The Missing Years
©2010 Greg and Sylvia Ray
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic
or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,
without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Eighth printing, 2016
Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, Newcastle
Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Concept and design by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Research and captions by Greg Ray
Special thanks to:
Barry Magor, Roger Brock, Ross Melville, Julie Ainsworth, Ron and Liz Morrison, Chris Watson,
Front cover photo:
An intriguing telephoto view of Hunter Street. This photo was probably taken from an upstairs window
of Tyrrell House, Newcastle East. The telephoto lens has compressed the scene, which extends from
the old Westminster Hotel to Darks Ice and Cold Storage works and to the hills beyond. The photo was
taken at the time of Newcastle’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 1947.
Title page vignette:
Looking east along Hunter Street, Newcastle, on June 3, 1939.
The Missing Years
Photographs of Newcastle and the Hunter in the 1930s and 1940s
Selected, arranged and interpreted by Greg Ray
Layout and image restoration by Sylvia Ray
In June 2010 I bought a collection of old glass and film negatives. I bought the photos, largely sight
unseen, on the expectation that many of the images were likely to be of the Hunter Region. From a brief
pre-auction inspection I could see the pictures dated from the 1880s to the 1950s.
The previous owner was a transport historian and enthusiast, the late Ken Magor, items from whose
extensive collections – I later learned – have found their way into museums around Australia.
I began to examine the collection and was amazed to discover what amounted to a real treasure trove
of pictures of Newcastle and the Hunter, chiefly concentrated on the years between 1934 and 1949. As
I scanned the negatives and studied the pictures it dawned on me that some of the photographs were
of such high quality they could only have been taken by professionals. Closer examination persuaded
me that many of them were actually taken by press photographers, almost certainly employees of The
Newcastle Morning Herald and The Newcastle Sun.
Former Sun photographer Ron Morrison, who started work as a cadet at the paper in 1949, recalled
working alongside such able colleagues as Milton Merrilees, Cec Piggott, Tom Hall and Archie Miller.
Inspecting some of these photos, Mr Morrison noted that they reflected the widely varying philosophies
and techniques of news photographers at the time.
Some of the pictures, for example, were highly posed, while others simply recorded events in a more
candid style. Mr Morrison recalled many workplace debates about these competing approaches. In his
opinion, the work of the “recorders” has in many cases better stood the test of time, especially because
the backgrounds in the photos have, over the years, taken on an unanticipated value.
Mr Morrison said many of the pictures were almost certainly not the work of staff photographers.
The liberal use of filters in some shots, he believed, suggested they were produced by contributors from
among the city’s studio photographers, some of whom did regular freelance work.
The pictures – whoever their creators might be – reveal a Newcastle that is both familiar and alien:
the Newcastle of my grandparents’ lifetimes. They show the city moving out of the Great Depression,
a little down at heel, but still full of pride, life and grandeur. They show a city stripped for war, with
air-raid shelters on the streets, tank traps on the beaches and warships in the harbour.
In many ways, the hard-bitten Newcastle revealed here may seem, paradoxically, a more confident
and self-reliant city than the one we know today.
The late Ken Magor, fireman and
transport enthusiast, photographed for
a Newcastle Herald article in 1984.
Mr Magor collected and preserved the
photographs that appear in this book.
A 1950s picture, by Newcastle press photographer Ron Morrison, of his work colleagues. From left
to right: Arch Miller (Herald), Movietone cameraman John Leake, Milton Merrilees (Sun), Tom
Hall (Herald) and Cec Piggott (Sun). These photographers are probably responsible for creating
many of the images published in this book. Picture reproduced by kind courtesy of Mr Morrison.
The more I studied these photographs the more I became convinced that they deserved to be shared in
book form. The Newcastle of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been celebrated in a number
of excellent pictorial volumes, and the city of the 1960s and 1970s has also been ably depicted in more
than one volume of photographs. But it seemed to me that, in some respects, the years these rediscovered
photographs cover had been “missing years”. This was largely because, during the Depression and war
years, photography was too expensive, equipment and supplies too scarce, and most people too preoccupied
with more pressing concerns than taking pictures.
Scanning the negatives has been like an archaeological dig, with each pass of the scanner bringing
some new piece of knowledge or insight into my city as it was then and, consequently, as it is today.
I feel a great delight and sense of privilege to have managed, by a stroke of good luck, to have kept
these images where they belong and I am grateful for the chance to preserve them. I know many readers
will share my excitement at glimpsing these “missing years”. I am sure that Novocastrians will find them
informative, entertaining and even moving.
The feeling of jubilation, for example, in the photographs of Victory Day celebrations in August 1945
is tangible, as is the sombre, skin-prickling sensation in the pictures of wounded men being taken from a
torpedo-damaged ship in Newcastle Harbour in 1942.
It is always true that most people don’t consider the potential historic value of items from just a decade
or even two before their own lifetimes. That was certainly the case during the 1950s and 1960s when these
images – and many, many more – were lost from newspaper archives around Australia.
I feel a debt of gratitude to the late Mr Magor, whose enthusiasm and urge to collect and record has
made it possible for these endangered memories of Newcastle’s missing years to be returned to us.
I am grateful too, to my wife Sylvia for her painstaking efforts in restoring some of the images, laying
out and designing this book, and to the Newcastle Herald for supporting its publication.
A city with its sleeves rolled up
One of the most interesting books I own is a 1937 Newcastle electoral roll. I like this lumpy old
book for the glimpse it gives of our city several decades ago. It tells a thousand stories (all of them
obviously short) about a time long gone.
You can tell what a different town it was by looking at the occupations. In Carrington there were
labourers, coal trimmers and seamen by the score, along with the occasional intriguing entry like that
of Owen Garrigan, special constable, of the Criterion Hotel in Bourke Street.
Adamstown was largely populated by labourers, miners and tradesmen. Hamilton and Lambton
were a little more genteel, with a few more clerks, radio technicians, horse trainers and teachers
seasoning the blue-collar population. At 19 Cleary Street lived Moses Phillips, musician. In the same
house was Mozart Phillips, “no occupation”.
In Mayfield ironworkers rubbed shoulders with blacksmiths, motor drivers, crane examiners and
slaughtermen. In Fawcett Street my eyes fell on the Mawkes household where two separate men named
Nathaniel worked at butter making and wire-drawing, respectively.
In Merewether lived upholsterers, tailors, grocers, police sergeants, analytical chemists, machinists,
lorry drivers and dental surgeons. Sherlock Holmes lived in Henry Street; he was an icemaker.
Newcastle was similarly diverse, with milliners, accountants and master bakers. John Allen lived in
Darby Street and listed his occupation as “independent means”. Brant Addison lived at the Exchange
Hotel; he was a third mate.
Women in Newcastle in 1937 were overwhelmingly occupied by “home duties”, though some were
“typistes” or “telephonists”. Of course there were plenty of nurses (many living at the nurses’ home),
teachers, waitresses, stenographers, dressmakers, saleswomen and manageresses. Lilian Bowden, of
Bruce Street, was a “retoucher”.
The lost livelihoods fascinate – the coppersmith, the plate-layer, the furnaceman, the pattern-maker,
the greaser, the coach-builder: all reflections of a sleeves-rolled-up city humming with industries and
activities long departed.
There’s no doubt at all that life was harder then. The air was full of smoke from the steelworks and
other heavy industries. Medical care was primitive and social welfare was scanty. Thousands of men
worked at hard, dangerous jobs on the hectic waterfront, at the mighty BHP and its allies, in the city’s
abattoir, on the busy tramways, at the rail shops and scores of small enterprises.
The Newcastle reflected in the pages of this single plotless book is a purposeful one, sure of its place
in the world. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to the post-industrial city of today. The steelworks is gone,
along with almost all its heavy industrial sisters. The port is still busy, of course, but it does most of its
heavy lifting by machine these days. The ships’ crews are small and foreign. More and more jobs are
part-time or casual. “Home duties” is not such a predominant occupation for women.
Blue collars are outnumbered by white and both are probably outnumbered by T-shirts.
Left: A portion of a page from the
1937 Newcastle electoral roll.
A holiday crowd alights from a full train at the platform of Newcastle Railway Station, December 27, 1937.
Crowd at Newcastle waterfront 1934. The print is taken from a glass negative. The occasion is not known.
A typical big crowd of railway travellers on the platform at Newcastle Station in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
View of Newcastle East from Newcastle Hospital, October 1935, with a smoky Zaara Street power station.
Looking west along Scott Street from the footpath near Newcastle Railway Station on February 15, 1936.
The “Richmond Beer” sign is on the side of the Centennial Hotel, which extended through to Hunter Street.
An aerial view of Newcastle’s newly forming Civic precinct in the mid-1930s, before Nesca House was built.