Camera and leather case. Gift of Mr Kevin Joseph Waldron, 1996. MAGNT Collection TH98/088

Camera and leather case

Camera maker – unknown, shutter maker – Koilos, c. 1910 Gift of Mr Kevin Joseph Waldron, 1996. MAGNT Collection TH98/088

Folding cameras were popular in the early 1900s to 1920s with travellers due to their compact size. The bellows concertinaed inwards to fold the camera down to fit into a travel case for easy transport, and the pneumatic shutter made by Koilos simplified the photographic process and produced excellent results.

This particular camera belonged to John Joseph ‘J.J.’ Waldron, a young cadet surveyor from Melbourne who had obtained a coveted position on the Commonwealth Government funded Barclay-Macpherson Northern Territory Survey and Exploration Party. The expedition was tasked with surveying a railway route from Newcastle Waters, near the centre of the Territory, to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The survey was one of the first actions commissioned by the Commonwealth Government when it took control of the Northern Territory in 1911. Determined to make the Northern Territory profitable, the Commonwealth sent various survey and research parties throughout the Territory to investigate its agricultural, pastoral and mining potential.

Departing Victoria in January 1911, J.J. Waldron had never before stepped foot in the Territory. Waldron’s journal reflects his shock at the difficult conditions faced by the party. On 25 January 1911, Waldron wrote:

12am Thermometer 102 degrees f. [38.9° C] The heat here is very oppressive, and to one coming from Southern Victoria for the first time, it is almost unbearable. The absence of any cool spot is felt very much, and bore water is repugnant to anybody accustomed to Yan Yean [Melbourne drinking water].

Other than issues with the heat and drinking water, the party suffered illness including Barcoo fever and malaria. Travelling across the Territory by camel also brought its own complications including providing sufficient water and feed, and dealing with the deteriorating physical condition of the animals.

Waldron used his camera to capture images of the unique landscape, specimens, the survey team, their campsites, the tiny settlements encountered, and the Aboriginal people who assisted the party in their travels. He thus produced a rare and significant record of the Barclay-Macpherson Expedition itself, and a visual insight into the Territory during this period.

From this first experience, Waldron was drawn back to the Territory many times including a 1919 motorcycle expedition to survey an aerial route between Sydney and Darwin.

MAGNT holds the Waldron Collection comprising J.J. Waldron’s camera, journal and unique photographs of the Territory, including rare images of Edward Reichenbach during his record-breaking bicycle ride from Adelaide to Darwin in 1914.

This camera is now on display in the exhibition Unruly Days: Territory Life 1911-1921 at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Three members of the Barclay-Macpherson Northern Territory Survey and Exploration Party. J.J. Waldron is on the left. Image: photographer unknown. Waldron Collection, MAGNT PIC058/422