The John Etkins collection, first donated in 2005, consists of over 4000 mainly mid-19th century photographs, capturing Australian home life, social history and studio portraiture.

A woman stands, alone, in front of her stark weatherboard, two doors, two windows, one chimney.

[Weatherboard houses]; H2005.34/139. A woman stands in front of her weatherboard house with two doors, two windows and one chimney.

Etkins began collecting cartes-de-visite, and the later style known as cabinet cards, in the late 1980s. This format, in which the photographic print is pasted onto a small card, was first patented by Paris photographer Andre Disderi in November 1854, and was later developed for commercial purposes. Many of the subjects in the photo are dressed up for the special occasion, proudly shown in front of their homes.

Weatherboard house with corrugated iron roof and porch, little girls standing in front wearing pinafores, both holding dolls
Detail from H2005.34/891; [Photographs by Clark Brothers, 25 Thomas Street, Windsor, Vic.] 

The two girls in the above photo, presumably sisters, clutch their dolls tightly to their shoulders, almost identically, and peer at the camera. There are no other toys in sight- the verandah isn’t cluttered with bikes or toy trains- the doll might be their one precious play-thing. The older one’s boots tells of her anticipated adventures amongst the plethora of dirt and flora in the yard, with the younger one sure to follow.

The below image shows a family, presumably, taking tea from a crowded table on the verandah. Three of the ladies look directly at the camera, whilst one concentrates on pouring. The seated one on the left casts a death stare to the camera- perhaps she’s not a fan of the photo- or maybe she is annoyed she was the one who had to drag the indoor chair outside? The one on the right, the mother perhaps, sits unimpressed, waiting. I can hear her quip, ‘Come on, hurry up. Tea’s going cold,’ to the fussy photographer. But their matured impatience is trumped by the young smiling girl in the foreground who, relegated to a rug, seems to already know how to look and how to wait, politely. Meanwhile in the background, the plants track around the people and through the photo like a ribbon, framing the family in a layer of decoration.

wo women sitting at a small table on verandah of a weatherboard house, another woman standing pouring tea, a little girl seated on rug at their feet also drinking tea.
[Group taking tea on a verandah]; H2005.34/73

In Weatherboard house – Torquay cottage, below, a dressed up lady seems ready to leave the house for a picnic or the races but instead stands firm, bound to the two children and large dog. The kids are raring to go and explore and the dog’s up for anything, but mother’s reluctance may be due to her knowledge of what commotions await once they are free to roam. This lady’s dress contrasts with most of the ones we see in this collection- which are usually full dark skirts. The dress patterns rhyme with by the stripes of the fence posts, which are continued with the corrugated iron roof. A sign attached to porch roof over door reads ‘Torquay Cottage’.

A lady wearing a hat and checked dress,  stands at the front gate of a weatherboard house, with two young children and a large dog,
[Weatherboard house – Torquay cottage]; H2005.34/57
Man in suit standing outside a General Store.
H. H. Cairns / Cheap Cash Store; H2005.34/894

Similarly this suited man stands outside his business, looking stern, daring us to come near his cheap cash store. An article in the Australian Town and Country Journal describes another cheap cash store in Yass where the owner ‘buys for cash, therefore buys cheaply… He sells for cash and can sell cheaper.’ This store seems to sell everything; chocolate, wheelbarrows, earthenware and seeds. It would be interesting to go in; if you could get by him.

More photos featuring houses from the Etkins collections can be found online, via Collection Discovery as well as thousands of others.

This blog was based on an SLV News article written in 2007 by former Pictures Librarian, Madeleine Say.

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