Early 1900s country NSW recaptured in photographic exhibition

26 May 2010

SS 'Orara' Byron Bay HP83.60.2210, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.
SS 'Orara' Byron Bay HP83.60.2210, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.

The thriving country towns of NSW in the early 1900s are revealed in a new exhibition of historical photos at the University of Sydney's Macleay Museum.

Picturing New South Wales: Photographs by Kerry & Co, opens on Sunday 30 May, 2010 and features more than 100 black and white photographs of scenic town views and historic buildings, taken around the turn of the 20th century by leading commercial photography company Kerry & Co.

The Kerry & Co images form part of the Macleay Museum's historical photograph collection and, for the exhibition, have been reproduced from the original glass negatives, many in large format.

According to Jan Brazier, the Macleay Museum's curator of the History collections and curator of Picturing NSW, this selection of images presents a unique portrait of regional NSW at a time when country towns were prospering.

"The photographs create a view of place which met the perception of how people wanted their part of the world to be seen," says Brazier. "These Kerry images in the Macleay's collection are not about people but about public buildings, industries, churches, main streets - and reveal a vision of progress and European settlement at a time of change moving into the modern new century."

Kerry & Co, established by Charles Kerry in 1890, was one of the largest commercial studios in Sydney, operating until about 1917. In 1898, Kerry opened a four-floored studio at 310 George Street and would send photographers throughout NSW to create a stockpile of images. This was before the introduction of Kodak's "box brownie" when photography became accessible to everyone. Kerry's photographs were sold for personal albums, to be framed or to be published in illustrated newspapers, and as picture postcards.

Sydney Road, Windsor, HP83.60.2210, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.
Sydney Road, Windsor, HP83.60.2210, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney.

The postcard craze of the end of the 19th century became another boon for Kerry & Co. His images of town halls, views, industry and civic buildings in country towns from Wagga Wagga to Eden to Forster became big business as people adapted to this new form of quick communication. These now collectible postcards, remarks Brazier, were the "SMS of their day".

According to Brazier, the images of Picturing NSW are a reminder of the optimism burgeoning rural settlements once promised compared with today where many small towns across NSW and Australia struggle for survival. They also recapture a moment in time and place, now often lost to development.

While all images in the exhibition are labelled with towns of origin, there are still mysteries surrounding many of the images. "This collection gives a wonderful snapshot of regional NSW as a whole, but we are still keen to learn more about the images and hope visitors to the exhibition will be able to help," says Brazier.

At 6.30pm on Wednesday 21 July, 2010, Professor Richard Waterhouse, Bicentennial Professor of Australian History at the University of Sydney, will give a public lecture at the Macleay in association with the exhibition, titled A Forgotten Australia? Bush towns, rural Australia and Australian history. Entry is free, bookings are essential. Phone 9036 5253.

Media inquiries: Katrina O'Brien, 9036 78842,