GWW collection

A portrait of Australian life in the 1890s

Fred Hardie spent two years capturing the life and times of the towns and cites of Australia’s east coast between far north Queensland and Gawler north of Adelaide. 

The images, commissioned by George Washington Wilson & Co., were meant to be sold back home as photographic albums of the early settlers at work and play. 

Hardie created five sets of lantern slides with narrative text for the states of Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The NSW set consisted of 60 slides, including 15  from Newcastle.

It is not known how long Hardie spent in the city or what time of year the photos were taken in. 

George Washington Wilson & Co. collapsed in 1908. The plates passed into the possession of Hardie and then to photographer Archibald J.B. Strachan. They were acquired by the University of Aberdeen in 1954. 

The current University of Aberdeen archive contains 750 photographic plates that Hardie took while in Australia. More than 40 of the images are of Aboriginals.

Caroline Mackaness, who curated the Sydney at Federation exhibition in 2001 said the photographs were unique because of their near perfect quality. 

“He prepared each glass plate before taking the photo. It was an extraordinary and dedicated effort,” she said. 

“They are a frozen moment in time, in exactly the same clarity they were taken 100 years ago. He was obviously impressed by the country. He shows the gold diggers, BHP mine, the wool yards and captures and up-and-coming energetic country.”