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Gael Newton AM 

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Anzac Days - Photographs by Colin Abbott

Exhibition at Magnet Galleries Melbourne till Saturday 25 May 2024

On Saturday 4th May (2024) we visited Magnet Galleries in Docklands (Melbourne) to take in photographer Colin Abbott’s show on ANZAC Day commemorations in Melbourne 1974, 1977, 1979 and 1981. Magnet Galleries is a great not for profit space run on next to nothing by those passionate about the social and aesthetic role of the medium.

There was a good range of black and white prints and a slide show of later colour images. If he was still with us, Robert McFarlane would have loved to have reviewed this show.

Because the first parade was 1974 and the last 1981, it is fifty-years since the first photograph was taken and forty-three years since the last. With a focus on veterans of World War I and II you realise that most of the men and women photographed marching are now deceased. Surviving WWII vets are in their late 90s these days. Quite a few of the crowds are gone too

The show looks like another Australia at first glance because remarkably so many veterans are marching in their original full kit uniforms.

This includes the invitation image on gallery’s pamphlet (below) of a group of WWI vets in uniform on horseback and a group of WWII administrative service women marching with most in uniform.

The women stride along smartly straight backs no walking sticks in sight, in their old uniforms including by the look of it their sensible shoes, having it seems kept their weight within the limit of their old attire. They also serve who wrangle paperwork and supplies.

I swelled a little with pride at how good and dignified they looked in-step and often the whole row with the same leg forward. Absolutely terrific and worth a close scrutiny.

I thought about the mixed emotions the crowds had in these years when lost loved ones could still be remembered their youthful photo still on the mantelpiece.

I did love image no 14 of a bunch of next generation women watchers – two in traditional going to town jackets and skirts – the other three in pant suits that only became standard dress option in the 1970s and in some workplaces banned until the 1990s.

I have written about how photographs show middle aged women’s lib in the 1960s and 70s.

The male vets not in uniform like most of the older men in the crowds wear suits but dotted throughout a young men and women in casual gear and bell bottoms. Photography is inevitably a real time fashion history lesson in transitional generational styles.


This is a show worth taking in slowly and looking at the marchers and the crowds alike.

This is one of the many strengths of this exhibition. It highlights what good social documentary - photo-journalist photographers do well. They attend events, they record the obvious, in this case being those that march. But they also record so much more. What Colin Abbott has documented is the whole event. The exhibition includes images of veterans marching, the vets talking, people wandering about and there are multiple images of the people who have come to watch and to be part of the celebaration.

A special thanks to those that run Magnet Galleries. Exhibitions such as this are so important. These photography centres have an important role to play. This is a photography centre where aspiring photographers will find a receptive environment and practical help and service with printing. Volunteer helpers are very welcome.

The Magnet website is light on images and other information about the show. Colin Abbott is to be congratulated for the role he took on whereby he documented these Anzac Day events while the WWI and WWII veterans were still alive.

I have included a link or two below to provide a little background on this.

There has been some interest from Melbourne collecting institutions to collect Colin’s Anzac works. A quick search of the State Library’s catalogue reveals 29 photographs of ANZAC parades 1974-1981. These were taken by Rennie Ellis and Viva Gibb all of only male veterans. Colin’s Anzac archive provides a comprehensive record of these events and of times now passed and largely unknown to present generations.

Colin Abbott is a Prahran college graduate whose work with those of his contemporaries is scheduled for a show in 2025 at the Museum of Australian Photography at Wheelers Hill – the gallery and library of the City of Monash, Melbourne.

Reminder: The Magnet Galleries exhibition, Anzac Days, continues till Saturday 25th May 2024. See the pamphlet above for the days and hours the exhibition is open.


Magnet Galleries, Docklands, Melbourne Australia

Colin Abbott's book: Waiting Under Southern Skies

About the planned exhibition of Prahran photographers

The Museum of Australian Photography

image from Photonet Facebook page - Colin Abbott proof sheet for Anzacs

More about Gael Newton AM





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