The National Library of Australia is embarking on a ground-breaking project to conserve, catalogue and digitise 12,000 glass-plate negatives from the Fairfax photographic archive.

1 June 2012

Fairfax Archive Glass Plate Collection, Harry Houdini with biplane, Rosehill April 1910. Photo attributed to George Bell.

The National Library of Australia is embarking on a ground-breaking project to conserve, catalogue and digitise 12,000 glass-plate negatives from the Fairfax photographic archive. This is with the support of funding from the National Cultural Heritage Account.

The collection contains images of great importance, such as the departure of troops for World War One, peace celebrations in Sydney, the opening of the first Parliament and various royal visits. There are also photographs of politicians and sporting heroes (including a large negative of Phar Lap), early aviation and aviators. The images of early aviation are extremely interesting and, in the case of Houdini's flight in Sydney in 1910, unique. Other rare aviation photographs include Joseph Hammond with his Bristol Boxkite in 1911, Wizard Stone in 1912, Captain Henry Petre (Australia's first military aviator) in 1915 and Parer and Mackintosh after their England-Australia flight in 1920.

Prominent photographers represented in the collection include Herbert Fishwick (whose telephoto lens images were a revolution in sports photography), Harry Martin, Harry Freeman, Beau Leonard, Thomas Fisher, Gordon Short and Frederick Halmarick. The collection also contains negatives taken by George Bell, who worked for the weekly publication The Sydney Mail, which had been using photographers from the 1890s.

Fairfax Archive Glass Plate Collection, Camel Corps in training, c. 1916. Photographer unknown.

Once digitised, the images can be accessed through the Library’s online catalogue and the national discovery service Trove, as well as also through search engines such as Google.

Thanks to the National Cultural Heritage Account, the National Library of Australia and Fairfax Media's generous donation of the 12,000 glass-plate negatives, the safekeeping of this significant photographic collection is now guaranteed in perpetuity for the Australian people.

 Image credits

Top: Fairfax Archive Glass Plate Collection, Harry Houdini with biplane, Rosehill April 1910. Photo attributed to George Bell.
Bottom: Fairfax Archive Glass Plate Collection, Camel Corps in training, c. 1916. Photographer unknown.