Our favourite images from A Thousand Words


A Thousand Words presents 100 of the most compelling photographic images from Sydney Living Museums and NSW State Archives in both an online exhibition and an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney which opens 2 July. Unlike a standard exhibition, images are presented without traditional curatorial interpretation, instead we have crowdsourced responses from the public.

With 20 new images added each month to the online exhibition discover some of our favourite images from the June selection.

Image of two people on horseback beside a lake

NSW Department of Trains: NRS 12932 [X2450] item 134 NSW State Archives

Adam Lindsay, Executive Director, SARA & SLM:

I adore the clarity and composition of this image. The quality of the digitisation is extraordinary.

It shows an atypical Australian landscape, very different from the manmade and natural wonders usually associated with this continent, and that reveals more of the majesty and complexity of this place. I see the two horsemen alone in this pristine natural amphitheatre and imagine the successive generations of first nations people who would have enjoyed this as a place of wonder and likely importance.

Many people responded to this image, commenting with words like ‘serene’, ‘sublime’, ‘pristine’ and ‘majestic’."

See how audiences responded and discover the official story behind this image in the A Thousand Words online exhibition.


Two men on an electricity pol

Sydney County Council (Ausgrid): NRS 21243 item 6756 NSW State Archives

Dr Penny Stannard, Lead Curator, A Thousand Words:

One of my favourite images in the exhibition, A Thousand Words, features two men atop an electricity power pole. In curating the exhibition, I viewed thousands of photographic images from the State Archives Collection. As soon as I saw this one, I knew it had to be in the show.

Each time I look at this image, I’m struck by its sense of drama and emotion. It’s like a movie scene. The pole forms a motif like the Christian cross as the men appear frozen, about to fall from a great height. The sky is overcast. Its grey uniformity emphasises the stark shapes and lines of the wires and corrugated roof and the solid forms of the men and the pole. It’s an image that can be interpreted in so many ways.  Are the men lovers in a tender embrace? Are they dancers performing a pas de deux in a stage set?  Is one mate supporting the other as he takes his dying breath? And why was such a photo taken?

Like many of the hundreds of thousands of photographs in the State Archives Collection, there is very little information about this image in the official records. I was able to find out that it was produced by the Sydney County Council (now Ausgrid), but there was no date, no location, no names and no account of the actual event.

The beauty of a project like A Thousand Words, which has published incredible images like this one to ‘crowd source’ responses from the public, is that curators like me get to find out more about the story that’s being told in the photograph. When this image was published through our social media channels in January, the responses were absolutely fascinating. Some people expressed their concern at what they viewed was an insensitivity towards people who had died of electrocution. Others saw a scene in which love and mateship were at play. Some contributors drew attention to workplace accidents and noted the danger that electricians and others face in their workplaces every day. A few responders had worked for the Sydney County Council and they were able to explain how workers underwent pole-top training to learn resuscitation techniques. And this photo, they advised, was simply showing one of these events."

See how audiences responded and discover the official story behind this image in the A Thousand Words online exhibition.


Nurses in masks standing next to a car

NSW Government Printing Office: NRS 4481 [7/16395] ST6679 NSW State Archives

Nerida Campbell, Curator, A Thousand Words:

This image attracts me on many different levels – its composition, its relevance to today and the childhood memories it brings bubbling up to the surface.

The black and white photograph shows inner-city medical staff involved in fighting the 1919 flu pandemic. These women and men pose together at the beginning of their working day. Their pristine white uniforms contrast with the unsealed dirt road, their determined and stoic gaze is at odds with the vehicles’ banners screaming SOS [Save Our Souls].

For me the word it conjures up is ‘brave’; I move away from people who cough in the era of COVID-19 but nurses don’t, they get on with their job displaying an everyday heroism. Many of our ‘#OneWordWednesday contributors posted the word ‘prepared’ to describe this image, perhaps channelling the comfort we feel knowing there are people ready to help if we need them. The historical image gives me hope; it has happened before and we survived, battered but alive.

On a more personal level this picture brings back childhood memories of my mother’s work as a nurse. She emphasised the importance of comfortable work shoes as nurses are always walking the wards and I look at the nurse in the foreground with her tight, white boots and shudder. We never hugged Mum when she returned from work as she feared her clothing might carry infection and I see an echo of the care she took laundering her uniform in the brilliance of those worn in this picture. The group stand together ready to do difficult and at times dangerous work reminding me of the comradery of nurses, born of long hours, sad situations and finding humour, albeit black, in the most difficult of places."

See how audiences responded and discover the official story behind this image in the A Thousand Words online exhibition.


Woolshed, Rouse Hill House and Farm

New online

The Woolshed: a rude timber buildingTuesday 23 June 2020

The Woolshed at Rouse Hill Estate, constructed c. 1858, is an example of the type of ‘rude’ timber farm buildings that can be found throughout rural Australia. These building are usually uncomplicated structures, built using materials readily available and often have a naïve, simple character.

Sydney Children's Choir at Rouse Hill Estate

New online

Make Music Day: a premiere from Rouse Hill EstateFriday 19 June 2020

On a warm summer morning, long before any of us had heard of COVID-19, Lyn Williams, artistic director of the Sydney Children’s Choir, and associate artistic director Sam Allchurch sifted through some of the early 19th-century music scores at Sydney Living Museums, and now you can watch the result.

Winter Solstice at Elizabeth Bay House

Elizabeth Bay House

Join us for a live stream of the Winter SolsticeTuesday 16 June 2020

Exterior of Meroogal with Jacaranda trees in bloom


Meroogal Women's Art Prize updateWednesday 3 June 2020