18 Feb 2021

Historical photos of Brisbane in the 1800s brought to life thanks to volunteer restorer

Almost 100 historical photographs of Brisbane and its surrounding regions have been brought to life for the digital age, painting a clearer picture of what the river city was like in the 19th century.

The glass slides belonged to 72-year-old Brisbane man Ian Overett's grandfather, Cyril Windrum.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of people who have died.

The auctioneer, who was born in Melbourne in 1892 and settled in the Queensland capital after World War I, acquired the slides showing Brisbane in the 1800s.

"I can remember, as a child, playing with them, because they were stored under this workbench in his workshop and I can remember getting into trouble for touching them," Mr Overett said.

The box of 92 slides, which include photos from Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Gympie, was handed down to Mr Overett by his mother.

After years of them sitting around gathering dust, he decided to do something with them.

While driving home one day, Mr Overett heard ABC Radio Brisbane Afternoons presenter Kat Feeney talking about photography.

"I thought, maybe I should give her a ring and there might be someone out there who could have a look at them and give me a digital copy of the slides," he said.

"I rang Kat and she got really excited about it."

Feeney put out the call to listeners to see if anyone might be able to help, prompting Buderim man Paul Williamson to get in touch.

Mr Williamson, an amateur photographer and restorer, put his hand up to take on the project free of charge.

He said creating digital versions of the glass slides was an arduous process that required a particular type of scanner and programs.

"Every job is different: sometimes you might scan for two hours on the same slide, just in different settings trying to get the settings exactly right," Mr Williamson said.

"If you saw some of these images, prior to being repaired, you'd see hundreds of little dots all over the screen, imperfections, mould marks."

Every single blemish had to be repaired and Mr Williamson used a multitude of programs to do so.

"Once the damage is repaired you have to try to bring back the quality of the picture," he said

"These slides have very dull backgrounds … so trying to make the building or your scenery jump out when you have such a dull background is not always easy.

"Depending on the slide, I could spend up to three or four hours repairing each slide."

Mr Williamson is self-taught and said trial and error — and a bit of Googling — played a big role.

Among the 92 slides are photos of the 1893 Brisbane floods.

According to the State Library of Queensland, the photo showing people in boats in the middle of Queen Street was likely a photo that Mr Overett's grandfather had later purchased.

"At the time of the 1893 floods many commercial photographers created albums which were sold as souvenirs of the event," specialist librarian Lynn Meyers said.

"Several similar images which we hold and which were photographed from the same vantage point were taken by well-known Brisbane photographer Poul Poulsen."

As well as buildings and landscapes the collection included photos of Indigenous camps at Sandgate Foreshores (Warra) on Brisbane's Bayside.

Among the photos of building and landscapes, were also images of First Nations people, including those that lived in temporary huts or "humpies" on the Sandgate foreshore.

Turrbal elder Maroochy Barambah said it was possible the people seen in the photos were from the Turrbal and Gubbi Gubbi tribes from both sides of the Pine River.

"Our internal oral history, which has been passed down from generation to generation, confirms that we are connected to the people in the picture if they are from the Sandgate camp," Ms Barambah said.

"As for their experience, the Turrbal tribe are survivors of near extinction, so they would've endured the most inhuman conditions upon their own ancestral homelands.

"Our oral history told us that our grandfather was taken away from the Sandgate blacks camp and put into a home of some kind."

Mr Overett said the photos helped him understand what Brisbane would have been like.

"There was certainly a settlement in what we now call the CBD.

"But then you start looking at other photos and you see how sparse the areas were once you got out of that CBD area.

He said Brisbane had changed massively.

"The Brisbane of today is nothing like it was 50 or 60 years ago, let alone 125 years."

So what does Mr Overett think of the result?

"Unbelievable," he said.

"I can't use any other word.

"I think the amazing thing is that, on some of them, he's even converted them to colour."

Mr Williamson still has a number to go but Mr Overett is happy to wait.

"He's been doing a tremendous job and I'm quite excited to wait and see what's happening," Mr Overett said.

With the images accessible to the world, Mr Overett said he would keep the originals in the family.

"I will probably keep them preserved in the box that they're in and give them to one of my family.

"But hopefully, with the digitised forms, that can then be shared with lots of people rather than just one family."

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-04/historical-photos-of-brisbane-digitised/13089956?nw=0

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