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Tides of change documented in new exhibition

28 Jan 2020

Tides of change documented in new exhibition Image

By David Schout

A new photographic exhibition at Library at The Dock depicts the Port of Melbourne’s changing face from 1936 to 1959, and the true scope of activity on the city’s docks during this time.

Time and Tide is a collection of more than 1600 negatives commissioned and gathered by J.B.O Hosking, Melbourne Harbour Trust’s chief engineer during this period.

A group of dedicated volunteers at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) spent over two years digitising, indexing and captioning the black and white images, which capture the progress, excitement and danger of Melbourne’s ports.

PROV assistant director of access services David Taylor first noticed the incredible images when chatting with one of their 160 dedicated volunteers.

“I just asked what she was working on and thought ‘oh my god, this is amazing, people need to see these’,” he said.

“It’s an amazing record of Melbourne’s history and an area that few knew about to this extent. I thought ‘this is something we must show’.”

The negatives had been in PROV’s possession since the early ‘90s, passed on from the Melbourne Harbour Trust, but had not been properly examined and presented until recently.

The exhibition itself includes almost 200 images from the collection, and Mr Taylor said it was easy to be struck by the scope of activity on the docks in that period, including images that even show circus animals being unloaded.

“(But) what’s most fascinating for me is actually the clothing people wore,” he said.

“When you look at these photos, the clothes aren’t associated with working – men look smarter. There are some beautiful photos of events and the women look amazing.”

Beyond the aesthetic, Mr Taylor said the inherent risks of working on the port were very apparent.

“It was certainly dangerous, there’s no way modern occupational health and safety standards would have ticked off what went on,” he laughed.

He described Mr Hosking as “a public servant of great vision”, and was pleased that by June this year, all the exhibition’s photographs will be available online for the public to download.

“PROV is grateful to J.B.O Hosking that he had the foresight to document this piece of history. It’s amazing that the photos in his bound book have made their way onto the World Wide Web for everyone to see.”

Mr Taylor said the exhibition’s location at Library at the Dock “couldn’t be better”, as several places depicted in the photographs can be seen through the windows of the gallery.

This sentiment was reflected by Cr Jackie Watts in her speech at the exhibition’s official opening on January 16.

“It’s important in a multicultural city such as ours that our community understands the social geographical and economic heritage we now share,” Cr Watts said.

“Much of it centres on the port – the livelihoods of those employed, the new infrastructure, the social life, the prosperity. These images tell the many tales thanks to the insight of this remarkable harbour master. How apt to be enjoying these images by the very waterways where many of them were taken.” 

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