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Frank Hurley, who was born in Glebe in 1885, is best known today as a photographer and filmmaker who worked in the Antarctic with Mawson and Shackleton, was official photographer during the two world wars, and made expeditions to Papua during the 1920s. The shows Hurley put on at the height of his fame in the 1910s and 1920s were stage and screen performances exploiting a number of media: he called them ‘synchronized lecture entertainments’.

Glebe connections

The following is based on an article in the Glebe Society Bulletin by Rod Holtham, and a talk given by Lyn Collingwood

Frank Hurley, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3885
Frank Hurley, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3885

Frank Hurley was born on 15 October 1885, the son of Margaret Agnes and Edward Harrison Hurley, a typographer and trade union official working for the Sydney Morning Herald. The family, including Frank’s siblings Margaret Ann, Henry Edward, Edwin Derwent and Dorothea Clara, lived at 63 Derwent Street. Frank’s father died in 1907, his mother in 1940.

After Frank threw two inkwells at his Glebe Public teacher (‘a cantankerous tubby little man who … hammered knowledge into us with the aplomb of a jobbing carpenter’) and ran away from both school and home, he got a labouring job at R W Sandford’s Lithgow ironworks, a decision supported by his father. He returned home two years later and studied at night at the local technical school and attended science lectures at the University of Sydney. He became interested in photography, buying his own Kodak box camera for 15 shillings. In 1905 he joined Harry Cave in a postcard business in Sydney and began to earn a reputation for the high technical quality of his work and for the extravagant risks he took to secure sensational images, such as a famous shot taken from the rails in front of an onrushing train. He also gave talks at photographic club meetings and in 1910 mounted the first exhibition of his work in Sydney.

Hearing of the Mawson expedition, Hurley applied to be its official photographer. The story goes that he cornered Mawson in the first class carriage of the train he was taking on his way to Adelaide University and during the 75 mile journey between Central Station and Mittagong (where he got off) pressed his case. When she got wind of this, Hurley’s mother wrote Mawson a letter:

I hear that my son Mr J F Hurley has applied for the position of Cinematographer and Photographer to your expedition. Now I tell you this is not in fairness to himself as he has an internal complaint. I am certain that he is not strong enough for the position. He has never roughed it in any way during his life. He has lung trouble so bad that if he started I do not think he would come back and in justice to myself I think you should put him right out of your mind. In conclusion I want to ask you a favour, and that is, do not mention to my son that I have written to you, and you will greatly oblige.

Despite her protestations J F Hurley got the job. His equipment, supplied by Kodak, weighed 18 kilograms.

More information

Australian Dictionary of Biography 

Glebe Society Bulletin, 3/2008, page 3

Posted on 6 April 2013 by Peter

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