The Great Bicentenary Photography Project

All around Australia in 1988 people celebrated in thousands of different ways. The images were there for the taking.

To help Aussies celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary our various levels of government poured many of our tax and rates dollars into a myriad of projects and events. Through one arrangement, known as the Local Government Initiative Grants Scheme. A group of Canberra Photographic Society (CPS) photographers were given an opportunity to record our city’s celebrations.

The Australian Bicentennial Authority and the ACT Administration funded the CPS project. Members of the CPS photographed as many as possible of the Bicentennial events in Canberra. The ACT Administration bought the film and paid for all processing. The CPS members shot the film and did much of the processing. They were not paid, except for the processing costs. But retained unencumbered rights to use and market their own pictures.

There were something like 500 endorsed or funded Bicentennial events and projects, and many other private celebrations, in Canberra.

At the small event end of the scale we had a lady who painted a fire hydrant outside her home in green and gold – only to become the immediate target of some protestors opposing the Bicentenary and some neighbours who didn’t like the end result. The major event, perhaps, was the visit by her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to officially open our stunning new Parliament house. In between, there was everything from the establishment of a heritage trail around Lake Burley Griffin to a massed display of one million flowering bulbs and annuals in Commonwealth Park from 17 September to 9 October – the inaugural Floriade. There was even a photography convention, APSCON’88, conducted by the Australian Photographic Society.

Events photographed by the CPS members included the Street Machine Summernats, a Friendship Cycle Ride, several festivals, a visit by cadets of the Japanese Tall Ship (the Nippon Maru) and the unveiling of an enormous three part painting. Over 4000 images had been produced by early May 1988. Some had been published, some had been sold, copies had been requested by and given to politicians, and some had been entered with success in CPS competitions.

The major objective was for the ACT Administration to mount an exhibition of 100 prints in early 1989, at first in Canberra but, hopefully, to then go on a tour throughout Australia and, even, overseas.

By the end of 1988, six thousand images had been created by seventeen different CPS members during seventy different Bicentennial events, with some events covered by more than one of the photographers. Only one of the photographed events took place outside of Canberra. That was a voyage on the Young Endeavour sail training ship in Sydney harbour by a group of young Canberra people with disabilities or terminal illnesses.

One hundred of the images were selected for the exhibition, sixty seven in colour (half from negatives and half from transparencies) and thirty three in black and white. Forty of the images were printed for the exhibition by the photographers themselves. The others were printed by a professional laboratory. There was a concentration in the images on the people of Canberra participating in the celebrations, which happened to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the City of Canberra.

Of the seventeen CPS members who participated just one was not represented in the exhibition, which took place at the then Link Gallery in the Canberra Theatre Centre in March 1989.

Keith Bogg took 900 photographs at fifteen events. These included a senior Citizens Garden Party and Concert, the Australia Day Shooting Championships, the Multicultural Australia Day Jazz Festival, the launch of the History of Canberra and Lifeline’s Book Fair.

Jack Clarke took 324 photographs at 13 events, including Australia Day in the National Capital, the National Food and Wine Frolic and the recommissioning of the Paddle Steamer “Enterprise”. John Coen took 36 photos at just one event. Peter Dawson took 144 photos at the Royal Race Meeting. Fred Doutch took 360 photos at 10 events, including Lunch and All That Jazz, and the Official Opening of New Parliament House.

Murray Foote took 252 photos at five events, including the Canberra Festival and Versailles in Canberra. Murray was also involved in the Bicentenary in other ways. He produced colour images for the Bicentennial History of Australian Lighthouses “From Dusk to Dawn” and an exhibition of his prints from that project appeared at the Link Gallery (1988) and Parliament house (1989).

Trevor Gilbert and Denis Jessop each took 144 photos at two events. Bruce Harriott captured 360 images at four events. Bob Legge produced 72 images at the Great Australian Balloon Gathering. Ian McInnes captured 288 photos at three events, including Anzac Day and the Australian National Eisteddfod.

Brendan Mulhall took 360 photos at the National Capital Motathlon and the family fun run. Peter Paseka took 756 at nine events, Colin Rickard 72 at two events, Maurie Weidemann 432 at six events and Ross Yarnold 144 at four events.

I took more images than anyone – 1040 images at twenty eight events, including the Young Endeavour voyage on Sydney harbour on a wet and windy December day. Just a few of them are included below.  I was also involved in the Bicentennial in other ways; one being that I co-ordinated the community photography project “Personal Views” for the Australian Bicentennial Exhibition – and some of my own works were included in that touring exhibition.

1988.08.12 - Bob Hawke and. Cutting the Australopedia Cake

Cutting the cake at Launch of Australopedia by PM Hawke

1988.12.17 - Young Endeavour 2 - small

Young Canberrans with disabilities hauling on the rope on board the Young Endeavour on Sydney Harbour

1988.12.17 - Young Endeavour 3 - small

Proudly displaying his certificate of participation on the Young Endeavour voyage

1988 - Royal Flags 1 - small

Royal Visit “Flags” on display. (The “flags” were designed by yours truly and not well received. The protocol people strongly objected to pennants being flown from flagpoles, and some people thought they looked like the silks worn by jockeys! One of them was presented to me at my farewell from the public service!)

1988 - National Gathering 1 - small

Cross at National Gathering (of Christians)

1988 - Royal Race Meeting 1 - small

Media photographers lined up at the Royal Race Meeting

1988 - Royal Race Meeting 2 - cropped small

The Queen being escorted into the enclosure to present a trophy at the Royal Race Meeting

Our group of seventeen photographers were given a great opportunity to document the whole year of celebrations in our own city. CPS demonstrated the skills of its members when the 100 selected images were displayed in the Link Gallery exhibition, “Bicentennial celebrations in Canberra” in March 1989.


Cover of program for “Bicentennial celebrations in Canberra”

After the exhibition concluded the 100 prints were placed in safe storage by the ACT Administration. The hoped for touring exhibition did not eventuate, but it was intended that appropriate prints from the collection would be put on display again at appropriate future times and events. That has never happened. Even worse, enquiries suggest that the collection of prints has disappeared; certainly nobody within the ACT Administration seems able to ascertain what happened to them. At least I have my own negatives and transparencies.


– Brian Rope

One comment on “The Great Bicentenary Photography Project

  1. Helen McF says:

    Excellent article, thanks Brian. Maybe we should try and mount a concerted effort to locate the collection of prints. Hopefully the 100 Views collection from the PhotoAccess exhibition, also purchased by the ACT government does not meet a similar fate.


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