A camera captures a moment in time
A historian rarely gets a window into the past in real-time through the lens of a camera. I did this in Camden, New South Wales, recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew the attention of local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress Laura Jane wore.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lived the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle. They made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to Dior’s fashion house. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With a matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup, she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, changing steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, and another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters, their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity, and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The Sydney street photographers captured the intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured moments in time, and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token, and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, expresses the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past. It incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it occasionally as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example of how a moment in time can truly be part of living history, where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
Many of these stories are in my Pictorial History of Camden and District.
Updated on 9 May 2023. Originally posted on 13 January 2019.
You must be logged in to post a comment.