Pages from Newcastle Missing Years 8th print 2016



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,

Carol Edmonds.

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.


Greg Ray

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.


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