The most intriguing donations to our archive in 2021

As a new year begins, we take a look at some interesting additions to our collection.

The City of Sydney Archives holds items from as early as 1842 when the Municipal Council of Sydney was established. It includes business archives from council and contributions from the community.

“We’re often approached by people offering to donate photographs and other records. If they’re from the Sydney local area, and relevant to our collection management policy, we may accept them,” city archivist, Janet Villata said.

There are more than 12,500 shelf metres of archives and digital content relating to the City of Sydney and its people, places and events. Of the items on shelves, a donation of over 50 glass plate negatives were nominated as a particular favourite received in the past year.

They were found in a box under a house in North Sydney by Craig Paterson. Around 40 years ago, he was working on the property’s plumbing when he discovered them. He took them to the home’s elderly owner. She told him that her husband had acquired them, but she had no other knowledge of their origins. She requested Craig take them with him for others to enjoy.

Sydney Royal Easter Show Pavilion with gas masks on mannequins exhibit, circa 1920, City of Sydney Archives A-01153294

“He knew glass negatives are very rare these days,” Janet said. “They are usually from the 19th century or early 20th century so Craig got a friend of his to process a few. He discovered some really interesting photos of Sydney.”

This collection of images captures Sydney and possibly surrounding areas between around 1914 and 1932. In 2021, Craig donated them to the City Archives.

“Because they had been sitting under the house for such a long time they weren't in the best condition. A few could not be saved. But we have a wonderful reprographics officer on staff at the City of Sydney who digitised the remaining negatives for us,” Janet said.

Aerial of Railway Square and commuters, Sydney, circa 1917, City of Sydney Archives A-01153272

The images include a pre-Sydney Harbour Bridge photograph of Circular Quay.

There are streetscapes in Sydney’s centre and Potts Point, navy ships in Sydney Harbour, Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney Royal Easter Show pavilions and some unknown locations.

A few show an international tennis competition (possibly in Rushcutters Bay) with packed viewing platforms.

Curiously, several are of plans from the competitive design for the Daily Telegraph Building submitted by various architects from around 1914 to 1916. Janet believes these plates may provide a clue to who took the photos.

Some locations are unidentified, and the archivists welcome information from the public who may recognise the places or even know who took the photos. We’re always looking to solve mysteries like this.

The full collection can be found online in the Archives & History Resources catalogue.

Top image:A group of men around a long lavishly set dining table, unknown location, no date, City of Sydney Archives A-01153307

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