One day in 1952, my father bought a camera.

It happened shortly after he became an officer in the Australian air force and for the first time in his life could afford it.

Cameras in those days were luxury items unaffordable for the great majority of ordinary working people.

Mind you though, there was a bit more involved in his purchasing that camera than his income.

He had been posted to Malta and he was about to leave Australia for an indeterminate period and whilst today Malta doesn’t sound terribly exotic, in 1952 when very few people could travel, it most definitely was. And my father knew that whilst on Malta, he would be able to travel during his leave periods.

Located south of Sicily and bang smack in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta was strategically a valuable asset for surveillance of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the coast of Southern Europe. A British colony at the time, it had served as a base for the British navy and air force since the Second World War. That ‘hot war’ was superseded by a ‘Cold War’ – a time of simmering tensions between the Soviet Union (i.e. Russia and its slave regimes in Eastern Europe) and the U.S. and its western allies – both of the protagonists armed with nuclear weapons. My father was sent to Malta as a part of an Australian contingent supporting the British.

He had always been a bit of a collector; postage stamps when he was a kid, black and white photos cut out of newspapers and glued onto the blank pages of exercise books when he was a teenager. The collecting moved into a different realm when he was in the navy during the Second World War: he collected the banknotes and coins of every strange port where his ship docked – Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, China, India and Burma (now Myanmar).

Over the following years during his time on Malta, he continued his currency collecting – whilst also taking photos.

And what photos they were!…..

The camera he bought was a Japanese camera called a Mamiya.

Japan was a country still very much frowned upon, but when it came to inexpensive good quality cameras, it was a different matter. The Mamiya was an omen of an impending invasion of Australia by high quality Japanese consumer products, from watches to cars, refrigerators to washing machines.

By the standards of the time, the Mamiya was a very sophisticated piece of equipment. The lens was at the end of a bellows. When a button at the top of the camera was pushed, the bellows shot out like a cuckoo from a cuckoo clock. The bellows was black leather and the lens was a round piece of thick glass encased in a large silver ring. The aperture size was set by rotating the silver ring. On one side of the silver ring was a trigger loaded on a spring; every time one wanted to take a photograph, the trigger had to be cocked. 

All very antiquated measured against today’s standards.

Quality wise however, the Mamiya took excellent photos.

The lens was of a very high standard and furthermore, it used 1.20 film: this was film of very high resolution; the negatives were three times larger than the 35mm film which later became standard in most of the cameras mass produced by the Japanese. There were 12 shots in one roll of film. Photos then were shot with black and white film; colour photos didn’t appear on the scene until the 1960’s.

Yet black and white had immense advantages over colour. 


I can remember that camera well.

As a kid I took it to school when I became a member of a photography club. Compared to the popular SLR’s at the time, the Mamiya was a big, heavy, clunky thing – a dinosaur – and I felt a bit embarrassed when I showed to the other kids. They laughed at me until  the teacher in charge of the club (who took an inordinate interest in it) told me in no uncertain terms that this camera would take excellent quality photos.

And it did: gum trees, creeks, people.

I learned how to develop 1.20 film and print photos.

This was where my interest in photography began.


During the three and half years my parents lived on Malta, my father made an inspired attempt to capture scenes which he knew were unique and which he would never experience again. He was friends with the official photographer for the air force and spent hours in the darkroom with him learning how to develop his films and print photographs. 

The photos taken in Malta included images of jets taking off and warships at anchor; scenes of my mother and father with their friends, young and full of life – in a café, a dining room, or sightseeing in the main town of Valetta.

Photos of my mother behind a piano.

My parents travelled around the Middle East and Europe – it was one of the perks my father enjoyed of being an officer and stationed far away from home. From the photos taken in Europe, there were the standard kinds of holiday snaps of the major tourist attractions such as the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham palace. There were others which were unique historic statements: people on bikes and horses; towns and cities devoid of neon lights, advertisements and glittery tourist shops. There were photos taken outside of the big cities: of the everyday lives of ordinary people: for example, villagers working in fields with scythes and horse drawn ploughs; shepherds with their flocks of goats and sheep; processions in narrow village streets; markets in medieval squares and fishermen with their painted wooden boats.

From the Middle East, there were photos of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt (at the time when they were a long way out of Cairo and in the middle of an empty stretch of desert); of mosques with towering minarets; a stone work harbour filled with beautiful boats with sails; men wearing long flowing white robes and turbans leading a line of heavily laden camels; street urchins with grubby faces and dishevelled hair polishing the shoes of a rich man dressed in a suit.  

These photographs were mounted into three big albums. Each photo was carefully positioned on a thick black cardboard page and neatly subtitled. Between the pages with the photos there were thin, dividing pages of opaque paper. Putting those albums together must have involved a lot of work. The photos were arranged chronologically. The thing about black and white photos is that they never fade. Colour photos which later became all the rage were in fact the greatest fraud ever foisted on the public; attractive as they seemed, they faded within a few years. Black and white photos never fade no matter how old they are. And the photos taken by father were sharp, clear, and finely printed. In short, in those large, heavy albums there was a broad panorama of images from a unique time in history printed in sharp, high resolution black and white – and could have remained so a hundred years in the future. 


My father’s interest in photography only lasted during his years in Malta.

Afterwards, back in Australia, he left the air force.

It was not a life for a married man with children and my mother wanted to settle down and not only because of the children: she wanted to study and have a career and not be eternally bound to the role of housewife. She was a feminist pioneer long before Germaine Greer wrote her ground breaking book ‘The Female Eunuch’.


For my father, leaving the air force was the greatest tragedy of his life. He was through and through a forces man and he remained one in his own mind right up until the day he died at the age of 92.

 In the meantime the Mamiya camera and the photo albums and currency collection were relegated to the dark recesses of a large cupboard. My parents never looked at them – or the currency collection. They became relics from a distant past, like bones in a crypt.  

I was the only member of the family who over the years, maintained an interest in those relics. For me, turning the pages of those hefty tomes and studying the notes and coins in the currency collection (stored in a cardboard box, the notes and coins all mixed up) was to go on a journey, one which I never tired of.

I got lost in worlds a long way removed from Australia.

And there were good reasons to lose myself besides my fascination with strange scenes from distant cultures; the years on Malta formed the golden time of my parents’ relationship and after returning to Australia, things headed south. They were constantly at each other’s throats, my mum was depressed and my father – angry and resentful at having to leave the air force – devoted all his attention to his daughter.

And began belting me for the smallest infraction.

Hungry for mirages in the midst of an emotional desert, the heavy pages of those albums with their silky stark images– and the strange bank notes and coins, so colourful, so strange, in comparison with the dull stuff we used in Australia – gave me the chance to lose myself in other worlds.  


After leaving the air force my father became obsessed with another form of collecting: money, not the souvenir kind but real money, money one could use to buy cars and homes and consumer products. Money that brought respect, awe and power; in the hunt for money, real money, he rose like a meteor in the business world. He expected no quarter and certainly gave none. He was utterly  ruthless. 

When my parents got divorced my mother threw out the Mamiya, the photo albums and the foreign currency collection. Opposite to my father, she didn’t collect things, she got rid of things. She was an accountant working for a prestigious firm and when she realised that her life with my father didn’t add up, she decided that every trace of him had to be removed.


To this day I can remember them, those souvenirs from the past.

I’d looked at the photos and notes and coins so many times during my childhood and teens that they were indelibly imprinted on my brain.

Along with the memories of the old Mamiya.


Thank you for looking at my site, cheers, Peter