Greg Ray has always been interested in history, and when he started work as a cadet journalist at The Newcastle Herald in the 1980s senior colleagues including Norm Barney and Chris Watson encouraged this interest, leading to the publication of a string of in-house magazines and supplements.
Creating these publications required illustrations, and it was quickly apparent that considerable portions of the newspaper’s photo archive were missing. Some negatives had been donated to Newcastle Region Library, where they remain in safe hands to this day. But much had simply vanished, and older staff spoke of a time when the paper’s own library had been obliged to “downsize”, suggesting that much material had been discarded to assist the move.
Always scrounging among old documents, Greg met a second-hand dealer in Sydney who sold him some glass plate negatives (not of Newcastle origin). Internet research into the care of glass plates coincided with an eBay auction of 20 kilograms of glass and film negatives, and when Greg secured this lot it soon became apparent that many of the items auctioned had once been part of The Newcastle Herald’s photo archive.
Over time it emerged that the late owner of these negatives, former Newcastle fireman and transport enthusiast Ken Magor, had been friendly with Herald staff who may have alerted him to an opportunity when the negatives were being discarded.
Ken Magor added the negatives to his already huge collection of transport memorabilia, and when he died his son Barry was faced with the problem of dealing with the material. Hence the auction.
Greg recognised that images of Newcastle and the Hunter from the years of the Great Depression and World War II were very scarce and that this collection represented a unique opportunity to fill a big gap in the historical record. He and his wife Sylvia teamed up with Greg’s long-time employer – The Newcastle Herald – to publish the book, Newcastle, The Missing Years.
Published in late 2010, the book was an immediate hit.
Thrilled by the response, the Rays followed up in 2011 with a companion volume, Recovered Memories, which included fresh material from the personal collections of the families of former Herald photographers Milton Merrilees and Arch Miller, and with items from the collection of the later Norm Barney – generously provided by Norm’s wife Daphne.
In 2020 the Rays’ catalogue of books totals 11 titles – view them here.
Since the publication of Newcastle, the Missing Years, the Rays have accumulated many more images and items of interest. Many people have given them photos. Much material has been bought from dealers or at garage sales and markets. Still more has been loaned by its owners for scanning and return.
No longer employed, Greg Ray has decided to make this runaway hobby into a livelihood, and now spends many hours scanning material in order to make it available online.
This online library will grow as new material is added and as material already in digital form is prepared for display.
If you are seeking particular images and can’t find them on any of the existing image databases available in the Hunter, Greg and Sylvia will be glad to attempt to fill the gap, if they can.
Please feel free to visit this site often, as new material will be uploaded as often as practicable.