Photographers of the Tweed

Angus McNeil

Angus McNeil operated as a professional photographer in Murwillumbah from 1912 to 1927. He was apprenticed to his father, Angus McNeil, who was a well-known photographer with a studio in Kempsey. Angus’ brother, Leslie, also operated a photographic studio, in Lismore and later established ‘Tweed Studios’ in Murwillumbah.

Angus McNeil opened his first studio in the old Imperial Hotel building, Main Street, Murwillumbah, in 1912. In 1923 he purchased land and constructed a building in Broadway, Queen Street, to house his new studio and other businesses and flats, taking a photographic record of the entire building process. McNeil worked out of this studio until he moved from the district in 1927.

He recorded thousands of local residents who had their portraits taken in his studio, documented people and scenes around town and captured major events such as floods.

Angus McNeil also built up a historical record of the area, including taking the very first aerial photographs of the Tweed in 1920. Newspaper reports tell us of one of his flights, in May 1920, and the fact that he established a record in taking 18 photographs in 12 minutes, which involved changing three spools of film, no easy undertaking considering the wind was blowing at 80 miles per hour.

W J Hannah

Hannah is referred to as a ‘Photographic artist’ in local newspaper articles as early as 1924; he supplied the local Chamber of Commerce with photographs to use in tourist booklets in 1925 and the 1930s and began advertising his studio in Wharf Street, Murwillumbah in 1928. He promoted his relationship with local pharmacy Whittles; photography services could be booked through the pharmacy and a car provided to transport clients to and from Hannah’s studio.

By that time the ‘Box Brownie’ camera, first introduced in 1900, was widely used as it had been mass produced since that time and was inexpensive and easy to use. It marked the beginning of every family and amateur photographer’s ability to capture local life, from the casual family photograph to the routine of daily life, and special occasions.

Given the wider availability of cameras and the growth in amateur photography, the need for professional photographers operating out of local studios to ‘value add’ is perhaps reflected in W J Hannah’s promotion of the artistic merit of his photography.

The Tweed Daily, reporting in 1932 about the renovations at Hannah’s studio in Wharf Street, claimed that “Mr Hannah is a specialist of high degree in all photographic work and this is borne out by the unique compliments paid his work from time to time at the Brisbane Exhibition, where he has received 100 per cent…. and two special certificates of merit for photography.”

As well as producing hand-coloured scenic postcards and contributing to articles and booklets showcasing the beauty of the area, Hannah also provided a collection of scenic views to be displayed at the Government Tourist Bureau in Sydney in 1927. He sponsored and judged artistic competitions at the local show, and advertised that amateur photographers could rely on his assistance to give them the best results.

Hannah operated his studio in Murwillumbah until 1936 when he advertised that he had disposed of the business to Mr O. Richtmuller of Brisbane.

Frederick Hobbs

Frederick Peden (FP) Hobbs took some of the earliest known photographs of the Tweed District. Hobbs’ business in Main Street, Murwillumbah, was called Joyland and as well as photographic items, it stocked books, stationery, toys and gifts. Hobbs called himself the ‘Ringmaster of Joyland’.

Although he worked as a photographer for less than ten years, Hobbs was renowned for his scenic images of the surrounding region. His obituary in 1946 claimed:

His mountain and cloud studies of the Tweed have rarely been equalled.

Just prior to WWI, Hobbs organised for the printing of scenic souvenir booklets with photographs from his collection, as well as descriptive articles that would attract both visitors and new settlers. Due to the outbreak of war, his plan was never realised.

His image, “Sunset Murwillumbah”, illustrates his experimentation with light and mood and shows why he was especially remembered for cloud studies. Hobbs most likely set up his camera on the Murwillumbah Bridge to take this image of the Tweed’s first butter factory in Commercial Road and the atmospheric scene behind it. In 1914, Hobbs convened a meeting to form the ‘Tweed Amateur Camera Club’ so that ordinary citizens could explore photograph as a hobby. A local amateur photographer, Mr L. Solomons (father of Douglas Solomons, more on him below)), became the President.

His image, “Murwillumbah No. 1”, c1910, gives us valuable information on the township of Murwillumbah. We can see the first Murwillumbah Bridge, built in 1901, and the small building just to the left of the entrance to the bridge, which was the first Fire Station. The large, L-shaped building at centre right is the Murwillumbah Hotel. It is also interesting to note the number of buildings in South Murwillumbah – this was a bustling business district at the time.

In 1917, Hobbs sold his business but remained in the area as a fruit grower. He approached this endeavour in the same way as he had photography; through experimentation, and inspiring others via his involvement with the Tweed Fruit Growers Association and his encouragement to locals to attempt new varieties of fruits and nuts.

Douglas Solomons

Solomons carried his camera around the Tweed, often on horseback, to record the lives of neighbouring selectors and their families as they toiled in tough terrain to carve out a living. He was the son of Louis Solomons, a keen amateur photographer who processed his own photographs, often mounted in pairs to view in 3D. The Museum holds many of these 3D images, from both Louis and Douglas Solomons.

Quality cameras of the era were large and heavy and usually had bellows that could be folded into the case to save space when not in use. The sheer expense and size of a whole plate cameras meant they were not common. Glass plates were often used as they were more stable in extreme conditions, particularly the damp and heat of the Northern Rivers.

Douglas Samuel Solomons signed and dated his images D.S.S. and often sent them to friends as Christmas cards and mementos of gatherings in the bush and holiday camping trips.

Douglas enlisted in the Army in 1916 and was posted to France, where he was shot in the back on 11 August 1918, resulting in paraplegia. He returned to Australia and married Dorothy Caswell of Murwillumbah. However Douglas spent much of the rest of his life in a military hospital in Brisbane, where he died in 1934.