbirds are harvested in Maynard’s play, is named for Great Dog or Big Dog Island: a 354-hectare granite isle filled with tussock grassland, off the south coast of Flinders Island in Bass Strait, where commercial birding operations have existed for more than 200 years. Maynard’s father didn’t take him muttonbirding on Big Dog, his family’s “spiritual home”, until he was 15, because birding season, which runs late March through late April, clashed with the school term. Maynard, though, takes his eight-year-old son each year.

Maynard is a Trawlwoolway man and descendant of Mannalargenna, a leader of the north-east Tasmanian Indigenous peoples, who led resistance against British soldiers in the early 19th century.

In 1995 the Tasmanian government handed back several sites, including Great Dog and Babel islands, to Indigenous people in an acknowledgement of Aboriginal dispossession.

Steve Dow. “‘I wanted something to celebrate’: Indigenous playwright tackles tradition in ‘The Season’,” on The Guardian website Wed 14 Dec 2016 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Three Aboriginal women holding cakes, Mungundi, New South Wales' 1976, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Three Aboriginal women holding cakes, Mungundi, New South Wales
1976, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Charles Perkins shaking hands with members of the National Aboriginal Congress, Canberra' 1978, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Charles Perkins shaking hands with members of the National Aboriginal Congress, Canberra
1978, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

Charles Perkins (Australian, 1936-2000; Arrernte; Kalkadoon)

Charles Nelson Perkins AO, commonly known as Charlie Perkins (16 June 1936 – 19 October 2000), was an Australian Aboriginal activist, soccer player and administrator. He was the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate tertiary education, and is known for his instigation and organisation of the 1965 Freedom Ride and his key role in advocating for a “yes” vote in the Australian referendum, 1967 (Aboriginals). He had a long career as a public servant.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled (Bellbrook NSW, man leaning on fence)' 4 May 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled (Bellbrook NSW, man leaning on fence)
4 May 1988
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children floating on board, Yirrkala, Northern Territory' 1989, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children floating on board, Yirrkala, Northern Territory
1989, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal Australian Gerard Rice at the Rally, Sydney' 1989, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal Australian Gerard Rice at the Rally, Sydney
1989, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40 x 27cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT 2601

Opening hours:
Daily 10am to 4pm

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia website

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30
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘The Greatest Wonder of the World’ at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 23rd Feb 2013 – 12th May 2013

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[Merlin's photographic cart ?] and Mitchell's London Hotel, Railway Place, Sandridge [Port Melbourne]' 1870-1875

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
[Merlin’s photographic cart?] and Mitchell’s London Hotel, Railway Place, Sandridge [Port Melbourne]
1870-1875

 

 

Another fascinating posting, this time featuring Australian colonial photography. In 1951, a hoard of 3,500 glass plate negatives from the nineteenth century was discovered in a garden shed in Chatswood. In time, the find proved to be the most important photographic documentation of goldfields life in Australia. All negatives have now been scanned at high resolution and for the first time in 140 years, it is possible to see what Merlin and Bayliss (from the American & Australasian Photographic Company) photographed, with astonishing clarity and fidelity. “Many of the images in the Holtermann collection were created for an ambitious 1870s publicity campaign to sell the wonders of the Australian colonies to the world.”

What I find particularly interesting is the familiarity of all photographs of goldfields from around the world, whether it be Californian or Victorian – the working class men, the pictures of diggings, etc… but also the particular Australian vernacular that these photographs possess. The photographs could be taken no where else but Australia. Observe the abject poverty of some of the shopkeepers – draper, blacksmith, bootmaker and undertaker (who also acted as carpenter, joiner, builder and cabinet maker) – the timber clad facade of their buildings failing to conceal the bark structure behind (see Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett’s store, Gulgong, 1872 below). And yet in their poverty they still thought it important to spend money on advertising with wonderful examples of distinctive typography that I have highlighted in detail – on the photographers, bakers and tent makers shops, on the undertakers facade replete with horses and funeral carriage, and on the painters and sign writers bark clad establishment. Contemporary typographers could have a field day studying these photographs for new typefaces!

Notice in the detail wonderful things:

The roughness of a man’s hand as they stand in front of their loot, the gold specimens;
The incongruous sight of toy dogs among the rough-and-ready types that inhabited a frontier gold town;
The riding crop tucked under the arm of one of the detectives;
The flour that covers the bakers shoes;
The decorative wallpaper hanging outside the painter and signwriters shack, the word ‘Sacred’ on top of the mirror, and his name ‘J.H. Osborne Painter No.2′ emblazoned on the side of his ladder.

 

Of particular poignancy is the way the undertaker William Lewis leans in the entrance of his establishment. Propped up against the door (to stop himself from moving during the exposure), his hands stiffly by his side, his eyes stare straight ahead as though he is in a trance. In the photograph he has almost become the corpse that it is his business to bury. We must also acknowledge the temporary nature of these gold field towns, their unsubstantial character and the transitory life of the people that lived and died in them. Bootmaker William Holmes’ wife passed away a few months after the photograph of her family was taken. It was a tough life living on a frontier town. We can also note how desolate the major cities seem, as can be seen in photographs of Sandridge [Port Melbourne] and Pall Mall, Bendigo, with the odd carriage on the street and a single man standing on a street corner.

This is such a rich photographic collection and to have all the negatives digitised and available online is such a pleasure, such a treasure for Australian photographers, historians, researchers and the general public who, with an inquiring mind, can begin to understand the colonisation and conquest of this never empty country.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the State Library of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The State Library of NSW’s world-renowned photographic archive, the Holtermann collection, will be officially included on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register at a ceremony in May 2013… The Australian UNESCO Memory of the World program is part of an international initiative, which aims to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity and recognise the significance of all heritage materials… Many of the images in the Holtermann collection were created for an ambitious 1870s publicity campaign to sell the wonders of the Australian colonies to the world. The campaign was funded by German-born entrepreneur, Bernhardt Otto Holtermann, who made his fortune from mining in Hill End. For the first time 100 amazing large format prints from the Holtermann collection are on show [until 12 May] in the State Library’s free exhibition, The Greatest Wonder of the World.

 

 

Beaufoy Merlin. 'Short Street, Hill End' 1872

 

Beaufoy Merlin (Australian, 1830-1873)
Short Street, Hill End
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 5/No. 18504

 

 

Hill End in 1872 was a gold town at its peak. According to the Empire 7 June 1872, “The streets were thronged by a motley crowd; the stores and places of business crowded with customers; the little theatre so densely packed by an admiring audience, that there was not what is facetiously called ‘standing room,’ and even the public-houses, whose name is legion, were crammed. Yet I saw less, far less, drunkenness than can be met with in any street in the metropolis after 10 o’clock at night. There were very few inebriates, no filthy dishevelled women, no crouching loafers, no abject vice. The general aspect of the crowds of decently dressed folk who thronged ‘The Hill’ was that of respectability – rough indeed in many respects, and loud and noisy too, in some instances, but not disreputable, and altogether good-humoured.”

 

American & Australasian. 'Photographic Company Hawkins Hill 'Golden Quarter Mile'' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Hawkins Hill ‘Golden Quarter Mile’
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. C

 

 

This panorama of Hawkins Hill was taken by Beaufoy Merlin, who erected his camera in a tree more than a kilometre away across a gully nearly 300 metres deep. In the centre of the image is Krohmann’s mine, with the twin buildings and two storied structure of Beyers and Holtermann’s immediately to the left of it. These two mines contributed to the 12.4 tonnes of gold extracted from Hawkins Hill, but such are the vagaries of goldmining, that Rapp’s, on the extreme right, returned little to its investors, despite digging to a depth of over 380 feet [115 metres]. An almost identical view of the Hawkins Hill ‘Golden Quarter Mile’ taken by Merlin appeared as an engraving in the Australian Town and Country Journal 18 May 1872.

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. T

 

 

A month before discovery of the 286 kg Holtermann “nugget” [estimated to hold around 93kg of gold], Bernhardt Holtermann (second from left) Richard Ormsby Kerr (centre) and Louis Beyers (fourth from left) posed with 3,663 ozs [114 kg] of gold specimens from their claim. The specimens were described in The Sydney Morning Herald 28 September 1872 ; “To say they were good would be to say but little – they were almost without rival – magnificent – the talk of this town, where specimens are not unknown.” Holtermann took the best to the Sydney Mint for smelting, “as being clotted with gold it would be almost impossible to crush it in the ordinary way.” The item of clothing on the floor to the right is Beyer’s waistcoat.

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine' 1872 (detail)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. T

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'A domestic miner [Hill End]' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
A domestic miner [Hill End]
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 10/No. 70154

 

 

Thomas Browne (better known as Rolf Boldrewood) was Gold Commissioner in Gulgong, during the period of Merlin and Bayliss’s photographs. Although this photograph was taken in Hill End, Boldrewood’s description of the domestic miner in his novel The Miners Right seems universal. “The thrifty miner who possesses the treasure, not less common on Australian goldfields than in other places, of a cleanly managing wife, is enabled to surround himself with rural privileges. A plot of garden ground, well fenced, grows not only vegetables but flowers, which a generation since were only to be found in conservatories… the domestic miner is often seen surrounded by his children, hoeing up his potatoes or cauliflowers, or training the climbing rose which beautifies his rude but by no means despicable dwelling.”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 9/No. 18850

 

 

The American and Australasian Photographic Company established a studio in Tambaroora Street, Hill End in 1872. Beaufoy Merlin’s assistant Charles Bayliss stands, hands in pockets, in the doorway, with studio operator James Clinton behind him. Beside the door is a frame containing large photographic views of Sydney, including the General Post Office and harbour.

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End' 1872 (detail)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 9/No. 18850

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Blacksmith William Jenkyns' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Blacksmith William Jenkyns
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 7/No. 18715

 

 

William Jenkyns’ blacksmith and shoeing forge was situated in Clarke Street, Hill End. The condition of roads around Hill End ensured Jenkyns was busy. A correspondent to The Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1872 wrote of the road between Bathurst and Hill End, “For miles at a stretch there is nothing to indicate that any money has been spent upon the road for years, and it is doubtful whether any portion of it has ever been properly made.” On 3 December 1872 another wrote, “I think I have travelled the worst of roads; for the sake of humanity, I hope there are none worse than those I have travelled.” Despite a superficial resemblance, the man on the right is not B.O. Holtermann.

 

Gibbs, Shallard & Co., Colour Printers [188-?] 'Holtermann's Life Preserving Drops' 1872

 

Gibbs, Shallard & Co., Colour Printers [188-?]
Holtermann’s Life Preserving Drops
1872
Poster

 

 

There is no doubt that Bernhardt Otto Holtermann understood the importance and value of maintaining his association with the world’s largest specimen of reef gold. Unable to purchase the monster quartz and gold specimen when it was extracted from the Star of Hope mine in Tambaroora in 1872, he commissioned the American and Australasian Photographic Company to produce a photographic montage of him standing beside it. Photographers Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss seem to have carried out this assignment on more than one occasion, as Holtermann wears different clothing in the several known examples of the image.

Obviously pleased with the result, Holtermann used the montage on his business card and on the label to a patent medicine bearing his name. As an advertising ploy, the image of Holtermann resting his hand on the world’s largest hunk of gold can only have been interpreted as a symbol of success and a guarantee of the worth of his product.

(Alan Davies author)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'B.O. Holtermann with the Holtermann Nugget, North Sydney' 1874-1876?

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
B.O. Holtermann with the Holtermann Nugget, North Sydney
1874-1876?

 

 

During the 1870’s goldrush in central New South Wales, Bernard Holtermann, his partners and miners brought the largest agglomeration of gold to the surface. It was not a nugget of pure gold but he was instantly rich! An even larger gold find was broken up when it came to the surface in late January-early February 1873 but it was not photographed. With his wealth Holtermann financed the photography of the goldfields, a collection of international significance showing the ordinary people from all over the world with their houses and businesses on the goldfields. This composite photograph was put together later to give the appearance of Holtermann with the gold on the veranda of his new mansion at North Sydney, now the site of Shore Grammar School.

Three photographs were used to create this image of Holtermann, (supposedly holding the worlds’ largest accumulation of rock and gold ever brought to the surface in one piece). He was posed in the studio with his hand on a headclamp, the nugget was inserted and both placed on a photograph of the verandah of his mansion, built from the proceeds of his goldmine. The “nugget” was found in Hill End, New South Wales on 19th October 1872. More than half of the 630 lbs weight was pure gold, value 12,000 pounds ($24,000). With gold worth say $1400 per ounce, the value today would be over $A7,000,000. Amazingly Holtermann’s mine had already made him rich before the discovery of this boulder and there was reputed to be an even larger aggregate in the mine!

 

 

In 1872, the newly rich Bernhardt Otto Holtermann used some of his wealth to employ Henry Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss, of the American and Australasian (A&A) Photographic Company, to photograph gold producing areas and cities in NSW and Victoria for exhibition overseas. These images provide the most comprehensive and detailed record of nineteenth century goldfields life and, with the commissioned photographs, now form the Library’s Holtermann archive of 3500 wet plate negatives. The Greatest Wonder of the World features this extraordinary collection of nineteenth century documentary images. Through enlargements, digital images and a selection of vintage prints and wet plate negatives, the exhibition tells the remarkable story of the A&A Photographic Company and the philanthropy and vision of Bernhardt Holtermann.

In 1951, a hoard of 3,500 glass plate negatives from the nineteenth century was discovered in a garden shed in Chatswood. In time, the find proved to be the most important photographic documentation of goldfields life in Australia. The photographers responsible for the images were Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss of the American and Australasian Photographic Company, who had travelled to the town of Hill End in 1872 to record the rush. From there, they also recorded the burgeoning Gulgong and Mudgee goldfields.

In October 1872, the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, known as the Holtermann nugget, was unearthed at nearby Hawkins Hill and Merlin and Bayliss were there to record it. In an extraordinary act of patronage, the newly rich Bernhardt Otto Holtermann used some of his wealth to employ Merlin and Bayliss to photograph other gold producing areas and cities in NSW and Victoria for exhibition overseas. Proud of his own success, he believed that his travelling exposition would encourage immigration to Australia.  Merlin and Bayliss’s documentation was slow, with long exposures and the difficulty of processing one photograph at a time. Their wet plate negatives captured exceptional detail, but copies made in the twentieth century failed to reveal the wealth of information hidden within.

In 2008, plans were made to digitally scan the Holtermann Collection at very high resolution and this became reality through the generous assistance of the Graham and Charlene Bradley Foundation; Simon and Catriona Mordant; Geoffrey and Rachel O’Conor; Morningstar and numerous other benefactors. For the first time in 140 years, it is possible to see what Merlin and Bayliss photographed, with astonishing clarity and fidelity.

Press release from the State Library of New South Wales website

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[French warship 'Atalante', Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873]' Aug 1873

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
[French warship ‘Atalante’, Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873]
Aug 1873

 

 

This photograph of the French warship Atalante in Fitzroy Dock on Cockatoo Island, with Balmain in the background, was taken in August 1873. Built in 1865, the iron clad Atalante had a protruding brass bow for ramming lesser vessels. It had taken part in the Franco Prussian War in 1870 and at the time of this photograph was the flagship of the Pacific Squadron, under the command of Rear Admiral Baron Roussin. Beaufoy Merlin was particularly pleased with his photographs of the Atalante and wrote about them in the Town and Country Journal.

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[French warship 'Atalante' at Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873 / attributed to the American & Australasian Photographic Company]' 1873

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
[French warship ‘Atalante’ at Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873 / attributed to the American & Australasian Photographic Company]
1873

 

 

“… One of the solar pictures which I took on the occasion of my last visit to the Atalante, of which an engraving accompanies the present pen-and-ink sketch, is taken  from the rocks to the north-west, and shows her “ram,” with its massive projecting extremity of solid brass, her swelling sides, portholes, section of the dock, and men at work. The steps to the bottom of the basin as well as [its depth], are fairly indicated. Probably there is no one more difficult to please in procuring a picture of this kind than the landscape photographer himself. I may therefore be permitted to say in behalf of the one referred to, that it gave me satisfaction.”

Sadly, these images of Atalante were among the last photographs taken by Merlin. He contracted pneumonia and died, age 43, in September 1873.

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Herbert Street, west side looking north from Mayne Street and showing Barnes' Chemist Shop, Gulgong' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Herbert Street, west side looking north from Mayne Street and showing Barnes’ Chemist Shop, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18242

 

 

The incongruous sight of toy dogs among the rough-and-ready types that inhabited a frontier gold town has been captured in this view of Herbert Street, Gulgong. According to the Empire 28 May 1872 “The streets – so to call the dusty avenues between the rows of shops and Inns – are thronged in the daytime, by much about the same number, though not, apparently by the same sort of persons, as the streets in Sydney. There is not the same bustling activity about them… There are also fewer women amongst them, and fewer well dressed men. The yellow, clay-stained fustian trousers which have never made and never will make acquaintance with the wash-tub, invest the lower extremities of every two men out of three…”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Charles Bird, Medical Hall, Gulgong' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Charles Bird, Medical Hall, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18160

 

 

The Medical Hall of Charles Bird Jnr was situated at the corner of Belmore and Herbert Streets, Gulgong. Charles Bird Snr. conducted another shop at the corner of Mayne and Herbert Streets, until the Medical Hall was sold and converted into a hotel in 1879. The Gulgong Guardian 20 November 1872 noted that Charles Bird had received a new disinfectant “which will be invaluable during the summer months to all who are unfortunate enough to live in those parts of town where stenches are pungent and plentiful.”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett's store, Gulgong' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett’s store, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18314

 

 

This timber clad facade fails to conceal the bark structure behind and the poverty of its inhabitants. This is Gulgong bootmaker William Holmes and his family outside their shop in Mayne Street west. His wife Emily, in the doorway, died a few months after the photograph was taken. The town’s short-term architecture was described in The Sydney Morning Herald 30 September 1872. “Gulgong is not singular in its buildings. The followers of alluvial rushes have ere this found that business is fleeting. As leads work out so does business tide away. Hence have we buildings of a temporary nature; and, although the town of Gulgong may be reckoned three years old, yet not a single brick building stands on its site…”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'The detectives' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
The detectives
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18246

 

 

These are detectives Charles Powell and Robert Hannan, outside their Gulgong office. They had plenty to do. In a letter to the editor of the Maitland Mercury 16 May 1872, William Collins stated “The people (except the bankers and storekeepers), are in general a rough and ready set, occasionally a fight is to be seen, but the very diligent police speedily settle such hostile engagements, by marching the pugilists to a place called the town cage, from which place they are brought in the morning before the magistrate, who has often heard of mercy, but does not know what it means…” Powell and Hannan arrested 14 Chinese for gambling in January 1872 and the Empire 20 January 1872 noted, “In all these cases the lawyers reap a rich harvest, and it was somewhat amusing to witness their actively and interest within ten minutes of the time of arrest.”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'The detectives' 1872 (detail)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
The detectives (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18246

 

American & Australasian Photographic. 'Company William Lewis, undertaker' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
William Lewis, undertaker
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18168

 

 

The establishment of William Thomas Lewis, Undertaker and Carpenter at the corner of Belmore and Herbert Streets was primitive, but his funerals were said to be carried out ‘with his usual taste and completeness’. In 1871, Gulgong lacked a suitable place for burials and the Gulgong Guardian commented several times on the growing outcry for a cemetery. The locals had a valid complaint, particularly because of the considerable mortality rate among the young. In April 1871 alone, nine children died in a fortnight. Even Thomas De Courcy Brown, editor of the Guardian, lost his daughter Rose, age 7 months, in December that year. In January 1872, there were 37 deaths in Gulgong, (including 21 children under 5 years) and 17 births. The newspaper complained that the new cemetery was still unfenced.

 

American & Australasian Photographic. 'Company William Lewis, undertaker' 1872 (detail)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
William Lewis, undertaker (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18168

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'John Osborne, painter and signwriter' 1872

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
John Osborne, painter and signwriter
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 4/No. 18372

 

 

J.H. Osborne, painter & signwriter of Gulgong also supplied decorative wallpaper. It seems he painted faux marble headstones as well. Osborne’s bark clad establishment was located at 2 Medley Street, at the sparsely populated northern end of town, which explains the prominent display of his sign writing skill. The Empire 28 May 1872 commented on the temporary nature of buildings in Gulgong. “The shops and public-houses are, for the most part, of a very temporary and unsubstantial character, considered as buildings. A large proportion of them are capable of being removed, piecemeal, and set up again on a new diggings in the event of Gulgong declining in prosperity, and a rush taking place to another field within a day or two’s journey.”

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'John Osborne, painter and signwriter' 1872 (detail)

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
John Osborne, painter and signwriter (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 4/No. 18372

 

 

A meeting between gold miner Bernard Otto Holtermann and photographer Beaufoy Merlin in Hill End in 1872 resulted in one of the most astonishing photographic documentations ever undertaken. Holtermann had been associated with the recent discovery of the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, weighing 145 kilograms, extracted from the Star of Hope mine at nearby Tambaroora. Merlin, an itinerant photographer, had just opened a temporary studio in Hill End. In January 1873, the two announced their plans for Holtermann’s great International Travelling Exposition, which would publicise the potential of their adopted country to the world through photography.
Merlin and his assistant Charles Bayliss had already photographed some of the gold producing towns of the colony and Holtermann’s patronage enabled them to continue the undertaking, using a larger camera.

Merlin had begun his photographic career in Victoria in 1866 and within a few years had developed a unique style of outdoor photography. Charles Bayliss joined American & Australasian Photographic Company in Melbourne and the pair headed north into New South Wales, photographing towns along the way. When Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss arrived in Sydney in September 1870, they had already completed an extraordinary documentation of “almost every house in Melbourne, and the other towns in Victoria.” They were aware that their venture was unusual and contemporary advertising by the American & Australasian Photographic Company reflects a considered understanding of the photographic medium and an intellectual approach to their work.

“The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of the Company’s style of work, is the introduction of figures into the photograph – the most complete and life-like portraits of individuals who happen, or may choose to stand outside, being incorporated in the picture. The A&A Photographic Company desire further to remind the public that these negatives are not taken for the mere immediate object of sale, but that being registered, copies can at all times be had by or of those parties residing in any part of the colonies wherever the Company’s operations have extended, thus forming a novel means of social and commercial intercourse.”

Nevertheless, it is not surprising that Merlin and Bayliss headed west in 1872 with the new gold rushes. The cry “Rush-O!” meant money for businesses, including photographers. A studio for the A&A Photographic Company was built on land owned by Holtermann in Hill End and excursions were made to surrounding areas by horse drawn caravan. The photographic process of the day required the photographer coat each plate just before use and develop it immediately before it lost sensitivity. For the itinerant photographer, this meant taking a portable darkroom wherever he went. Despite the difficulty of the wet plate process, the comprehensive goldfields photography of Merlin and Bayliss has provided a unique documentation of frontier life.

Merlin fell ill and died from pneumonia in 1873, leaving his assistant the task of documenting towns for Holtermann’s Exposition. Consequently, Bayliss toured Victoria the following year, but returned to Sydney in 1875 and began making giant panoramas of the city from Holtermann’s house in North Sydney. The venture was to cost Holtermann over ₤4000, but resulted in the production of the world’s largest wet-plate negatives and several panoramas. One, measuring 10 metres long, astonished audiences overseas and received the Bronze award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle Internationale in 1878. Only a small percentage of the A&A Photographic Company’s output has survived, but 3,500 small format wet plates negatives (including extensive coverage of the towns of Hill End and Gulgong) and the world’s largest wet plate negatives, measuring a massive 1 x 1.5 metres, are held by the Library.

Text from The Holtermann Collection website

 

Charles Bayliss. 'The beginning of Home Rule' 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (Australian, 1850-1897)
The beginning of Home Rule
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18278

 

 

Home Rule, 11 km south-east of Gulgong, was only two months old when Charles Bayliss took this photograph. A reporter from the Gulgong Guardian was also in town and wrote on 13 July 1872, “During the past fortnight there has been a great improvement for the better in the appearance of the township at the Home Rule. Large and costly buildings are springing up in every direction and being fitted up for almost every trade. In hotels there is a great change for the better, as in several of them notably Messrs Wright, Moss, and Oliver, the accommodation is almost equal to any on Gulgong; so visitors need not fear that they will suffer hunger or thirst.”

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Tent city, Home Rule' 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (Australian, 1850-1897)
Tent city, Home Rule
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18285

 

 

In the early days of gold rushes, miners usually lived in tents. Here tentmaker J. Booth has confidently set up his canvas shop in Home Rule. The burgeoning new field was described in the Sydney Morning Herald 22 May 1872, “On Friday last there must have been fully fifteen hundred persons upon the ground, and tents and habitations of every description were springing, apparently Iike mushrooms, from the ground, and such is the rapidity with which a gold-fields town is formed, I shall not be surprised to see the place well supplied with stores, and, of course, hotels, when I again visit the place about a fortnight hence.”

 

Charles Bayliss. 'John Davey, baker' 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (Australian, 1850-1897)
John Davey, baker
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18384

 

 

With his shoes covered in flour, John Davey steps outside his bakery in the main street of Canadian Lead. Bread cost 6d a 2lb [5 cents per 900g] loaf. The woman and children to the right also appear outside Ruth Beck’s North Star Hotel, three doors away. The rush to Canadian Lead began in early 1872 and the Maitland Mercury 6 April 1872 was able to state “the Canadian Lead, where a month ago some four hundred people were, can now boast of a couple of thousands…” Not everyone was law-abiding. The Maitland Mercury 24 August 1872 related the story of Mrs Beck dropping a purse containing £21 [$42, worth about $2000 today], which was picked up by her little boy, but taken from him by two men claiming that it was theirs. The miscreants were arrested in Mudgee two days later, drinking the profits.

 

Charles Bayliss. 'John Davey, baker' 1872 (detail)

 

Charles Bayliss (Australian, 1850-1897)
John Davey, baker (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18384

 

Beaufoy Merlin. 'Circular Quay from Dawes Battery' 1873

 

Beaufoy Merlin (Australian, 1830-1873)
Circular Quay from Dawes Battery
1873
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 58/No. 285

 

 

In mid 1873, Beaufoy Merlin returned to Sydney to continue photographing the city for Holtermann. The Sydney Morning Herald 2 August 1873 noted, “Mr. Beaufoy Merlin has taken a considerable number of photographic views of Sydney for the first section of ‘Holtermann’s Intercolonial Exposition’.” This image from Dawes Battery, past Campbell’s Wharf to Circular Quay can be dated to early September 1873, as the Haddon Hall (r) from London, is loading for San Francisco at Campbell’s wharf. Behind it is Aviemore and the ship in background in front of Customs House is La Hogue. Both Aviemore and La Hogue left for London on 13 September 1873.

 

Charles Bayliss [American & Australasian Photographic Company]. 'Pall Mall, Bendigo' 1874

 

Charles Bayliss (Australian, 1850-1897) [American & Australasian Photographic Company]
Pall Mall, Bendigo
1874
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 78/No. 2

 

 

After the death of Beaufoy Merlin in 1873, Bernhardt Holtermann engaged Merlin’s assistant, 24 year-old Charles Bayliss, to continue taking photographs for his planned Exposition. This view of Pall Mall from Hadley’s City Family Hotel, Sandhurst [Bendigo, Victoria] was taken in April 1874. Bayliss photographed the town using the Exposition’s standard 10 x 12 inch [25 x 30cm] glass negatives, but for this image used a mammoth camera specially imported by Holtermann which took glass plates measuring 18 x 22 inches [46 x 56cm]. Bayliss also photographed Ballarat in June 1874, using the mammoth camera to produce a panorama from the town hall clock tower.

 

 

State Library of New South Wales
Macquarie Street, Sydney
NSW 2000 Australia
Phone: +61 2 9273 1414

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

State Library of New South Wales website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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