Harley Boyles is the son of photographer Charles Boyles. In 2010, then in his eighties, he was interviewed by Ken Mansell for an article about his father. The article, now titled From Tripod to Website became one of the first published writings on Boyles and his work.
The original interview notes have been made available through the permission of both Ken and Harley and provide a fascinating insight.
The original interview notes have been made available through the permission of both Ken and Harley and provide a fascinating insight.
Part One – Monday, June 21, 2010.
Question 1. Can you tell me just a little about your father’s background. I have read that he was born and grew up in country Victoria, at Merino. Was this in the Western District, south of Coleraine? Did he grow up on a farm? Were his parents farmers, and what was their background? English?
My father was born at Merino, a small country town in the Western District of Victoria, on October 27, 1888. He had two brothers – Fred and Bill – and one sister – Maude. I did not know my ( paternal ) grandparents. They died before I was born. I was born in 1931. I don’t know whether or not they were farmers. My father never talked about his family. He was very quiet. I do know that the family moved to Ballarat, although I don’t know when, or where they lived in Ballarat. Maude lived in Rupanyup in the Wimmera when she married. ( She moved after marriage and lived in Rupanyup ). Fred and Bill moved to Melbourne but I don’t know when. ( I have only seen two or three photos of my father. Like most photographers he only took photos of others, not of himself ).
Question 2. Can you tell me when he developed an interest in photography? How did he develop an interest in photography?
I really don’t know the answer. I can only surmise that he had restricted options – because of the effects of rheumatoid arthritis suffered early in his life. Around the knee area. I think this happened in his early primary school years. From that time on his leg became withered and caused ongoing problems throughout his life. One leg never grew. He ended up with one short leg. He was restricted from many activities, e.g sport. He could walk and stand on it but couldn’t run or participate in sport. He always walked with a limp. At times he had crutches, at other times a walking stick. He may have got the rheumatoid arthritis in Merino, or maybe in Ballarat. He never talked about his studies at school. I don’t know when he left school but I don’t think he would have finished secondary school. I’d say he wasn’t highly educated.
Question 3. When did he leave country Victoria and come to live in Melbourne? Why did he leave country Victoria?
My father left country Victoria ( from Ballarat ) around 1914-15 and went to Forbes in New South Wales. During World War One, the largest Army camp in NSW, and possibly Australia, was at Forbes. The possibility of using his photographic skills to make a living became an option. Taking photos of soldiers within the camp. Whilst in Forbes he met and married my mother – Vera Amelia Moon. She came from Orange in New South Wales. She had a sister already living in Forbes. My father and mother met on one of his visits ( to Forbes ) in 1914 and married in Forbes in 1915. My father was in Forbes, in the camp, for most of the war.
How he became involved in the Army camp I do not know. However I think it was the best opportunity to make an adequate living. He was not employed by the Army. He made his way in, and they let him set up his camera. He sold his photos – of groups, brigades – for 6d. All this dried up when peacetime returned. This may have led to the move to Melbourne where his brothers were already established. He came to Melbourne after the war, when the Forbes camp closed down. He came back to Victoria. He headed for Melbourne, possibly because his two brothers were in Melbourne. I don’t know what his two brothers were doing – I saw little of them. My father was not much of a family man.
He was short – about 5’8’’, maybe 5’9’’ – and the short leg made him a little shorter. He was more dark than fair. He had started to go grey when I was born, when he was 42.
Question June 23: Did he live in the Army camp at Forbes? Are any of these Army photos in his collection still ( i.e on SLV site )?
I don’t know whether he lived IN the Army Camp at Forbes. Probably not. He didn’t in World War Two. Don’t know whether any of these army photos are in the Collection ( i.e at SLV ).
Question 4. According to the SLV, Charles Boyles was born in 1888. This means he would have been old enough to serve in World War One. Did he perhaps enlist in the Services at that time?
Service in the war ( World War 1 ) was never an option for him because of his medical disabilities. I have no idea whether he would have gone otherwise. His two brothers enlisted though. I don’t know whether they went overseas.
Question 5. You mentioned that Charles was crippled. Can you tell me how this came about, and when? How did he cope with this affliction? Was photography perhaps one of his ways of coping?
Although my father probably did suffer at times he was not one to talk about himself much. I think the photography must have helped him, even if only subconsciously. His coping level was most probably aligned to his current pain levels. He copped the pain, and learned to live with it. At times he was cranky with it but not often. Sometimes the knee swelled up.
Question 6. Did your father have other interests apart from photography?
Perhaps some travel. He would travel. He made a few trips. However, this was usually associated with work. Even holidays were taken at places where some photographic opportunities and financial opportunities existed. I remember we went to Queenscliff, Sorrento, Chelsea. He usually worked at spots like carnivals etc. He had some ( carnival ) sideshow ( games ) equipment, like ‘knock-ems’. Coin-throwing tables which were manned by other family members, myself included. You set up some round pieces of wood, set them up as a target. A person would pay money and buy three wooden balls and try to knock them over to win the prize. They only had a one-in-forty chance from that distance. So we kept the money. My two sisters and myself helped. He didn’t man the sideshow – he would be off some distance away taking photos of people ( at the carnival ). We camped near the beach, had a swim in the morning. We could do this because he didn’t have twelve months of work. This was in the 1930’s. I did this from the age of 4 or 5. I picked up the pennies from the table and put them in the bag. He didn’t really have other interests. He was a homebody, pretty much. He was an assiduous reader of ‘The Age’. He would read it every day, in the morning, every page, line by line. And maybe ‘The Sporting Globe’, two times per week.
But not much other printed matter.
Question 7. Where did your father live when he came to Melbourne?
Before I was born ( 1931 ) the family lived somewhere in Carlton. It may have been Canning Street. Then they moved to Lygon Street in East Brunswick. It was a small house, four houses up from the Lygon Theatre in Lygon Street. Glenlyon Road was the cross-street. It was a little bit up from Glenlyon Road and near Jarvie Street. Then they moved to Nicholas Street East Brunswick – off Lygon Street, two streets south of Glenlyon Road. No 40 Nicholas Street. They have since re-named it Piera Street ( because of the confusion of Nicholas and Nicholson ). I was born when they were in Lygon Street and I was there for only a few months before they moved to Nicholas Street. Later ( in 1945 ) they moved to No 8 Inverness Street East Brunswick. He was there until he died ( 1971 ). My mother pre-deceased him. He stamped the backs of his photographic prints with the address – a stamp for 8 Inverness Street, and a stamp for 40 Nicholas Street as well. This was done for copyright protection. When they moved to Inverness Street to live they were still paying off the house in Nicholas Street. They owed money to the bank after Nicholas Street was sold. They had to clear the debt to the bank. Inverness Street was bought with the money he made from military camps during World War Two. He did the same sort of thing he had done in military camps during World War One. The Australian Army had camps at Royal Park and Dandenong. The MCG was taken over by the American Army in 1941-42 and became ‘Camp Murphy’. American marines on sabbatical leave from the Pacific theatres of war ( e.g Iwo Jima etc ) were stationed at Ballarat.
Question June 23: Did he take photos at MCG in WW2?
My father took photos at the MCG in World War Two.
Question 8. When did your father establish himself in business as a photographer? I have at home about twelve photographic prints of VFL football teams that I have bought over the years in Collectables Shops. Most of these photos have printed on the back ‘Charles Boyles, No 8 Inverness Street East Brunswick’. Was the house at Inverness Street where the Boyles family lived, or was it rather the Boyles business address? Or was it both?
Inverness Street and Nicholas Street were his business addresses as well as his homes. Inverness Street was our home from 1945 on. We were at Nicholas Street in the war years. There were six children in the family. My three brothers ( Ron, Don and Bon ) were all older, born in 1916, 1918 and 1921. I also had two sisters – Rebecca and Pearl. With a family of eight, money was tight. Because football was only a winter occupation he needed to find other income opportunities. He tried street photography. ‘While-you-wait’. Usually this was on the corner of Saint Kilda Road and Alexandra Avenue on Sundays as people were walking to the Shrine or the Botanical Gardens. He could make ‘on the spot’ photos – taken, developed and mounted. I was five, six or seven. I would help once the photo had been developed. I would wash the photo in water and mount it on a cardboard frame. They would sell for 3d ( maybe 6d later, or a shilling ).
Question June 23: How did he develop the photos while they waited? Did he have a dark room nearby – e.g in a tent?
The camera produced a print…..he had a negative and a positive copy…..the whole process would take five minutes. I was frequently there ( the corner of St. Kilda Road and Alexandra Avenue ) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Harley’s notes – part of answer to Q.10:
With while-you-wait photos, my job was to take the print and mount it onto a cardboard frame. This allowed my father to keep on trying to get another customer.
June 21 continued:
Sometime in the late Depression years, in the late thirties, he opened a studio one year in Kyneton, in a shop in High Street. He also opened a studio above the Coles Store in Sydney Road Brunswick. To take photos. These studios were a mediocre financial success. It was much better to go out and find customers than wait for them to walk through the door. Studios meant a lot of down time.
He tried, in non-football months, to open studios in Kyneton and Sydney Road Brunswick.
Question 9. You yourself were born in 1932, in the depths of the Depression. Can you remember your father talking about how he and his photography were impacted by the Great Depression of the thirties? I have noticed in the State Library collection that the football photos date back to at least 1930.
I was born July 1931. The family struggled financially. The public was necessarily frugal in those days. It was always a struggle but my parents tried to keep up the basics - food and a rented house catering for eight people. Hard!! There were no toys. Spending was only on essentials. My only toy was a black diver that I would sink in the copper or a tub of water.
Comment June 23:
You would blow into the black diver and evacuate the water, and the diver would gradually rise to the top.
June 21 continued:
We played street cricket and street hockey – we made our own fun. Eventually I got a bike, bought from an American in Ballarat. This was my first major toy.
I believe he started on his VFL work around 1920-21. He started on football teams in minor competitions, then thought ‘this is all right – I’ll try the League’. I have seen photos ( taken ) well before 1930. ( I have seen some ) taken in 1924 for sure.
Question 10. The SLV mentions ‘the portable library at St.Kilda’ and that your father took photos of people having an outing – ‘with the help of his son he took portraits and printed them for 3d a photo’. Can you remember this?
I don’t remember any ‘portable library at St.Kilda’. This must be a SLV mistake. Obviously a misunderstanding. ( See answer to Q.8 above ). Sometimes he went to the St.Kilda embankment on a Sunday if things were slow at St.Kilda Road-Alexandra Avenue. Yes, the 3d taken on the while-you-wait photos/prints is right. He would take 3d for a ‘While-you- wait’ photo. We would sell the football photos for 3d to 6d in pre-war days. When I started they were 3d. However, I could buy a lunch when I was at school for 6d or less – usually sausage roll 2d, orange or banana 1d-2d each, one lolly 1d = one lunch.
Question 11. The SLV describes Charles as the ‘unofficial official VFL photographer’. Did he have some sort of authorisation from the VFL and its clubs? How was he able to win their respect and confidence? Did he make friends among the club officials? Did they invite him to take the photos, or did he have to persuade them?
This is an interesting question in today’s multi-level marketing. The VFL was not a concern. My father didn’t have to get VFL permission. He approached the clubs directly and said ‘I’m Charles Boyles’ and showed the photos. He showed them the ones he took straight after World War One. He was never rejected. Within two or three seasons he had every club covered. There were no knock-backs. The clubs didn’t pay him. They were his photos. He just asked if he could take a photo. Other non-VFL/VFA clubs would sometimes ask him for a one-off. They would find their way to him. My father approached the clubs individually, and over the years cemented his own place in the football scene. It was the same in all areas of sport ( e.g cricket, baseball, basketball etc ). He did get into other sports but the main emphasis was always football – for the obvious reason that football was the most productive. VFL was number one. VFA to a lesser extent. Also Monday teams, Wednesday ( mid-week ) teams, World War One services teams, World War Two services teams, baseball. He became quite a well-known person in the sporting scene. He twice went on end-of-season trips with South Melbourne, once on an end-of-season trip with Carlton, and once with Brunswick ( VFA ).
Success came because he was persistent. He was well-known to many club officials and found acceptance a non-problem. He was in absolute control and not bound to anybody. Remember, in those days, the culture was very different. Even the players had to pay for their own ( team group ) photos; usually enlarged, framed and names posted. When marketers came onto the scene post-war ( the sixties ) things began to change.
The individual photo – we would give them one, and they would pay for any extras. I remember Lou Richards. I was down at Collingwood, delivering photos to Collingwood on a Thursday night ( training ). Lou had ordered one on the Tuesday and I took the photo on the Thursday. Lou said cheekily – ‘No charge’. I said cheekily ‘Bad luck mate – you pay’. I was 9 or 10 years-old. I was a wheeler-dealer. The rest of the family barracked for Carlton. I refused – I was Collingwood. I could find my way to every football ground on tram or train. I knew a lot of players. One of my best friends was Thorold Merrett. He opened a sports store in High Street Northcote. I went there to buy some gear. He’d seen me around the football club with the photos. We got to know one another. Gordon Carlyon ( a Collingwood official ) ran the store with Thorold. Carlyon was the silent partner. They moved the store to Collingwood.
Question 12. Which VFL and VFA teams did your Dad barrack for? Did he have any affiliation at all with the Coburg Football Club? I ask this because I am still speculating about Photo No. 1 which I believe may be a Coburg Seconds team ( see my ‘Research Guide’ ).
My father always barracked for the team he was photographing. He wasn’t a fool. He was ( not surprisingly ) reluctant to address such questions. However, I think he had more than a passing interest in South Melbourne, or Carlton, or Richmond. In the VFA – Brunswick. I know visitors to our home - players making a social visit - mainly came from these three teams: South Melbourne, Carlton and Richmond. I remember Jim Cleary and ‘Skinny’ Titus visiting. There were a fair number. My memory can’t recall their names. This would be when we had birthday parties and things like that. He made some friendships. He just seemed to know so many football people on a first-name basis. He had no particular affiliation to Coburg Football Club. I know he photographed there each year, but I do not have any particular idea of any other link with them.
END INTERVIEW JUNE 21.
Part Two – Wednesday, June 23, 2010.
Question 13. Your father took a large number of photos of Services teams during World War Two. Do you remember this period? The SLV says Charles travelled far and wide photographing American servicemen anxious to have a photograph to send back home. How was he able to travel? Presumably if he was crippled, he did not drive a car himself. Did he travel often to Ballarat?
The American Services sent troops from the Pacific war to Victoria on Rest-and-Recreation leave. The U.S Army took over the MCG, whilst the Marines were sent to Ballarat. Their stays were limited to no more than one month. They came from Guam, the Mariana’s, the Marshall Islands, Guadalcanal etc. When one group returned to the war zones, another group came on R-and-R visits. This built up the market potential enormously. They spent money freely. Photos to be sent home to the U.S were high on the priority list.
My father and mother went up to Ballarat in 1944-45. They went by train. They lived there for eighteen months. They camped in a tent in Pirrie Park, opposite the Ballarat Zoo, near Lake Wendouree. There were toilet facilities and a barbecue. But living in a tent through a Ballarat winter would challenge almost everybody. I don’t know how they put up with it. This was roughly 1943-45. He was up there all the time and didn’t come to Melbourne. Because he was quite busy, they didn’t get back to Melbourne much until the camp closed in 1945. ( With Mum and Dad in Ballarat ) the eldest sister – Becky - took over the family. She would have been sixteen or seventeen. I didn’t go to Ballarat very often at this time. I went up on the train to Ballarat two or three times, but it was often freezing.
In Ballarat my father acquired a little shop front, an empty shop which he rented. He set up a dark room and produced his photos there. As in World War One, he knew where the good markets were. The soldiers were coming out of war zones and going back into it. There were plenty of opportunities to make a bit of money. Ballarat was a confined area.
He took photos of a company of soldiers, of a platoon, of individuals.
They would post them off back home to America. Photos from the war front were very difficult, and there was censorship as well. He wasn’t a fool. He knew an opportunity. That gave us our own home. They came back from Ballarat with enough money to buy our family home ( Inverness Street ) – the first home we’d ever owned. It wasn’t a mansion but it was better than the others ( e.g Nicholas Street ).
My father was able to drive a car but he was the world’s worst driver and he didn’t drive a heck of a lot. He had a T-Model Ford which was the family car, then an A-Model Ford, then a Whippet and other non-descript bombs. He had little use of his left foot. He had no power in it – some power but very little – so he became a right-foot driver. He had a few accidents – he took on two trams and lost, and an ambulance and lost, and a couple of others ( accidents ). He was not the world’s greatest driver. His family passengers never developed much confidence in his driving skills.
Question 14. Can you tell me about your Mother? Where did she and Charles meet? Did she help with his photography? Was she also interested in Sport?
My mother Vera Amelia Moon was born on a farm in a small country area near Orange ( NSW ) in 1892. It was a general farm - sheep. She met ( and married ) Charles in Forbes ( NSW ). She was very supportive of our large family. She had come from a rather large family. There were sixteen children in her family – plus two stillborn. She was the fourth oldest. Her parents were not Catholic. Country labour – extra hands looking after the farm. As in our family, it was handy to have kids as workers in a family enterprise. My mother had her own health problems ( heart ) but she always contributed to the family wherever possible. Her main role was organising the home and caring for us all. She did it well. My mother wasn’t really interested in sport. She was very much a homebody – as on the country farm – shopping etc.
Yes, my mother helped with the photography. She did most of the glazing work on the photographs. She checked out the takings after we ( myself and some other boys ) got back from the games.
Comment included in answer to Q.12 on June 21:
My mother and myself were the company and the business – we did everything.
June 23 continued:
My father did the production ( of the photos ). Once he’d done all that, my mother and I took over. I did all the selling work. You went to training nights and took orders. Mum? She turned out too. She made up the packets of photos for us kids. She kept lists of which photos had been taken. She gave us change to get started. She kept the books, the accounts. Dad was not involved in this side. He was at the Sunday games, church football games etc. She counted the photos when you got back, and knew how much money we should be paying in. She kept a list of how many were left over, and Dad might have had to print more.
As I was the last of six children, I was the last child to leave home. My three brothers and eldest sister joined the forces in WW2, leaving one sister ( born 1930 ) and myself at home. I was the only one of the six to ever have a chance to complete an education. I went to South Brunswick Primary School and then to Brunswick Tech. My father wanted me to be a carpenter but I didn’t like this. I went to Coburg High, entering at Form 3 and going through to Matriculation. I wanted to be a Vet. My first job was at Melbourne University in the Department of Physiology. Then in Bacteriology as a laboratory assistant. I was a staff member of Bacteriology. I was able to go to lectures free. I was also the projectionist for lectures. I did the first year of Science at University. My aim was to be a Vet but I would have had to go to Sydney. I didn’t go because they couldn’t finance me. So I went to Teachers’ College. I went in to see the Education Department and the following Monday I was a junior teacher at South Brunswick Primary School.
Question 15. Your father was interested in other sports, apart from football. Was football his favourite?
Absolutely. Football, Football and Football, and a good time at the footy ground after the game. In the clubrooms. He could get into any of the teams’ clubrooms. They all knew him. ‘Charlie the photographer’. He was not an excessive drinker. Sometimes he might go a bit over the top if he was having a bad time with his health. He was a light drinker at home. He was not an outgoing person but he enjoyed social contact.
Question 16. Can you describe some of the ways you helped your father with his photography? Did you ever help him sell photographic prints outside football grounds on match days?
Yes, I was helpful. For example, at turning the photos in the developer – pushing them through – on the street or in the darkroom. He would print the copy and hand it to me and I would woosh it in the developer which brought up the photo – a developed photo – and put that in ‘hypo’. Its role was as a fixer. Stopped the photo at that point.
( KM – will need Harley’s notes to complete Q.16 – I cannot follow the technical descriptions ).
I could be helpful by –
1. Turning the photos in the developer and hypo fixer.
2. Rolling prints onto glazing metal boards.
3. Making up packages of prints for sellers to take to grounds.
4. Selling at matches.
Before the game: at entry points.
Half-time or before game: grandstands, seating areas, inside the fence etc.
After the game: wherever the most winning supporters were leaving the ground.
5. After the photo had been taken –
a ) enlargements – taken to framer on the Monday, picked up on the Tuesday.
b ) visit the club featured. Get orders for framed copies ( yes, even players had to order and pay up ).
c ) Thursday – return to club to deliver orders and collect payments.
These were my activities from age eight years on. I was the only son left at home.
Answer to Question June 21 re selling photographic prints outside football grounds on match days: given as answer to Q.10 but I have moved to Q.16:
I started going to the footy grounds in 1937, as a six-year-old, and I was the only one selling them at the ground. Some of my school friends were selling my father’s football photos at other grounds. This continued until I went to Brunswick Tech, and later Coburg High. I recruited school friends to help sell them. They were paid. I wasn’t. The team photos were always taken on match days, the photos of single players on training nights. When I sold at the grounds on match days, I would carry around a bag of photos and hold out a photo of a team and an individual player and let people know they were available. I might have, say, fifty photos of Ron Clegg. I remember a photo of Bob Rose. I sold 180 on one day. That was a record at the time. Bob Rose was very popular at Collingwood. I carried a money bag on my shoulder. Once I was robbed. At North Melbourne ( Arden Street ). There were two of them and they took everything I had, thirty or forty photos worth. I went to North Melbourne police station with my parents but the police weren’t all that interested.
Question June 23: How long would you be outside the ground? Would you see the game? What years did you do this? How many would you sell?:
I would arrive early at the ground, one-and-a-half hours early. I would go in. You would at first go inside the ground - before the game. The people who got there first headed for the grandstand. The grandstands were not full. Other people not in the grandstand, they wanted seats near the fence, in the first one or two rows. They were the keen ones. The early ones were the keen ones. They were a good market – they didn’t want to miss out.
( KM – CLARIFY – miss out on the photos, or the game? Also clarify – did Harley sell before the game to people outside the ground, i.e to people waiting outside at entry points? NB: Harley uses the word ‘captive’ ).
I did a circuit. I went all the way around the ground. At Carlton, in the thirties, they had baseball as curtain-raisers. I seem to remember Richmond had baseball as curtain-raisers also. I was all by myself. During the match there was not too much moving – I moved a bit. While the game was on, I could be on the ground, inside the fence, like the lolly-boys. It was not policed. I sold right up to the final siren, pretty well. By then I knew where the ‘after-the-match’ market was – that is, outside the entry of the winning team. If the visiting team won. I’d go to the main outer exit. If the home team won, I’d go to the home team entrance. That is, to the gates where you got out, where people were getting out, converging at a rate of knots. That’s where one should be to sell. You did not sell outside the ground before the game, only after the game. I would see the game – on the oval or near the fence. I might have been kicked a few times. My father attended matches, but only to take photos before the game. He was not at the same ground as me as he had already taken photos of these teams and individual players. I started ( selling photos at the grounds ) when I was six and finished when I was about 18 – I did it for twelve years. On a particular match day, we would cover three or four grounds. On a good day, you could sell heaps at Carlton and Collingwood. They were standouts in volume. Anyone could sell at Collingwood. Some teams were better sellers than others – Richmond and South Melbourne were good.
The photos were taken and then you’d have three, four, five weeks to sell, but then they ( sales ) tapered off. The best results were from more recent photos taken. The market could only take a certain number. You’d move on to a later photo. In the last four or five home and away games you’d take a second lot of photos of teams likely to be in the finals. The supporters wanted the current photo. My father took a second photo to meet the finals market. Collingwood, Carlton and Melbourne were the ones most likely to have two photos. He could only take one photo per week of team photos. He never took photos of teams at half-time. My favourite players? Keith Burns ( Sandringham and Brunswick, friend of mine, played cricket with him ); Len Fitzgerald ( knew him well ). Best player I saw? Bob Skilton, Bob Rose, Marcus Whelan, Dick Reynolds, Thorold Merrett. G. and G. Ablett. Merrett was such a fluid player and his kicking was a delight. He was the best deliverer of the ball I’ve ever seen. His stab pass. He was poetry in motion ).
Question 17. The SLV says you ‘retrieved the historic glass plate collection from your back shed’ before making the donation to the SLV. When your father died in 1971 you would have been aged 39. Can you remember if he indicated to you where he wanted the photographs to end up? Did he ever indicate he wanted them preserved for posterity?
My father never mentioned anything about what should happen to his work when he retired or died. The plates were stored in his darkroom. He kept the plates because often people would come and ask for a photo taken, say, five years before, so he had boxes he got the plates from and he put the plates back in some sort of order ( unknown to us ) and he had some sort of labelling system on the front of the box which I never worked out. He put the ‘year’ on the outside of the box and there were, say, three or four boxes for that year. He had a cupboard under a bench in the darkroom and would find the photo. It was a laborious process – he had to go through boxes to find the photo he wanted. The plates remained in the dark room at Inverness Street, in storage.
When my father died in 1971, that’s when I came back in. I rescued the plates when I was doing the clean-up after his death. The rest of the family had departed and I was the only one living near ( my parents’ house ). ( I was married in Northcote and then lived in Northcote ). I had to tidy up my parents’ house etc. It was a big job – my parents had gathered a lot of rubbish over the years. The last thing I got to was the darkroom. After I had cleaned the house, the last thing was the photography. The amount of stuff was huge – forty or fifty years of photography. He had accumulated so many photos over the years. It was quite a job to go through it all but I did ( with the help of Wanda ).
Inverness Street was put on the market. The Will left the house to my two sisters and myself. We put it on the market. Before the house went on the market, I’d started on the darkroom. I gathered up all the plates and photos. We had a big throw-out of what I considered rubbish – unprinted negatives etc. I thought ‘this is History’. My father though had no feeling for posterity. ‘Posterity’ was seemingly not in his vocabulary.
I was 39 when my father died. I was interested in sport and involved with sport. I have always had a direct interest in sporting activities.
I was involved with the keeping of club histories, team histories. I was President of Victorian Business Houses Basketball Association for fifty years, coached junior teams in basketball, and was director and board member of Victorian Basketball Association. I played and coached at Preston and Reservoir Bowling Clubs, was a Level Two coach for Bowls Victoria, and was Chairman of District Ten Coaches Accreditation Panel.
Plus a few other minor roles. Histories are important. So much is irretrievable unless there is some plan, activated to assist future close scrutiny.
Wanda and I were married in Northcote. We first lived right opposite Batman Park, in Arthurton Road, the third house up from St George’s Road towards Northcote station. The house is still there – No 87. We were there from 1956 to 1965. Then we moved to 22 Erin Street Preston. In December 1971 we moved to 14 Howard Street Reservoir. We stayed at Howard Street until we moved to Noosa in 2008. We first moved the photos to Erin Street and they were there for about four or five months. Charles died in April 1971 and we moved to Reservoir in December 1971. The photos went to the SLV from Reservoir.
( KM: Harley at first says ‘I moved all the boxes to Northcote, to Arthurton Road’ ).
When I was first moving the photos I thought the VFL would be interested. That was about 1973 – before I started sorting them out. I knew I wanted to do something with them and the VFL was first port. So I contacted Jack Hamilton who was then Secretary of the VFL. I contacted him by phone – ‘I’ve got all this stuff’. I went to him. I saw him in his office. I had a talk with him, and he ‘um-ed’ and ‘ah-ed’ – ‘we might be able to do something with them….we haven’t got anywhere to store them’. He didn’t show a lot of interest. A couple of times I contacted him. I wasn’t getting much of a response. That was a terrible thing to have happened. It wasn’t costing them anything. We weren’t asking them for anything ( money ). He just had other things to do. He didn’t rate it as a priority. He probably thought ‘I’ve got enough to do’. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t know why he was so disinterested in them. Other people would jump up and down. We couldn’t give them away – to the body that should have been the inheritor of the history involved. At Reservoir we had a bungalow out the back and a couple of cupboards in the bungalow. Nothing was ever stolen. There was nothing in his will about what should happen to his photos. He never mentioned it at any time. He only thought of it as a resource where he might make a few bob. Their historical value didn’t cross his mind.
Question 18. Can you tell me anything about his photographic equipment? What sort of cameras he used? What sort of studio he had? How did he carry his equipment about? Did he ever employ anyone? Did he have competitors?
My father seemed to work with minimal resources. The dark room at Inverness Street would have measured 14 feet by 6 feet. It was attached to the house - it was another room added on after the house was built.
He had two cameras only. For team photos and single players the camera was a Thornton Pickard. They were cameras for outside photography.
He would have the camera on a tripod and a cloth over his head. He loaded the plates onto the back of the camera. Then when he wanted to take the photo and he had them all lined up……the plate was loaded into the camera and he pulled out a little slide ( or slid it upwards ) which exposed the slide, and then he’d go round and there was a thing he pressed ……out the front of the camera the lens would flash open and shut . He’d go to the dark room….he would open the plate carrier, take out the plate, and then do the developing. This was the only camera for that sort of work. This ( technology ) had been around since about the 1870’s. Glass plates were eventually superseded by film, but film didn’t become the preferred option until the late 1930’s/forties when it was introduced by Kodak ( U.S ). Until the late thirties, glass plates were the only option. He could take many copies off the one plate and therefore print an endless number. He did this on an enlarger.
My father carried his camera in the back of the car or in a tram. Occasionally in a bus – like when he was going to the Brunswick footy ground in the Glenlyon Road bus. But it was mostly in the car. It was portable – the tripod legs folded up. He had a leather bag with the camera in it. That is how he would go to his destination. He never employed anyone. It was always just we three. And my brothers before me. The eldest ( brother ) was a bit interested in photography but he got tied up in a religious group and disappeared. My father had no competitors. Not really. Occasionally his friend Hugh Bull, who was the chief sports photographer at ‘The Age’, would arrange photo swaps with my father. They would swap photos. It was unofficial. ‘The Age’ didn’t know. I would doubt they knew. Hughie would come to our house. Dad would ring him. ‘Have you got so-and-so’? It was informal co-operation between the two of them. Hughie was a nice bloke.
He seemed to work with minimal resources. Two cameras only.
1. I had only seen him with a maximum of two cameras.
a ) for team photos and portraiture: a Thornton Pickard camera, and tripod.
b ) for street photography; a ‘while-you-wait’ camera ( name not known ).
2. Studio – a rented room or ( as in Kyneton ) a small shop.
3. My father carried his equipment by hand. His main means of transport was his car.
4. He was not an employer. Just himself, his wife, and myself. With help from junior sellers on match days.
5. Competitors? Strangely, not really. Very occasionally he had a friend ( Hugh Bull ) who was the chief sports photographer at ‘The Age’. They sometimes ( not often ) arranged photo swaps for some particular reason. I think it was a matter of just helping a friend out. Nothing official.
!!!Question 19. Tell me what you can remember about his personality. How did he manage to get the footballer subjects to co-operate and relax? Did he have an easy way with people? Was he popular?
My father was not really an outgoing person. He was subject to mood swings. In some ways he was not really what I would classify as a family man. He seldom got involved with his children. The family was Mum. I got on well with him because I refused to be argumentative. He only very occasionally clipped me behind the ears.
The players cooperated. The quicker they got it done the quicker they got onto the ground. It was going to happen anyway, due to an arrangement. So they had to do it. They knew I’d be coming around. An easy way with other people? This is probably not relevant. He was a neutral person. He didn’t go out of his way. He lived in his own world. He didn’t go looking for friends to hang his hat on. He didn’t mollycoddle them. He wasn’t a great conversationalist. Was he popular? He had a few friends, and invited a few home to Inverness Street. He didn’t even think about the issue of being popular. He didn’t spend half of his life trying to find friends. Psychologically, he was fairly self-sufficient.
1. I do not think he was really an outgoing person. He was subject to mood swings. In some ways he was not really a family man. He seldom got involved with his children. I was probably the one closest to him for some reason. I think it may have been because I refused to be argumentative.
2. I think footballers know what they are on about. A photo was no ‘big deal’ to them. They seemed to co-operate so they could get on with their footy game.
3. At ease with other people? Probably not relevant to him. I would possibly rank him as a neutral person.
Question 20. Your father took a large number of photos of individual footballers. Did he know any of the footballers personally?
My father knew a few footballers personally – Jim Cleary, Jack Titus and others. He invited a few home to Inverness Street. However, in tough financial times, and especially with a large family and less than average finances most of the time, he probably lacked the opportunity for much social life. Only people who lived ( KM? )( often with little income ) could answer this question honestly and truly. But times were really tough for many people in those times. He couldn’t afford a wild social life. Only people fairly well off could afford to have a wild life.
Question 21. I know very little about the technology of glass plate negatives. Was this a new invention? How did he make these glass plate negatives? Were there any advantages in making them? Many of his glass plates have ‘emulsion damage’ – do you know what may have caused this?
My father bought the plates from a supplier in Collins Street. They were manufactured by Kodak. This was the only technology on the market from the late-nineteenth century to the 1930’s/1940’s. The plates were in boxes for thirty-forty years. I was the first to look at them. The emulsion damage could have been caused by poor storage practice, water, or humidity. Or through not separating the plates individually from one another ( for example, putting them on top of one another ); or through putting them in wrongly ( for example, the film on one side touching the film on another – the two film sides touching one another ). The other side ( to the film side ) is a clear glass plate. Emulsion is on one side of the glass plate. It is light responsive.
Like you, I know little on the technological side. He bought his glass plates from a supplier in Collins Street Melbourne. They were manufactured by Kodak. The matter of ‘advantage’ did not arise. They were the only technology on the market from sometime in the nineteenth century until the 1930’s/1940’s when celluloid film came to the market. Emulsion damage: due to incorrect or poor storage practice – water; humidity; not separating plates individually; other? Perhaps we are lucky the plates survived as well as they have.
Question 22. Would you agree that your father practised photography not just to make ends meet ( that is, for business and financial reasons ) but because he loved his art for its own sake. Do you think he understood he was recording important social history?
My father’s motivation was quite limited to financial outcomes – it was for money to feed the family. He was not an artist or a bohemian. It was the way he made his living. Only he would know whether he loved his art. I’m doubtful there was any artistic pleasure. I don’t know what went on in his head. Occasionally he might say ‘that’s a good one’. Whether this implied ‘artistic pleasure’ was probably doubtful.
Question 23. When did your father stop practising photography? How did he occupy himself after he stopped?
My father basically retired ( or slowed down ) in the early sixties ( decade ). It probably wasn’t a ‘sudden’ thing. His health deteriorated – slowly at first, but really quickly in his last few years. It was not a long retirement. After retirement he just read the paper. He didn’t do much. He had no hobbies. He wasn’t an active person. His photography was not a hobby: it was just a way of making money.
Question 24. Your father’s football photos encompass many different competitions, not just VFL and VFA. There are schoolboy teams, mid-week trade teams, VFL Thirds and Fourths etc. Why do you think he was so strongly motivated to capture such a large slice of football life?
My father saw a financial opportunity without any real competition. No-one else was doing it. By selling directly at match grounds, he had a ‘captive’ market. Supporters become closely involved and emotionally attached – photos have a lasting quality and are on the ‘I want’ list of most keen football supporters. It was income and it worked. He wasn’t trying to ‘capture’ football life at all.
Question 25. What happened to the photos?
After Jack Hamilton, I tried to find an alternative. This turned out to be the MCG Museum. My son Colin Boyles was a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club. He donated the ones I had sorted out to the MCG Sports Museum. ( KM: When exactly was this? Can Colin remember when? Why did you only donate some, and what prompted the decision to donate at that particular time when only some were sorted? ). I had the feeling it wouldn’t work out there. I contacted them and asked ‘What’s happened to it ( the donation )?’ The woman I spoke to said she didn’t know. ‘We don’t know where they are’. Years went by. They were in a dungeon. About two or three years ago they did something. This was when they were building the new Museum ( i.e the National Sports Museum – KM: CHECK THIS ). Anyway, they hadn’t lost them. And now they are being looked after. At the National Sports Museum at the MCG. It has been a good job. They are in a filing cabinet, and one can see them by appointment.
We have donated to the State Library of Victoria as well. A chap from the SLV came ( to Reservoir ), a public relations man. They have an arrangement between the two of them – what they have they want to keep. Neither of them is prepared to give up what they have got. There are no photos at Noosa. Two photos of Charles were sent down to Madeleine ( Say ) and are part of the Collection. There are no more than three photos of Charles in existence. I don’t know how much overlap there is between the two halves of the collection. Talk to Madeleine about the dual collections. Make appointment at Pictures Library to see the plates. ( Harley expresses some regret about the fact that the Collection is dual and wishes it were not so ).
Harley’s comments July 18, 2010:
We had a Probus Club meeting at Reservoir and the guest speaker was a person from the State Library of Victoria. He mentioned the Library’s sports section. I had a casual word to him about the Boyles photos and he was out to our place in a flash. This was when we were in Reservoir, before we moved to Noosa. As to what proportion ( the SLV lot cf the MCC lot ) of the total number of photos – not quite half, say 45%. The SLV lot were sorted ‘to a degree’.