back to top

15 Powerful Photographs That Will Change Your Perception Of Australia

New exhibition reveals another side of Australian history.

Posted on

1. Migrants arriving in Sydney in 1966.

David Moore, Migrants arriving in Sydney, 1966, printed later, gelatin silver photograph / Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore via Art Gallery of NSW

This dramatic photograph captures mixed emotions on the faces of European migrants about to start their new lives in Australia as their ship berthed at Circular Quay.

It was later revealed that some of the people in the picture were actually Sydneysiders returning from holidays, but the photo remains a symbol of immigration in Australian history.

2. Adelaide River in 1887.

Paul Foelsche, Adelaide River 1887, albumen photograph / Art Gallery of NSW

This photo of people relaxing on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory was taken by Paul Foelsche, a policeman and amateur anthropologist.

3. This gorgeous photo of a fashion model in 1939.

Olive Cotton, 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind', c1939, gelatin silver photograph / Art Gallery of New South Wales

Entitled 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind', photographer Olive Cotton took this photo of a beautiful young woman while assisting on a fashion shoot.


4. The harshness of the Australian landscape in 1937.

Harold Cazneaux, Spirit of endurance, 1937, gelatin silver photograph / Art Gallery of NSW, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975.

Titled 'Spirit of endurance' Harold Cazneaux's photograph of a hollowed out tree is still standing today in Wilpena, South Australia.

5. Aboriginal people fishing on the flooded Murray River in 1886.

Charles Bayliss, Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia 1886, albumen photograph / Art Gallery of New South Wales

This tableaux of Ngarrindjeri people fishing was carefully staged by photographer Charles Bayliss in 1886. Not just subjects, they actively participated in the photography process. It was observed at the time that the fishermen arranged themselves into position, with "the grace and unique character of which a skillful artist only could show."

6. Max Dupain's iconic photo of a man sunbaking on a beach.

Max Dupain, Sunbaker, 1937, printed 1907s, gelatin silver photograph / Art Gallery of New South Wales

Described as "the most famous and admired photograph in Australia", Dupain said he took the photo when he was camping on the NSW south coast as "one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down on the beach to have a sunbake."

7. What the General Post Office in Sydney looked like in 1892.

NSW Government Printer, The General Post Office, Sydney 1892-1900, albumen photograph / State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1969 via Art Gallery of NSW

With George Street looking just slightly less busy than it does today.

8. What the Melbourne CBD looked like in 1903.

Melvin Vaniman, Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets Melbourne 1903, platinum photograph / State Library of NSW via Art Gallery of NSW

This panorama taken waaaay before the iPhone function shows the intersection of Collins and Queens St.


9. Middle Harbour, Port Jackson in 1865.

Unknown photographer, Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson c1865 carte de visite / Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

Taken by an unknown photographer, this shows a part of North Sydney looking very different to how it does today.

10. Two sisters looking out at the Three Sisters in 1898.

Ernest B Docker, The Three Sisters Katoomba -€“ Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898, stereograph / Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney via Art Gallery of NSW

This peaceful shot shows a woman and her two daughters gazing at the Blue Mountains scenery before many tourists would stand in the same place years after.

11. Men relaxing for a tea break in the bush.

Richard Daintree, Midday camp 1864-70, albumen photograph, overpainted with oils / Queensland Museum, Brisbane via Art Gallery of NSW

This image was an albumen photograph (using egg whites to bind chemicals to paper) which was then hand-coloured with oil paints to bring it to life. The photographer took it in the 1860s to advertise Australia as a land of opportunity.

12. This Tracey Moffatt photograph of children playing with a camera.

Tracey Moffatt, I made a camera, 2003, photolithograph, Collection of the artist, © Tracey Moffatt / courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney via Art Gallery of NSW

This autobiographical image recreates a moment from Moffatt's childhood, taking shots of her family before she became an internationally renowned photographer.

13. Rosemary Laing's unsettling modern artwork.

Rosemary Laing, Eddie, 2010, printed 2011, type C photograph / Art Gallery of NSW

With the skeleton of a house jutting out of the ground, this photograph shows the Australian dream literally turned upside down.

14. This iconic photograph of the Aboriginal land rights movement in Australia.

Mervyn BishopPrime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975, type R3 photograph / Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991 © Merv

This photo shows the historic moment when prime minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of Daguragu soil back into the hand of Gurindji elder and traditional landowner, Vincent Lingiari.

15. And this little girl, who is just so done with the whole photo thing.

Unknown photographer, John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton 1856, albumen photograph / Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria via Art Gallery of NSW

We've all been there.

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!