Day Shift – 19/08/2014 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Nick Gerber
Interviewees: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, University of Newcastle (Australia)
Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist of the University of Newcastle discusses plans for the recently donated glass negatives of the late Thomas James Rodoni that documented Australia’s first military conflict of the First World War, the fall of German New Guinea. The Collection also contains images from the lead up to the Great War, including what appears to be recruitment drives across Sydney and Newcastle. There are also images believed to be taken at places around Lithgow and Newcastle. We would appreciate any further information relating to the selection of images below
In February 2014 Bill Rodoni, son of the late Thomas James Rodoni donated all his father’s original glass negatives held in his possession to the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections (Auchmuty Library).
Close family friends Chris Fussell and his wife helped Bill organize the transfer of the Collection to the University, Chris, being a photographer, also kindly provided some of the digitized images he was able to make of the glass negatives that were in good enough condition.
Some of these images were featured in the recent 5th August 2014 Newcastle Herald story here: http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2466630/hunters-first-wwi-volunteers-in-action-in-new-guinea-photos/
At present, there are nine or so images up on the Herald website to accompany the story. The newspaper print edition featured two images.
We collected around four archival boxes worth of glass plates. Some (i.e., around 2 boxes worth) of the original glass negatives were in relatively good condition, and another two archival boxes worth (that lay in Bill’s downstairs garage) were in a very terrible condition, water damaged, moldy, dirty and most stuck together.
All these glass negatives are now in the hands of our conservator, undergoing a thorough conservation and preservation treatment involving documenting their condition, cleaning, carefully separating the damaged plate, and then re-housing all of them in new archival quality boxes.
Once this phase is done, we will commence the digitization of them all, and have secured the University Gallery for an exhibition next year running from March 2015 as the University’s contribution to the Anzac Centenary Commemorations.
Dr Ann Hardy, a University historian, has also said she would be prepared to volunteer her time to research Thomas James Rodoni’s life and trace the subject matter of his photographic works in the collection for the Exhibition. Gillian Shaw, University Gallery Curator, has booked the University Art Gallery from March 2015 next year to present large reproductions of these Rodoni slides as part of our contribution to the Centenary of Anzac Commemorations.
The collection is rare as there are few wartime collections taken by non-official photographers during the World War I. The collection depicts Australia’s first military engagement of World War 1 being the transfer of power from German New Guinea in 1914 to the Australian Forces. This engagement also witnessed the first Australian casualties of First World War.
Biographical information relating to Thomas James Rodoni is scant, but have identified a moustachioed man (in the selfie pictured below) and in a number of images as Thomas Rodoni.
Name: Thomas James Rodoni
Born: 1872? (according to Bill vaguely) but actually born in 1882 in Victoria (sourced and confirmed by Lyn Keily via Ancestry.com)
Married: 1915 in Sydney to Catherine Annie
Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force document (Signed 28/1/15):
Certificate of Discharge of No. 534
(Rank) Private Name Rodoni T.J.
(Regiment or Corps) Aust Naval & Military Expedition
at or near the Town of [Hoth—?] Melbourne
in the State or Country of Victoria.
Attested at Sydney on the 18th August  for the Australian Military Expedition Regiment or Corps at the age of 31 Years.
He is discharged in consequence of June expiring
Service towards completion of engagement 164 days
Service Abroad 164 days.
Discharge confirmed at Sydney.
New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways document dated 12th August 1915 from the Office of the Chief Commissioner Sydney states that Mr. T. J. Rodoni wrote to them on the 3rd August 1915 requesting desire to temporarily leave department to enter the Lithgow Small Arms factory to assist in manufacture of munitions for war.
Department of Defence document dated 23rd June 1916 certifies that T.J. Rodoni was employed in the Small Arms Factory Lithgow between 4th August 1915 and the 22nd June 1916 as a CUTTER GRINDER and that his conduct and character was GOOD.
A Government Dockyard, Newcastle document dated 4th March 1919 states that he was currently employed there on work connected with the engines for the Commonwealth Ships as a tradesman.
Died: 25th January 1956 (Mayfield) Killed in Waratah according to Bill while getting the newspaper he was involved in car accident, and died at the Mater a few hours later.
We welcome any further information that anyone can shed on Thomas James Rodoni and his collection of glass plate negatives.
Gionni Di Gravio
18th August 2014
7 thoughts on “Local Treasures: The Rodoni Glass Negatives”
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I have identified a few of the ‘Rodoni’ images as originally taken by the German ethnographer Richard Thurnwald in Sept-Oct 1914. Thurnwald had returned from his exploration to the source of the Sepik, apparently leaving his photographs at his base camp, and set off up the Sepik again in November to explore the Sand and North Rivers (the latter as far north as the Bewani Range). While he was away, the AN&MEF arrived (with Rodoni) on the Nusa and took all of Thurnwald’s boats, his engineer Theodore Fiebig, and supplies, collections, notes and images back down the river, eventually to Madang. When Thurnwald returned to find his camp ransacked, he went down river in a paddle canoe, sustained by a few cans of beans, and reported to the police station at Angoram, and then went on to Madang where he was befriended by Captain Walter Balfour Ogilvy, the District Officer there. Thurnwald then attempted to get all his things back but it took many years and not everything was returned. It seems these images in possession of Rodoni were part of the looting. I lived at Telefomin 1962-65, interviewed a Telefomin man who as a teenager traded some food to Thurnwald, I have travelled extensively through the central New Guinea and upper Sepik regions, so I can recognise locations and peoples fairly reliably. See the Upper Sepik-Central New Guinea website (www.uscngp.com, and go to ‘Papers’ in the horizontal menu) which includes translations from German of Thurnwald’s two reports of his explorations in the region. I am communicating with Marion Melk-Koch who published a book (in German) on Richard Thurnwald and she confirms these images I have identified are consistent with others by Thurnwald that did get back to Berlin.
Great pictures. part of our history. With Leichardt Marchers, the image appears to be mirror reversed, as the bolt on the SMLE 303 rifle in the foreground is on the left side,apart from that,great
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