Cameron Radio Transcript

Transcript of “Memories of the Hunter – Ernest Cameron - 2/4/40”

Broadcast by Noel Judd, 2NX(?), Newcastle   [1]

“Ernie” Cameron, as we call him, is by no means and old man, in mind and body, in fact he is not quite seventy.

He was born at Bolwarra and went to Maitland Public School, where he enjoyed the company of such playmates as Bob Pender, the Frys, the Mannels, and all the rest of them.

At 14 he became apprenticed to Mr. Moss, a photographer from London, who occupied the establishment which is still in existence as Cameron Studios.

Mr. Moss was one of the first photographers in Australia, and as an apprentice, Ernie Cameron can recall him using the old wet-plate collodion system, the first system of actinic reproduction. By this method, the prepared plate was placed in the camera still wet – the portrait was taken (by daylight) and the plate, still wet, was rushed to the darkroom for treatment.

As for cameras in those days- they were plate cameras with a rough ‘lense and cap’ method of exposure.

The subject, complete with aspidistra and cane-backed chair, and muchly twirled moustache or padded hair – posed still as a statue and told to watch the dicky-bird, underwent the torture of immobility for full five or six seconds (and under the camera eye it felt like fifty seconds).

After this, the cap was replaced on the camera lens and heaving a sigh and letting the face muscles relax again, the subject went home none the worse for the experience, to wait for the proofs.

Prints were developed by daylight, and in fact, studio lighting was supplied solely by daylight through fanlights, and reflected light off white boards.

With the wet-plate method used then, the whole dark-room gear was shifted to outside jobs such as weddings and sporting events.

But it is remarkable how really efficient and faithful were the productions those days.

Ernie Cameron can recall, as an apprentice to Mr. Moss, the early ‘Show’ days when the studios were over-run by clients. At that time, the streets were packed by 8 a.m. when visitors did the town once or twice before going to the showground.

Conveyance being scarce then, there were more pedestrians in the old High Street. The studio was cleaned early on those days, and from 8 till evening the camera was kept busy.

Then came dry plates and more advanced cameras with what are called rapid rectilinear lenses including the Dal Mayer [i.e. Dallmeyer ] camera.

Then as a young man, forty years ago, Ernest Cameron took over the business.

He has seen the early days of photography – the days when he sensitised his own paper, and the rapid advancement of new innovations such as Kodak, Agfa, Ilford, Eastman Kodak, and other factories beginning to market photographic paraphernalia. There are not many Maitland residents who have not faced Ernie Cameron’s camera.

To-day he has on the same shelf, negatives of babes and their babes in turn – two generations of baby photographs.

I noticed in his waiting room a fine portrait of an elderly gentleman, wearing the moustache of other days. It was of Mr. Watts, a clever artist in his own turn and friend of the late Mr. Moss, founder of Cameron Studios. Some of his signwriting handiwork can still be seen in the Galleries. No doubt one could find photos of many a local boy, now famous, within the hundreds of boxes in the back rooms. One I saw was of workmen laying the tramlines in Maitland for the old steam trams. Another, of the last tram leaving East Maitland decked in wreaths as a mourning for their departure.

Innumerable photos can be seen of the ’93 flood showing the water well over the counter in Barry’s Hotel, and bread being delivered from a boat, through the top windows of the Volunteer Hotel, (now being demolished.)

Photos of houses at the top of Bella Street at the Bend being washed away, others of early establishments in High Street – monumental yards, where Cappers now stand, run by Ross and Bowman.

Ernie Cameron has now confined his activities entirely to his dark room.

He has been an athlete in his young days and a keen sportsman. He was associated with Mrs. St. Vincent Heyes, when Mr. Gillies was in office on the Committee of Welcome to the old Federal Band, which won for Maitland many honours up north.

He has always been a great workman for the St. Patrick’s sports. He was also on the Committee controlling the memorial service and funeral for the late Les Darcy. He instigated with others, the funds and erection of the vault in which Les Darcy rests today. Recalling Les Darcy, Mr. Cameron said ’We all loved him- such a clean righteous boy.’ He recalled also, such associated names as Father Cody, Mick Dilley, Mick Tobin and the late Fred Fitness. In fact, it was Fred Fitness’ brother who made the bicycle which once Mr. Cameron had ridden for forty years. ‘And’ Mr. Cameron added, ‘I’ll guarantee it’s a better bike than your red one.’ That is Ernie Cameron for you. He doesn’t look his age. He is clean of eye, mind and body, fit as a fiddle and says always the best of everyone.

Mr. Cameron married a Maitland girl in 1887, the daughter of Harry Lillyman. They had ten children. His wife and two children have gone on now, but there are still eight kiddies to look after him. I met two of the daughters who work with their father and they radiate the same cheerfulness and friendliness as their father. You’ve met Ernie Cameron. If you haven’t, you’ll see him pedalling along on his bike or meet him at the studios.

He is another human soul – able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life – expert at reproducing faithfully all his subjects, but if we endeavour to reproduce Mr. Cameron, we could not portray that fine spirit which lives in his heart.

In creating a pictorial record of the people of the Hunter Valley, he has created a memory of himself, which will be forever respected.

[1]  Typescript, Boyle Collection, Maitland City Library  

Note: The Cameron inspitartion -A letter written by Noel Judd in 1974 notes: “The interview with Ernie Cameron is also pertinent today. By his influence, I took up photography as a hobby, and today I am a Judge of International Photographic Exhibitions, and have been honoured by the International Federation in Switzerland, with letters after my name.” At the time he wrote this letter, Noel Judd was the Executive Producer at Macquarie Broadcasting Services in Sydney.