From 1870 until the late 1940s, the Government Printing Office (GPO) Photographic Branch documented much of the NSW Government’s activities using the format of dry glass-plate negatives. The resulting images – crisply defined, wonderfully detailed and numbering in the tens of thousands – are today held in the NSW State Archives Collection. A curated selection of 28 images is featured in Sydney Snapshots at the Museum of Sydney.
The GPO collection covers a diverse range of subjects: roadworks and wharf construction, fleet visits, suburban soldier settlements, factory workshops, tourist sites, opening ceremonies for departmental buildings and significant state events.
Beyond its sheer volume, one of the most fascinating aspects of the GPO collection is the wealth of incidental background detail captured by government photographers. Behind or alongside the government-focused subject matter, Sydney’s streets, buildings, beaches and waterways form the stage setting for sometimes curious bystanders, who become accidental characters as they go about their daily lives. Tantalising glimpses of soldiers and sailors, nurses and schoolchildren, immigrants and wartime evacuees – never intended to be documented for posterity or revealed to the masses – now tease the present-day viewer from the edges of each scene.
Discover the people, places and events that shaped our city in the first half of the 20th century, through the lens of GPO photographers.