Sliding into history

History SA has for some time been the ‘gate keeper’ of a special collection of digitised photographs, romantically referred to as the South Australian Government Photographic Collection. In-house staff are often heard talking about the Glass Negs, which is slightly inaccurate as the original glass negatives are actually held by State Records. We have a collection of scanned copies, as well as a comprehensive catalogue of the photos. Some of the images are also duplicated at the State Library of South Australia.

Image: large group of women in long dresses

A group of immigrants from the Beltana in Norwood, June 1913

The strength of the collection at History SA has been the research undertaken over a number of years by volunteers and staff here. In particular former volunteer John Davis, working with curator Mandy Paul, spent a great deal of time researching the collection, adding new information and correcting legacy data on these images.

It’s a fantastic collection, with many beautiful black and white views of South Australia and South Australians between 1890-1957. The photos were, as the collection name suggests, taken for government records. Most by the Department of Lands photographic branch. Perhaps the best known of the images is a collection within the collection of photographs taken by Frank Hurley in 1935 for the State’s Centenary Committee to record the State after 100 years of European settlement (1836-1936).

The collection has become a valuable record of our changing landscape, of our people, of the events and institutions that have shaped our state.

Our admin officer Karen Blackwood continues to take enquiries regularly on the images. We currently provide copies on request through a manual process, but all that is set to change soon! We’ve been working for some time to make the images available online, and with the installation of a new Digital Asset Management system (more on that from web developer Oliver Scholey soon) the time has finally come to release this collection ‘into the wild’.

Image: stone building with tower with half in black and white, half colour

The Adelaide General Post Office building then and now.

To see the above slider in action visit:

To celebrate this milestone we asked photographer Emiliano Fernandez to see if he could replicate a selection of the collection with current day perspectives. This proved trickier than it sounds. Some of the photos were taken from buildings and it has proved impossible to pinpoint the exact location and angle of the photographer. Others have since had trees, buildings or other structures erected between the photographers’ original vantage points and the scene captured. Emiliano persisted and has taken a selection of shots that highlight how our city streets and landscapes have changed over time.

Web developer Oliver Scholey built a platform that allows us to turn these images into historical ‘sliders’ highlighting the landmarks that remain today, despite so much changing around them. I had a crash course in photo editing to bring Emiliano’s images into line with our historic collection, before recruiting someone with more skill! It’s been a lot of fun, and we hope you enjoy exploring our new sliding version of SA history as we have had making it.

For more on the South Australian Government Photographic collection visit


  • Dave says:

    I see you’re the “Curator of Online Programs” Catherine.
    Congratulations to you and the team on a superb new history site to visit!
    “INTERACTIONS with History” provides a great foundation to grow from for a whole range of topics of interest with ample opportunity for interaction from visitors to the site.
    I’ll be keeping up a regular ‘sneak peek’ of fresh posts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *