It is with great pleasure that we announce that the photographic glass and film negatives of Thomas James Rodoni (1882-1956) have now been digitised and are freely available in high resolution on our flickr site as The Rodoni Archive:
This amazing collection was donated in February 2014 by Thomas (‘TJ’) Rodoni’s son Bill to the Cultural Collections, UON-Library, with the assistance of family friends Chris and Frances Fussell. Since Bill’s death in late 2014, other members of the family have stepped in and assisted in donating further negatives, and providing important papers to the University’s Archives. We thank Ian Rodoni and family for his help in the identification of family members and in providing family records to assist in the accessioning and description process. We also thank renown Hunter Valley military historian David Dial OAM for his help in describing the military related photographs documenting World War 1 patriotic recruitment drives across New South Wales, and military campaigns in German Papua New Guinea.
Special thanks has to go to our volunteers Natasha Schroder, and historians Ken Thornton and Dr Ann Hardy for their work on this project. Natasha scanned every glass negative, while Ken and Ann researched the historical background of each image, documenting as much as they could find on the dating, geo-tagging and synthesising information that is continuing to come in through our social media networks.
The initial upload of the negatives to our flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/ broke all our records with 119,000 hits in a single day. Since then, information continues to stream in from across the communities about the locations, buildings, streetscapes and people captured in the images.
Thanks to the wonderful team at the University Gallery led by Gillean Shaw, the exhibition Australia’s Forgotten ANZACS: Lost Images from Australia’s first conflict: the fall of German New Guinea curated by Gillean Shaw and Naomi Stewart was launched on the 27 March 2015 in the presence of Rodoni’s family and friends. Tess McLeod (nee Rodoni) travelled from Dorrigo to bring Thomas James Rodoni’s war medals to the Gallery so they could be exhibited with his photographs.
Thomas James Rodoni was born in 1882 at Hotham East, Victoria, to Swiss and Irish parents. While living in Sydney in August 1914 as a man of 31, Rodoni joined the first Australian Imperial Force that would engage in the Great War: the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force.
A week after enlisting, Rodoni’s company embarked on the HMAS Berrima and sailed to German New Guinea among a fleet with orders to seize two wireless stations and to disable the German colonies there.
Rodoni’s unofficial photographs – many of them “candid” shots, captured in the moment – are a rare glimpse of this pivotal moment in Australia’s history. He has documented the energetic atmosphere of prewar Sydney and its surrounds, from civilian and military marches to battleships docked in Sydney Harbour, with accompanying crowds of people brought together for these special events. His camera voyaged with him on the expedition to the Pacific region, taking images both from the ship’s deck and then again on dry land after disembarking.
Rodoni was stationed in New Guinea for five months with the AN&MEF after the successful capture of territory from the German forces. His striking images are testament to his ease with the camera, and the ease of his fellow servicemen around this avid amateur photographer. He used his camera to record daily events and significant moments in the expedition, and made several group portraits of the officers and soldiers in his company. Yet his images also suggest a genuine curiosity for the foreign people and places where he was stationed, and a love of the photographic medium in which he practiced during this early period of the war.
After leaving New Guinea with the AN&MEF and returning home to Australia in January 1915, Rodoni left the force to work in a Small Arms Factory manufacturing munitions for the war. He soon married and settled in Newcastle with his wife, Catherine Annie Wilson, and had four children: Thomas, Mary, Jim and William (Bill).
The wider collection of glass plate negatives – over 500 in total and with many views of Newcastle and its surrounds is an incredible legacy to Thomas Rodoni and his family.
Rodoni died in 1956 as a result of a car accident in Waratah, Newcastle.
The original negatives are held in Cultural Collections at the Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle (Australia).
Gionni Di Gravio
Reflections on the Rodoni Archive
by Dr Ann Hardy
The Thomas Rodoni Collection was donated to the University of Newcastle in 2014 and interpreting the 500+ photographs has been interesting and overall a positive process. We have needed to be resourceful in finding ways to research and deliver this significant collection to the wider community.
In this ANZAC centenary year, the Rodoni collection is celebrated 100 years on, in an exhibition at the University of Newcastle (25 March- 11 April 2015), curated by Gillean Shaw and Naomi Stewart. The focus has been on the WWI photographs in the collection, however the collection is diverse tracing Thomas Rodoni’s life from Sydney to Lithgow, and then to Newcastle between the decades 1910 to 1930s. There are many photographs of industrial work spaces and machinery, later works show his wife Catherine Annie and their four children, as well as friends and acquaintances.
Researching the Rodoni collection has included collaborating with the wider community, consisting the Rodoni family and friends, volunteers of the university, academic and military historians. This collaborative approach has been particularly effective because of the limited information that was available about the collection, and the relatively short time to research and make the collection available to the public by April 2015.
This community research project was led by University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio. One of the first priorities was to conserve and safeguard the collection, this was done by Conservator Amir Mogadom who worked on the glass and film negatives to carefully preserve them and make ready to be digitally scanned. Natasha Schroder scanned the entire collection over a 3 month period, and Historian Ann Hardy researched photographs in consultation with family and colleagues. Historian Ken Thornton researched in more detail the history of the WWI New Guinea campaign, providing context to the photographs taken by Rodoni during the lead up to WWI war and his time in New Guinea. A ‘Slide show’ presentation of the collection was shared with family and friends and their responses recorded, similarly historians were also invited to a ‘slide show’ and their feedback regarding the WWI photographs were noted. Because of the high number of industrial related images we may run in the future a ‘slide show’ with industrial heritage groups to help to identify machinery and the location of workshops and factories.
A community approach has enabled research of the collection to occur fairly quickly. There are still many gaps in the ‘history’ of individual images, however the general context of the collection has been established well enough to be able to present the entire collection to the community via Flicker.
Community engagement will be ongoing. The local community approach already started will continue, and now that the collection is on Flicker further information provided by a global community will help to build new knowledge about this significant collection.
– 27 March 2015