WA’s historians have been given a ticking off by John Dowson for not paying enough respect to old photographs.
The Fremantle historian and former deputy mayor says despite photographs providing incontrovertible evidence about life in bygone eras, the state’s most revered historians are regularly botching dates and providing incorrect attributions because they consider photos second-fiddle to written documents.
The author of two award-winning photographic histories, Mr Dowson was horrified when a local historian told him he was searching for a few old photos to “chuck” into a book he had already written.
His biggest serve is for the Battye Library, home to WA’s largest collection of historic photographs.
“The Battye has millions of photographs, but they have no idea what they have got,” he says.
“The Battye is just full of bureaucrats—I get the National Gallery ringing me asking about this or that, and they are doing more than we are,” he laments.
He concedes historic photographs of Fremantle, and WA in general, are few and far between anyway.
“I think it’s because we were at the end of the world, and we had a few visiting photographers but few great photographers lived here.”
The earliest photographs of Freo were taken by Robert Hall in 1846, but they’ve been lost.
The oldest surviving photos were taken almost 20 years later by former convict Stephen Montague Stout and policeman Alfred Hawes Stone.
Mr Dowson will talk about the few existing early frames at the upcoming Fremantle Studies Day run by the Fremantle History Society on Sunday October 27 at the artillery barracks in Burt Street.
Material collected during the day—including a talk on Stout and Stone by Irma Walters, the Meares camp at Cockburn Sound by Simon Meath and the first days of Fremantle settlement by Dr Steve Errington—will be collated into a book.
Mr Dowson says he might put his work towards another stand-alone coffee table collection.
by STEVE GRANT