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Retail history lost and found

A collection of stories on the history of the Australian photo retail industry on the IDEA website which disappeared a year ago has resurfaced.*

The old Kodak manufacturing plant, Coburg, Victoria.
The old Kodak manufacturing plant, Coburg, Victoria.

The material returned when IDEA updated its website for the Melbourne Digital Show.

The history, along with the records of industry surveys, and yearly market reports on products had all been deleted. The Association’s own honour roll of Dealer of the Year award recipients and Golden Tripod Awards, and its list of past presidents were also canned, according to former PICA/IDEA chief executive officer, Paul Curtis.

A decade ago, following the allocation of a grant from the then industry body PICA, former PMA leader Les Brener began assembling a history of retailing and distribution in Australia. This was later published as a work in progress on the PICA website. Additional contributions were added by people such as Peter Rose, John Swainston and from the editorial files of Photo Counter and Paul Curtis himself.

This important collection was deleted by IDEA when it redesigned its website, and Mr Curtis initially assumed it had been lost forever.

‘I called IDEA’s attention to the removal, but for more than a year it just ignored the matter. This was a shame, particularly as both students and business used to find the material a useful resource. It was costing nothing to keep on the website and it is usual for not-for-profit industry associations to maintain such files.’ he said.

‘I am very happy to see that this week that IDEA has begun replacing the material deleted. But it has brought home to me how transient such a website-held history can be. It would be good to find a more assured way of keeping the record safe for future generations.’

Contributions invited
According to Mr Curtis, the trade’s history is not a long one as it was not until just after the Second World War that photo speciality retailing and importing began to take over from the previous suppliers in the optical and pharmaceutical industries.

‘It would be relatively easy to assemble into an e-book that could be lodged with the national and state libraries. I would be happy to do this on a voluntary basis, but I would need the help of people who have worked in the industry in the last 20 years.

‘Probably the easiest way would be for interested people, if indeed there are any, to email me their own personal and or company biographies so that I could assemble it from that. Many people have had their business stories told in the trade press, so it would be easy for these people to email me a copy of those reports.’

Mr Curtis recently authored and published A History of Professional Photography in Australia in book and eBook form, with the support of the AIPP.

If you are interested in recording your role in the photo industry, please email Paul at

* The original version of this story was based on Paul Curtis calling attention the the deletion of historical and Honour Roll components on the IDEA website. However, the website has since been updated. Talk about the power of the media – well, more likely a chore which had been put off until the next refreshing of the website, on reflection. (An added benefit to Photo Counter readers was then stumbling upon the news on the IDEA website that a date had been set for the 2015 Digital Show in Melbourne.)



  1. Chris Wilkinson Chris Wilkinson April 15, 2014

    I’d be very keen to read stories of those pioneers of the 7 hour then 1 hour photo industry. A while back I saw this summary of the early years of the US fast photo industry. Couldn’t help thinking we should have some similar history recorded.$3765

    • yvonne yvonne April 15, 2014

      What a great article Chris. I’m sure Australia has a similer history. i remember working on Agfa MSC machines in the early 1990’s.

  2. Richard Windsor Richard Windsor November 7, 2014

    I’d be very interested in finding some information of the Company “Tasmanex” at one stage (!980) headed by Royston A Wallis. I’m particularly intersted to know whether lenses marked “Tasmanex” and made in Japan were in fact imported by Wallis and over what period and from which manufacturers. Any pointers would be helpful, especially information as to the archival of company records.

    • Rolf Probst Rolf Probst November 17, 2014

      Hi Richard,
      Roy Wallis had his own business known as Royston A Wallis ans Sons Pty. Ltd. he was their repair agent and had no involvement with the importing of goods
      Thanks Rolf
      Former employee of Roys

      • John West John West December 27, 2014

        Hi Rolf – I remember the old days working for Roy at Harbord. Love to catch up with yourself at some point and try to track down Grant as well. You can find me under and meet up if you are available. Cheers…..John

    • michael michael November 21, 2014

      My memory is that Tasmanex was owned by Joe Mitchell who finished his time in the industry as principal of Fletchers Fotographics Port Macquarrie

      • Keith Shipton Keith Shipton Post author | November 21, 2014

        Yes – I think that’s right. I remember Joe and Tasmanex from the late ’70s. I recall Tasmanex tripods and bags but I don’t remember a line of lenses. But there was some kind of connection between Tasmania and lens-making – any other better memories out there?

        • Alan Small Alan Small November 28, 2014

          Hi Keith:
          Joe Mitchell created and ran Tasmanex for many years. He started the company in the 70’s. Royston Wallis was
          simply a service agent for him. (and a good one)
          Tasmanex specialised in a range of bags, tripods, accessories–and yes, some lenses. The lenses were made in Japan (no association with Waterworth’s of Tasmania) probably by a division of the long-gone Soligor company.
          Joe Mitchell, a fast and smooth-talking luminary of the photographic industry, originally came from Mitchell & Silver when he was in partnership with the remarkable Bernie Silver, in Sydney. (Mark Silver’s father)
          Joe also had an association with the long defunct Walton’s Department store in supplying family movie outfits. Sold thousands and bought a yacht.
          When Tasmanex ceased trading, Joe moved to Port Macquarie as a Fletcher’s Fotographics retailer.
          When that store ceased trading, Joe moved to Adelaide – in retirement I believe.
          For some reason I remember a line that Joe wrote once in a trade advertisement: “Don’t just sell a gadget bag, sell a big and expensive Tasmanex Bag.” That gives a clue to Joe’s indominatable personality.
          There are no ‘characters’
          like Joe and Bernie in the photo industry anymore; but perhaps that’s now true of all industries. We have all conformed.

  3. Andy McCourt Andy McCourt December 5, 2014

    Marvelous memories Alan! Tasmanex was the reason I moved from UK to Oz in 1974 – they were recruiting managers for the Waltons franchises I think. Remember ‘Milversons’? – That was a portmanteau of ‘Mitchell’ and ‘Silver’ & sons. I met Bernie in his latter years as Mark was taking over – lovely blokes both.
    Didn’t Jack Hannes have a stake in it all?

  4. Franco Franco December 13, 2014

    Soligor bought lenses from several manufacturers. Two of them were Tokina and Sun.
    They owned Miranda at some point but as far as I know never made their own lenses.
    Another possible manufacturer for Soligor is Makina, who made lenses for Hanimex and themselves and possibly Vivitar too.
    Vivitar also never made their own lenses.

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