- Book reviewer
- History - general, Book reviews, Garden Island, Infrastructure and Facilities
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2022 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Portrait of a Working Dockyard. This photobook by Berylouise Mitchell comes in a limited edition, handmade in A4 landscape format by Australia’s premier photobook printer MomentoPro in Sydney and sells for $75. With a hard cover and wrap around dustjacket the photobook is 92 pages printed on satin 170 gsm with 145 photos, in colour and black and white. Contact Berylouise for more information or to order a book via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0425 834 965.
Whenever I travel on the Manly ferry I’m always struck by the contrast between the two most prominent structures on Sydney Harbour. They could almost be likened to sibling rivals. On one side is Bennelong Point with its elegant, sophisticated Sydney Opera House, and on the other the industrial precinct of Garden Island dockyard, two relatives with manifestly differing personalities and appearance. Despite their divergences they are both recognised with an Engineers Australia National Heritage Marker.
Tourists flock to the Sydney Opera House to pay homage to a thing of beauty, while the ocean-going visitors to Garden Island come to its doorstep in need of maintenance or repair. Of course, the Sydney Opera House is a relative newcomer to the family, while Garden Island has a lineage dating back to the earliest European settlement in Port Jackson. Each has an intrinsic beauty and appeal, and hence are popular subjects for photographers. The Sydney Opera House is one of the most photographed locations in Australia, while Garden Island, although well documented photographically, isn’t accessible to tourists, and even if it was it wouldn’t have the same tourist appeal of the Opera House.
So, it is fortuitous that someone like Berylouise Mitchell did find Garden Island so appealing and also had access to photograph it on a daily basis. It is also advantageous that Berylouise is a trained photographer with a skill level far removed from the average tourist. Berylouise worked at Garden Island from 2004 to 2014, not as a photographer, but in an administrative role with Thales Australia. This meant that she wasn’t constrained in the way she chose to work and was relatively free to explore and document her subjects.
The result is an engagement with many of the ships that visited Garden Island during her tenure there. These are not simply record photographs, Berylouise engages with these ocean-going visitors as she does with the people who work on them. From the largest to the smallest ship, all became her subjects, and each was given her unique photographic perspective. Berylouise takes us on a ten-year tour of Garden Island. Along the way we meet the ships, executives and trades people, there is military pomp and ceremony, we are in the graving dock underneath ships and also onboard ships, we visit the pumphouse and along the way we photographically meet many of her co-workers.
Supporting the photographs, several people and organisations were invited to write about their involvement and relationship with Garden Island, these offer an insightful counterbalance to the visual elements of the book.
Of course, a publication such as Portrait of a Working Dockyard is inevitably tinged with nostalgia, ships that have sailed on to an appointment with the scrappers torch, and the dismantling of the hammerhead crane whose towering presence seemed to stand guard over Garden Island. Then there is Aurora Australis, the iconic Antarctic expedition ship that was built just up the coast in Newcastle, whose engineer Ross Jenkins was tragically killed in the graving dock while his ship was receiving maintenance.
Berylouise’s images reference one of the great and enduring genres of documentary photography, photographs of family life. For ten years Berylouise was a member of the ‘Garden Island family’. While visiting photographers are often treated with suspicion, a family member with a camera isn’t. That’s why these images give us a unique insight into an environment that most people could never enter.
Portrait of a Working Dockyard is a unique publication, as you look through it you become part of Berylouise’s fascination with Garden Island; having finished the book there is a feeling that you have been to and experienced places and events that few others have, it’s like knowing a secret.
Reviewed by Dr Charles J. Page