Author: Edward Stokes
Publisher: The Five Mile Press (Melbourne), 1983
Format: Hardback, 280mm x 210mm, 248pp.
Photos: Sepia monochrome
United We Stand is a photographic–oral history. It is based on 1908 – 1910 glass negatives of Broken Hill, taken by James Wooler. The images are mirrored with extended interviews by Edward Stokes, recorded with thirty men and women who were young adults in 1908 – 1910.
In 1908 Broken Hill, a legendary mining town in the far west of New South Wales, was Australia’s richest mineral field. It was best known for its harsh isolation, militant unions, and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company. The town was where, in the early 1980s, Edward Stokes changed from being a primary school teacher – to becoming a photographer and writer.
James Wooler’s documentary and town landscape photos, with closely connected spoken excerpts, form the heart of the book. The themes cover all main aspects of life in the town: its arid isolation; the silver-lead-zinc mines; social life; transport; women’s and home life; children and schooling; sport; recreation; the unions and strikes; and much more.
“Going onto the underground shift you’d be given three candles”, miner Les Crowe recalled. “Three candles! Righto! Be careful – better burn them slow. Come crib (meal) time, you’d keep only one candle alight for everyone.”
A serendipitous event occurred when, after Stokes had published numerous local newspaper articles seeking to find the origins of the glass plate negatives (all were named “J.W.” or “Wooler”) a letter arrived from Adelaide, from his daughter. So began an enduring friendship with Edna McNamara, then aged eighty. Edna’s treasured memories of her father, and her detailed knowledge of his photography, enriched the book.
Edward Stokes’ United We Stand oral history recordings are held by the National Library of Australia. The interviews can be heard via the NLA website. The NLA is linked on this site’s With Thanks page.
Edna McNamara, the daughter of James Wooler, had grown up in Broken Hill. Here she speaks at the book launch for United We Stand. Behind her, framed by the painting, is Les Jobson – a Broken Hill miner. In the 1930s, his father had found – and with great foresight, preserved – James Wooler’s glass negatives.