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  • SHOW the photography o f Frank Hurley

    Julian Thomas

    National Library of Australia 1990


  • 'In the Potters' Shop at Hebron', c. 1946 (28.3 x 38.5cm)


  • Julian Thomas

    National Library o f Australia 1990

    SHOW the photography of Frank Hurley


  • Cover: Frank Hurley, c. 1930, Toni Mooy Collection

    © National Library of Australia 1990

    Thomas, Julian, 1963 -

    Showman : the photography of Frank Hurley.

    ISBN 0 642 10509 X. 1. Hurley, Frank, 1 8 8 5 - 1 9 6 2 . 2. Photographers — Australia — Biography. 2. Photography — Australia. I. National Library of Australia. II. Title.

    770 .92

    Designed by Christian Preuschl von Haldenburg

    Printed by Goanna Print Canberra

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  • Preface

    THE pho tographe r Frank Hur ley (1885-1962) is a legendary figure in Australian cultural history; here I interpret the legend as part o f the history. It is an account o f Hurley's ' showmanship ' , that is, his professional sense o f performance and display, and some links which can be made between that showmanship and wider histories. I hope it sugges t s s o m e general ideas abou t the significance o f Hur ley ' s work and career. M y interpretation is possibly more critical than those biographical accounts which have appeared so far, and I have refrained from repeating well-known tales o f heroism and adventure. Previous writers on Hurley have helped me a great deal, and two books in particular: David P. Millar 's From Snowdrift to Shellfire (Sydney 1 9 8 4 ) and Frank L e g g and Toni Hur ley ' s Once More On My Adventure (Sydney 1 9 6 6 ) .

    M u c h o f the r e s e a r c h for the es say w h i c h f o l l o w s , a n d for the S h o w m a n exhibition, was done while I was a Haro ld White Fellow at the National Library of Australia. I w i s h t o t h a n k the L i b r a r y for the opportunity to work on its large collections o f Frank Hurley's photographs, diaries, b o o k s and manuscr ip t s . I am much indeb ted to the many staff members who have helped me with particular tasks and inquiries. S o m e o f the ideas presented here were first aired at a public lecture organised by the Library in May 1 9 9 0 ; my thanks also to those who made comments and asked questions on that occasion. The National Film and Sound Archive, C inesound /Mov ie tone , Filmworld Pty L td , and the Rank Organisation have also assisted in my work.


  • From Argonauts o f the South, 1925

  • The Showman as Hero

    H e was a de termined and indomitable Peter Pan, seeing adventure everywhere and in everything, and add ing a personal flourish to every reality. ' C a p p y ' was wholly a showman who worked hard at be ing Frank Hurley, explorer, camera man , and intrepid adventurer, to w h o m the whole world was a chal lenge.

    Maslyn Williams, 1 9 6 6

    THE word ' showman ' was frequently used in the early decades o f Australian cinema. Although it referred generally to a man's professional work in the industry — women were usually ' showgi r l s '— it implied more than an occupation. It attributed style and adventure to the person himself, and it suggested a t a l e n t for performance, for enthusiastic, dubious a n d entertaining self-promotion. The showman was part o f the show.

    Frank Hurley was a dedicated photographer, a popular writer, a serious businessman and a successful showman. H e worked energetically and he travelled widely. His books and films were about travel, war and adventure. This work is now generally regarded as 'documentary ' , but it is important to recognise its element o f showmanship: as a photographer and writer he was mos t interested in a dramatically telling image or story, and he had no qualms about altering his materials to heighten their effect.

    His own numerous accounts o f his experiences in Antarctica, Papua, Europe , the Middle East and Australia have been retold many times. The story, thus repeated, is a showman's story. It is an adventure serial, starting simply and following its protagonist through exotic locations. In 1898 the thirteen-year-old hero threw two inkwells at a teacher. 'An inkwell launched me into adventure, ' he declared in Argonauts of the South, his book about

    - 1 -

  • the Mawson and Shackleton expeditions to Antarctica. H e describes how he ran away from home in Sydney and found a job in a L i thgow foundry. While there he b e c a m e in t e r e s t ed in p h o t o g r a p h y , a n d his father, a re t i red compositor , helped him join a Sydney postcard business. Back in the city, he gained a reputat ion for unusual , dramatic pictures: his favourite subjects were oncoming trains and waves crashing against cliffs. The risks involved in taking them gave the p h o t o g r a p h s an e d g e o f exc i t emen t , but he was looking for more substantial adventure. His chance came when he persuaded Douglas M a w s o n t o e m p l o y h im as photographer o n the 1911-13 Australasian Antarctic Expedit ion.

    F r o m that po in t he was always m o b i l e . T h e film he m a d e a b o u t Mawson ' s expedition was a great success. On the strength o f that, Ernest Shack le ton appo in t ed him p h o t o g r a p h e r on the unsuccessful 1914-16 Imperia l Trans-Antarc t ic Exped i t i on . In 1 9 1 7 he was m a d e the official Australian war photographer, working in Flanders and Palestine. In Egypt he married Antoinette Thierault; in 1918 they returned to Australia, where he began exhibiting his Antarctic and war photography, and she had twin daughters. H e travelled to Papua three times in the 1 9 2 0 s , making several p o p u l a r d o c u m e n t a r y and f ict ion films. In this p e r i o d he a lso m a d e successful tours o f Britain and the Uni ted States. Between 1 9 2 9 and 1931 he made two final expeditions with Mawson to Antarctica. H e worked for the Australian film s tudio C i n e s o u n d in the thirties, and was an official photographer once more during the Second World War, again based in the Middle East . H e came back to Australia in 1 9 4 6 , aged sixty-one, and began a series o f long car journeys, preparing books on Australian subjects.

    In seventy-six years o f restless life Hurley travelled a million miles in every continent o f the world ' says the blurb o f the earliest Hurley biography, published four years after his death in 1 9 6 2 . Once More On My Adventure goes on:

    H e filmed pearl divers o f f Thursday Is land, headhunters on the unexplored Fly River in N e w Gu inea , whalers in the Sou the rn Ocean . H e shared a tent with Shackle ton in the Antarct ic and the tiny cockpi t o f R o s s and Keith S m i t h ' s aeroplane dur ing their pioneer flight from L o n d o n to Sydney. H e crashed his own aircraft at Athens in an a t tempt to fly the first land plane from Australia to Eng land . H e established a day ' s record for polar s l edg ing that still s tands . In N e w York he wrote a bestseller in ten days. In T o b r u k he shot a s c o o p film o f the s iege . In Ca i ro he had the only holiday of his life — his h o n e y m o o n . H e was frost-bitten and snow-bl inded , nearly taken prisoner by the Turks , arrested by Persians, sniped by a G e r m a n , a lmos t banque t t ed to death by Arab sheiks,

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  • rescued from the inside o f a whale by N o r w e g i a n s , and in his mid-sevent ies , he lped by Austra l ians up a 300 foot rope c l imb from a cave where he had suffered a heart attack while filming in a temperature o f 1 1 4 degrees .

    The adventure serial leaves out much, and includes some things which are not quite true. The Fly was not unexplored, despite Hurley's claims to have been the first white man to visit parts o f it. H e did not share the cockpit o f the Smi ths ' plane on their flight from L o n d o n to Sydney: he joined them in Queensland. H e did do an enormous amount o f travelling, yet he also did significant work in Sydney, spend ing e ight years at the Australian film studio Cinesound. But the point is not to deny Hurley his showmanship. Rather, I want to emphasise that this adventuring identity was an act o f imagination, for both Hurley and his audiences. It was — as all biographies are — an edited version, a selection o f certain aspects o f his life and a repudiation o f other parts.

    Hurley 's American publisher George Putnam said about him, ' N o w and then there appears ou t o f the confusion o f our complex and noisy civilisation a being seemingly strayed from some more romantic day . . . In an age when human effort so largely tends to make life a c o m m u n a l and unindividualistic affair, the figure o f a man who desires soli tude and the experience o f penetrat ing an unknown country, s tands forth unique and somewhat incongruous. ' Putnam applauds Hurley's desire for solitude, his robust individualism. But while this isolation was part o f Hurley's character, as far as we — Hurley's audiences — are concerned, it is a carefully created impression. It is hard to imagine Hurley really doing all his work entirely alone, since the things he wanted to do almost always required assistance from others. H e was not someone separated from others; he lived with his wife and four chi ldren in Sydney , and rarely by h imse l f when he was travelling. More than this, his work always depended on others: his family at home , and the assistants, engineers and technicians who kept him go ing when he was away.

    T h e r e is no d o u b t that he had , as Pu tnam s u g g e s t s , a 'des i re for solitude' . His daughters regarded him as 'anti-social ' . One o f them thought he shou ld never have marr ied . H i s wife, An to ine t t e , t h o u g h t he was a ' loner' . What he wanted was solitude, and what the showman's figure o f the adventurer required was an extreme individualism, a total separation from 'complex and noisy civilisation'. In his diaries there is a revealing treatment o f those liminal moments when this separation is effected. Hurley crossed out in pencil his description o f leaving Sydney for Papua in 1920 :

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  • Presumably these lines were crossed out when he was editing the diaries for the Pearls and Savages book, the best-seller he wrote in New York in ten days. Later there is a sentence describing 'The wife and little ones and my old friends Alison and [ indecipherable] waiting until we had passed beyond their vision'. The words printed in bold here were crossed out by Hurley, so that the edi ted sen tence referred only to 'my friends waiting...'.

    The showman imagined this adventurous identity, and, as Maslyn Williams said, he worked hard to publicise it. The figure o f the adventurer was not simply a ploy which Hurley used to attract people to his work, since it was a central part o f that work. Nor did showmanship end there: an adventure story required an adventurous world, a world which was strange and dangerous. If, as Putnam's masculine remark implied, heroism consisted in 'penetrating an unknown country', then the way o f the adventurer had to be shown as difficult and obstructed. Hurley's books and pictures make

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    The crossed out words read: 'My deep regrets are for leaving The wife & my two little ones who now are arriving at that interesting & lovable age o f toddling & articulating & o f both together. Still, 12 years ground work o f making a reputation for travel pictures cannot be thrust aside especially as this venture is likely to recoup me for all my years o f adventure & toil. '

  • motifs out of the difficulties of travelling. On the Mawson expedition to Antarctica he wanted to show the severity of the climate, so he photographed people leaning apparently impossibly forward into high winds. The image was used on the cover of Mawson's book about the expedition, The Home of the Blizzard.

    In Papua, in his pictures o f the jungle, Hurley found another way o f representing the obstructiveness of the exotic. The photograph from Pearls and Savages which is reproduced here is characterist ic of his Papuan photography in its simple contrast between the resistant thickness o f the vegetation and the open water o f the river.

    Hand coloured lantern slide from the Pearls and Savages series, c. 1923 (8 x 10cm)

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  • The title slide from Hurley's Pearls and Savages set o f lantern slides locates the white hero among a mysterious concentration o f exotic figures. The slide emphasises its authorship, through the prominence o f the words 'Capt. Frank Hurley's ' , and the vulnerability o f its author, through the threatening figure on the right o f the main title, who is aiming an arrow at Hurley. It is an excellent example o f Hurley's showmanship, partly because it is so clearly the darkroom composition o f a virtuoso, skilfully combining and arranging dramatic elements. It also shows how Hurley's sense o f drama worked to create an impression o f himself, the brave adventurer. Moreover, the composition of this image suggests a rationale for this showmanship. Hurley composed the image in a way which he thought would appeal to his Western audience. A successful travelogue had to be adventurous, and adventure was to be found in exotic parts o f the world. Such places were exciting because they were dangerous; therefore the heroes had to be brave. Exotic places were also, o f course, unknown places; therefore the heroes had to be explorers.

    Hand coloured lantern slide, c. 1923 (8 x 10cm)

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  • Clouds and Colonies

    AS a supposedly solitary adventurer, revealing the secrets o f the unknown while remaining enigmatic, Hurley 's public persona conformed to popular heroic convention. The point can be made more strongly: his specific sense o f what adventure was, of what the exotic was and where it could be found, was widely shared in Australia and the West. It coincided with a general sense o f imperial adventure. Hurley spent a lifetime looking for adventure: the result was a career directly shaped by the dynamics o f twentieth-century imperialism. His work was carried along on global currents o f colonialism and war.

    From this p r emi se an a l ternat ive a c c o u n t o f his travels m i g h t be developed. Hurley's trips to Antarctica were made possible by a combination o f imperial rivalry, scientific interest and the huge popularity and profitability o f Antarctic photography. Shackleton's ambitious and expensive plan to cross the Antarctic continent was motivated by his patriotic desire for Britain to be 'first'; later, Mawson ' s 1929-31 expeditions claimed Australian sovereignty over a large port ion o f the continent. Hurley's visits to Papua, which were funded in par t by the Bri t ish film indus t ry and the Angl ican B o a r d o f Miss ions , were e n g a g e m e n t s with the unknown — the peop le he called savages — and the Australian colonial administration. His relations with the colonisers and the colonised were often difficult: in 1 9 2 3 , for example, his methods o f collecting artefacts were the subject o f an official inquiry, much to his annoyance. H e presented colonial conflicts melodramatically in his 1 9 2 6 feature The Jungle Woman.

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  • The Jungle Woman, 1926; production still (whole plate)

    Hurley went to Europe and the Middle East to photograph a world war which was the inevitable result o f imperialism. He returned for the Second World War, and spent time subsequently in the Middle East, making films for the British Government, which had become the dominant foreign power in the region. While Hurley made dozens o f newsreel items and short films showing how the Arab world had progressed under British influence, the British Government ' s League of Nations Mandate in Palestine was collapsing. Hurley found himself in a complex and violent political situation, where two emerging and conflicting forces, anti-colonial Arab nationalism and Zionist settlement, were opposed to British administration.

    His work in Australia, which he took up again when he returned in 1946, cou ld also be in te rpre ted as a form of co lon i a l , or imper ia l , photography. Hurley believed Australia was the 'best country in the world'. His work emphasised the 'romance' and achievements o f white settlement, and Australia's place in the Empire. In his view, Australia was an outstanding example o f successful colonisation. Hard work, ingenuity, and the vision o f a

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  • few founding heroes had transformed Australia from 'a trackless wilderness' i n to a th r iv ing , m o d e r n na t ion . H u r l e y ' s Aus t r a l i an work c e l e b r a t e d picturesque landscapes, industrial and agricultural productivity, and clean, prosperous cities.

    Clearly an account o f Hur ley ' s career which saw him as a colonial photographer would emphasise different parts o f his life from the ones which m o s t appea led to the s h o w m a n himself. It w o u l d address s o m e o f the problems he faced in his career, where his progress really was blocked, rather than the triumphant achievements which have been written about so often. This is the line o f inquiry pursued here, al though there is not enough space to deal with the full range o f Hurley's imperial and colonial entanglements. A few instances can be examined which will show how, in a number o f ways, his showmanship contributed to these difficulties.

    Concerning his experiences in Papua, it was apparently Hurley's desire for spectacle which created the circumstances o f his dispute with the colonial administration. The popular success o f the Papuan material depended on Hurley convincing his audiences and readers that these films, photographs and the book really did describe an exotic, unknown location. H e had to do this in the Uni ted States where, as he later complained, 'cannibal stories were hackneyed'. S o he claimed for his work an extra degree o f realism: his feature The Jungle Woman was sold on the basis o f its authentic location, and his book and documentary film Pearls and Savages presented themselves as the results o f a scientific study o f the area rather than a mere journey through it. H e suggested that his observations and ideas were scientifically important, despite the fact that he changed the emphasis and content o f his material as he went, responding to audience demand . Thus in the Uni ted States he changed the name o f Pearls and Savages to The Lost Tribe, and proposed that the people he had 'discovered' at Lake Murray were descended from one o f the 'lost tribes o f Israel'.

    The scientific status o f his second Papuan expedition in 1 9 2 2 - 2 3 was particularly important to him. H e took with him A l a n McCul loch , from the Australian Museum in Sydney, and arranged for F .E . Williams, the Assistant Government Anthropologist , to join the party in Papua. As it turned out , Wil l iams spen t little t ime with t h e m . M c C u l l o c h and H u r l e y app l i ed themselves to collecting what they called 'specimens ' for the Museum. These were artefacts o f various kinds: shields, spears, bull-roarers and skulls. At a village on Lake Murray, Hurley and McCul loch found no one around. They went into a large communal house and found the villagers' belongings in the rafters.

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  • ' T h o u g h feeling compunc t ion for our act ions, we ransacked them ' Hurley wrote in his book Pearls and Savages. 'Skulls, human bits, and tit-bits filled our bone-bag; whilst axes, knives and fabrics were substituted. Surely, indeed, Father Christmas had visited the house! Iron and steel replaced bone and s tone, and a million years were bridged in a day!' Pearls and Savages claims that Hurley's enthusiasm was purely scientific:

    F r o m a d im alcove I gave a yell o f delight! We had discovered treasures beyond bonanza! H u m a n heads! Stuffed heads! What luck!

    Skul ls pa in t ed and d e c o r a t e d had g r inned f rom every n iche , bu t heads — stuffed heads! Glo r ious beyond words! H a d we raided a bank and carried of f the bullion we cou ld scarcely have been more pleased than with such desirable objects .

    Th i s , o f course , is scientifically speaking , for I can scarcely conceive anything so g r u e s o m e as these h ideous h u m a n trophies o f the head-hunters . . .

    What sort o f peop le cou ld these be that s o callously m a d e toys o f their victims? Infinitely b a r b a r o u s , f e roc ious , and cruel , wi th n o feel ing nor t h o u g h t for human agony and suffering, and I shuddered to think o f the ghastly scenes that had taken place in the small clearing by the g l o o m y b a m b o o s .

    Reports o f 'irregularities' reached the colonial administration, and the collection was impounded in Port Moresby while investigations were made. Hurley conducted a furious campaign in the Sydney press. 'HURLEY N O T A P I R A T E ' ran one o f the Sun's headlines. Hurley 's view was that the goods he had taken without permission belonged in a museum, regardless o f the interests o f their manufacturers and owners. Any suggest ion o f impropriety on his part was an attack on his honour. In the end, the administrat ion allowed him to keep almost all o f the i tems he had taken. F . E . Williams wrote a report about 'the collection o f curios ' , pointing out that the removal o f g o o d s to museums could not be justified as a useful, scientific or moral action in itself. H e proposed a paternalistic 'ethics o f collecting', directed at the preservation o f indigenous culture. Hurley's frustration with the whole affair was wel l -expressed in his diary: 'S t rangely e n o u g h the Officials o f Papua, with few exceptions, are so narrow minded as not to be able to see nor appreciate beyond the official "self-centredness" and short-sightedness o f their mean conceptions. ' H e went on:


  • T h e diary reads : 'We are accused with practically be ing pirates , chas ing & terrifying the people & robb ing their villages! Such an absurd & fabulous rumour is a direct imputa t ion against our honour & reputat ions. I am heartily wild & d isgus ted with the amaz ing excesses to which the Adminis t ra t ion indulges itself in red taped officialism & its endeavour to harass all with w h o m it may have deal ings. It is absurdly jealous o f ' ou t s ide r s ' t respassing on its sacred territory & prosecut ing original work which the administrat ion itself fails in do ing . I have discussed the ignomin ious posi t ion in which M c C u l l o c h & myself have been placed & we have decided to take up a dignified & hostile at t i tude to the imputa t ions o f which we are supremely innocent . '

    But Hurley was not supremely innocent. N o r was he innocent when he claimed later, back, in Sydney, that he had 'discovered' previously unknown par ts o f Papua . Embar ra s s ing ly e n o u g h , P a p u a ' s L i e u t e n a n t - G o v e r n o r , Hubert Murray, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald debunking the idea.

    In P a p u a , Hurley's s h o w m a n s h i p w a s d i r e c t l y entangled wi th colonialism. As an official photographer in both World Wars, his desire for

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  • spectacle created quite different problems. Like many other photographers, Hurley was accustomed to combining images from a number o f negatives in one finished picture. H e would often add , for example , a dramatic c loud formation or a sunset to heighten the effect o f a landscape or a building. This kind o f darkroom composit ion was generally regarded as a legitimate photographic practice. Indeed, the ability to do it well was a desirable skill. On the whole, Hurley did do it well, and the result was often a romantic p i c tu r e , n o t w i t h s t a n d i n g his c u s t o m a r y b r igh t , ha rd l ight and s t r o n g contrasts . Hur ley ' s dramatically thunderous skies frequently s u g g e s t e d a divine or transcendent presence.

    When he began taking pictures on the Western Front he decided that composi te pictures were necessary for the subject. H e found it impossible to picture trench warfare in a single exposure. H e wrote later in the Australian Photo-Review:

    None b u t t h o s e w h o have enddeavoured can r ea l i s e the i n s u r m o u n t a b l e difficulties o f por t raying a m o d e r n battle by the camera . To include the event on a s ing le n e g a t i v e , I have tr ied and t r ied , b u t the resu l t s are h o p e l e s s . Everything is on such a vast scale. F igures are scat tered — the a tmosphere is dense with haze and s m o k e — shells will not burst where required — yet the whole e lements o f a picture are there could they but be b r o u g h t together and condensed .

    Hurley was arguing that composi te images could provide a truer image o f what happened in modern battle. But C.E.W. Bean, the official Australian war correspondent, would not stand for any manipulation o f negatives. H e thought composi te pictures were 'fakes' . Bean was a meticulous collector o f facts, and was later appointed official war historian. H e wanted to know exactly what happened on the front; Hurley wanted to present what he thought was a visually coherent image o f the war. The argument between them came to the point where Hurley considered res igning, but he was finally allowed to make a small number o f composi te images. The effect o f these was a visual condensation o f the battlefield; the prints were crowded with heavy c l o u d s , p i e r c ing rays o f sun l i gh t , e x p l o d i n g she l l s , d iv ing aeroplanes, and soldiers go ing 'over the top ' .

    In Once More On My Adventure, Frank L e g g and Toni Hurley assert that Bean was right. According to them, the composi te pictures fail as realist representat ions; they mean little to soldiers who were at the Front . But Bean 's criterion for judgment is not the only one: there are other ways o f looking at these pictures. Following the critic Bernd Huppauf, we can see

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  • Hurley 's war photography as a photographer ' s at tempt to come to terms with material which posed a real problem. The problem was simple: how was it possible to photograph a modern war, where events are too dispersed to be seen from one field o f vision?

    Hurley tried various alternatives. H e and his assistant often risked their lives roaming around the trenches looking for action, but they could not get the i m a g e s H u r l e y r e q u i r e d . Aer ia l p h o t o g r a p h y , wh ich H u r l e y was enthusiastic about , produced abstract images o f roads, trenchlines and the broken surfaces o f muddy battlefields. While these abstract images were useful for military purposes, for him they conveyed no sense o f what was happening to soldiers on the ground. Compos i te images were necessary for that. Compos i te images created an artificial vantage point for the camera, an eventful perspec t ive which r ende red ac t ion s imu l t aneous ly in the o n e imaginary place. Somet imes these events seem strangely jux taposed . T h e c o m b i n a t i o n o f a scene o f d e a d or injured so ld iers a m o n g the ru ined landscape o f the battlefield with a beautifully glowing, cloudy dawn probably signified Hurley's sense o f fateful glory; now it appears inappropriate or at the least over-dramatised. But the awkwardness o f the juxtaposition points to Hurley 's difficulty in reconciling on the one hand his romantic sense o f pictorial beauty and his showmanship, and on the other his horror o f the Western Front.

    In late 1 9 1 7 , Hur ley jo ined the Austra l ian M o u n t e d Divis ions in Palestine. Away from Bean 's supervision, he was free to combine negatives as he liked. The Light Horse (as the Divisions were known) even helped him to s tage p h o t o g r a p h s o f events which he had missed , or which had never occurred. H e took pictures for the record o f the Light Horse in Jerusalem, even though they had not been involved in the capture o f that city. Hurley observed in his diary that without the presence o f the L igh t H o r s e the Jerusalem pictures would have had no military or public appeal.

    The tension in Hurley's Western Front pictures is between a romantic aesthetic and the new and terrible subject o f modern mass destruction. This appears again in his 1918 pictures o f Palestine. A picture o f Gaza shows the Light Horse assembled in the ruined city. The soldiers, with their horses and their symmetry, seem to belong to another age ; they look as though they are on the point o f making a cavalry charge. The buildings behind them have not been captured so much as completely destroyed. Another picture shows two Australian troopers in the ruins o f a mosque in Gaza , pointing at an aeroplane. The picture is beautifully composed , and there is almost an air o f


  • gaiety about the soldiers. They seem excited by the plane rather than horrified at the devastation around them.

    'The Morning after the First Battle of Passchendaele', 1917 (54.2 x 49.2cm)

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  • One of the most disturbing aspects of these war pictures is the emptiness of the city depicted. The inhabitants have disappeared; that is all we can intimate. When Hurley returned to Palestine in the 1940s, he was much more in teres ted in taking pictures o f the peop le there. His photographs from this period document a society which was to be broken up by the post-war dispensation. He had a new attitude to the Palestinians. In 1918 he had been a photographer in an invading army; in the forties he was working mainly for the British Government, which held a League of Nations mandate over the country. In the conflicts between the British, the Zionists, and the Palestinians, Hurley's sympathies were firmly with the British. His unders tanding was s imple: Palestine owed its progress to a benign administration. Beyond colonial loyalty, however, he was more sympathetic with the aspirations of Palestinians than with Zionism. The 1946 attack on the King David Hotel settled his view of the matter.

    The Light Horse in Gaza, Palestine, 1918 (49.2 x 49.8cm)

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  • Gaza, Palestine, 1918 (35 x 26.3cm)

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  • The Best Country in the World

    HURLEY'S adventures in the Midd l e Eas t , Papua and Antarct ica were clearly bound up in imperial politics. But the imperial element o f his work is no t the who le s tory. M o s t o f H u r l e y ' s imper ia l adven tu re s were a l so Australian ones : M a w s o n ' s expedi t ions to Antarct ica were o rgan ised in Australia; Hurley's wartime work was mainly with Australian forces; and in Papua his quarrels were quarrels with an Australian colonial administration. S o his mobility has to be seen as part o f a national mobility, which took the expansive forms o f colonisation in Papua, territorial annexation in Antarctica, and war in Europe and the Middle East.

    Hur ley ' s travelling, then, cannot be unde r s tood as diminishing his sense o f national identity. On the contrary, he seems to have always been intensely patriotic. H e believed Australia was a land o f p rogress , with a p r o s p e r o u s , secure future . H e involved h imse l f in the e l abo ra t e S t a t e anniversaries o f the 1930s , making films for the South Australian centenary in 1936 and for the 150th anniversary o f Captain Arthur Phillip's landing in 1938 . The 1938 film, A Nation is Built, proclaimed his confidence:

    A climate wi thout peer, fabulous natural resources , unsurpassed scenery and limitless spor t ing facilities combine to make Australia the natural set t ing for the new A n g l o - S a x o n Empi re under the Sou thern Cross.

    T h e film celebrated white set t lement and e labora ted on a national destiny provided by G o d . 'The bounty o f the earth impels us to look to the g o o d will in the heavens and to say "We thank T h e e . ' " Hurley produced a very la rge b o d y o f work a b o u t Aus t ra l i a : d o c u m e n t a r i e s , feature film cinematography, numerous books , calendars and pos tcards . His Camera Study books , which he began on his return from the Middle East in 1946 , took up the theme again. A picture in Australia: A Camera Study showed 'S t r awbe r ry t ime on a " N e w Aus t r a l i an" se t t l e r ' s farm near B r i s b a n e . Originally from Greece, the owner has worked hard and considers Australia the best country in the world' .


  • The Camera Study books , like the earlier films, concentrated on two aspects o f Australia: its natural beauty and its industrial productivity. Hurley's aesthetic was perfectly suited to the task. Wheat fields, waterfalls and beaches all looked g o o d in bright sunshine, and a picturesque sky completed them. There was very little o f the tension between composit ion and subject matter that appeared in his wartime photography. G o o d will was represented in the heavens; energetic activity on the ground. There were certain images that Hurley used to express this harmonious relationship again and again: the mass o f sheep ambling through trees was one favourite scene, as was the wheat harvest in a wide, bright, shallow valley. The countenance divine shone forth upon those clouded hills.

    The Warrumbungle Mountains, New South Wales, c. 1950 (38.1 x 50.2cm). Hurley used this picture in Australia: A C a m e r a S tudy (1955) to illustrate 'The Wool Industry'.

    - 18 -

  • Further Reading

    Donald D e n o o n , 'The Isolation o f Australian History ' , Historical Studies, October, 1 9 8 6

    Ross Gibson (ed) , The South Pacific, a special issue o f Photofile, Spring 1988

    Bernd Huppauf, 'Modernism and the Photographic Record o f War and Destruct ion ' , in L . Devereaux and R. Hillman (eds) , The Photographic Image (forthcoming)

    Frank Hurley, Argonauts of the South, New York, 1925

    Australia: A Camera Study, Sydney, 1955

    The Holy City, Sydney, 1949

    Pearls and Savages, N e w York, 1924

    Frank L e g g and Toni Hurley, Once More On My Adventure, Sydney, 1 9 6 6

    Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard, L o n d o n , 1 9 1 5

    David P. Millar, Prom Snowdrift to Shellfire, Sydney, 1 9 8 4


  • CoverPrefaceThe Showman as HeroClouds and ColoniesThe Best Country in the WorldFurther Reading