BROOKES' PHOTOGRAPHIC UNION [BROOKES, Albert Edward; BROOKES, Frederick Augustus]
PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM] Gippsland through the camera.
[Sale, Vic.] : Brookes’ Photographic Union, . Large quarto album, original blind-tooled leather with gilt ornament (lower board detached, loss to the upper section of the backstrip), all edges gilt, silk endpapers, first blank with printed calligraphic title label in black on pink paper pasted in: ‘GIPPSLAND THROUGH THE CAMERA. Brookes’ Photographic Union’; followed by  silver albumen print photographs, in standard 200 x 150 mm format, mounted recto and verso of 25 leaves of thick card; each photograph is accompanied by a printed caption label pasted onto the bottom margin of its mount (also in black on pink); the prints are, without exception, strong and with excellent tonal range, and aside from occasional rubbing and mild spotting, they are in uniformly good condition; the album leaves, though a little browned, are free from foxing.
The photographs in this unique album – the only known complete set of Gippsland through the camera – provide a substantial and important visual record of Gippsland in the late nineteenth century, at the end of the first phase of white settlement. They document the impact made by the settlers on the landscape, through mining, logging, farming and urban development, while also recording some of the last vestiges of unspoilt nature in far eastern Victoria – including dramatic views of giant trees – presenting us with images of how the country would have looked prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Who, then, were the photographers that travelled far and wide, often through remote and barely accessible country and across harsh terrain, to produce the stunning series of photographs in Gippsland through the camera? In answering this question we acknowledge the invaluable research of Susie Zada, which has elucidated the movements of the Brookes brothers and helped solve the mystery of the business partnership known as Brookes’ Photographic Union, about which little had been previously known.
Frederick Augustus “Professor” Brookes (b. 1851 Radford, Nottinghamshire – d. c.1922 Rockdale, NSW) appears to have arrived in Victoria from New Zealand at some point in the early 1880s. Directories list him as an artist and photographer in Ascot Vale and Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, in 1888-89. However, the death of his infant son, Edwin Stanley Brookes (b. 26 August 1889 at Moonee Ponds), is recorded at Sale, Gippsland, soon after his birth, suggesting that Frederick and his family had moved to the thriving Gippsland township in September of that year, where Frederick had reunited with his older brother, Albert.
Albert Edward Brookes (b. c.1847, Radford, Nottinghamshire – d. c. 1907 New Zealand) had arrived in Melbourne with his family from New Zealand some time after 1886, but must have soon moved out east to Gippsland, as his infant son, Ewen McLean Brookes, was born and died in Sale in 1888. The two brothers presumably collaborated on the series Gippsland through the camera during 1889. As Zada points out, Davies and Stanbury (Mechanical Eye) list a J. Brokes as a photographer in Sale for the years 1888-89, but this is very likely a typographical error for A. Brookes. We do not know how many examples of Gippsland through the camera the brothers collated and sold, but despite the technical excellence of the albumen prints the enterprise was obviously undertaken on a limited budget; not being able to afford the expense of a custom-bound album with specially printed pages, they used a stock standard photograph album and literally cut and pasted the title and caption labels onto the pages, probably for the relatively low cost of lithograph printing a dozen or so folio sheets.
By late 1889, however – barely a month or two after Frederick had joined him in Sale – Albert was living in Geelong, where the birth of his daughter Ida Genevieve was recorded in October. It appears that Frederick and his family later followed Albert west, as Brookes’ Photographic Union were to produce their second series of photographs – this time of Geelong and the Western District – in 1891. (The State Library of Victoria holds a complete set of these albumen prints).
Conspicuously absent from the Gippsland album are any images of Indigenous people or culture – a direct consequence of the so-called frontier wars conducted by the settlers against the Gunai/Kurnai people. Neither of the Aboriginal missions at Ramahyuck and Lake Tyers, which by the late 1880s were home to virtually the entire surviving Indigenous population of the region, feature in the series. These locations had earlier been deemed significant enough by Nicholas Caire and Fred Kruger for them to be photographically recorded. It is evident, however, that either the Brookes brothers believed that the public’s curiosity for such subject matter had been sated, or that they preferred to ignore such ‘unsavoury’ content in favour of images that highlight scenic beauty or the progress of industry and ‘civilisation’.
Geographically speaking, the series focuses on central and east Gippsland, from Walhalla, Traralgon and the Tarra Valley to Orbost, Buchan and the Snowy River.
The majority of the printed captions on the mounts contain an informative paragraph describing the image. For example, the caption beneath the view of Brookes’ Falls  furnishes us with a revealing fact: ‘Our artist being the first to discover this picturesque fall, which takes the cascade shape, his guide, on coming up with him while viewing the lovely picture, suggested that he should call it as above. Our artist offering no objection, they so christened it.’ The main titles of the captions are as follows:
 Meeting of the waters. (Junction of the Buchan & Delbet).
 Coaching station (Carrajung).
 Reeves’ River (looking south).
 New works, Lakes’ Entrance (from Jimmy’s Point).
 Foster Street, Sale (looking west).
 Giants of the forest.
 Lakes’ Entrance.
 Post Office, &c, Traralgon.
 Kangaroo Bay, Toor Loo Arm, Lake Tyers.
 Lakes’ Entrance works.
 Murelda silver and lead mines.
 Lake Guthridge & Foster St., Sale (from the Clock Tower).
 Reeves’ River (from Jimmy’s Point).
 Walhalla (looking east from Mormon Town Hill).
 The ford, Jellamak Bay, Lake Tyers.
 Swing bridge (River Latrobe).
 First glimpse of Walhalla.
 Nymph Island & Rippling Straits (Lake Tyers).
 The half-way house (on the road to Orbost).
 Raymond Street, Sale (looking north).
 Scene from verandah of Nowa Nowa house, Lake Tyers.
 Ngarung Reach, Lake Tyers.
 Junction point.
 The ford (Nowa Nowa River).
 Passage of the Buchan through Hell’s Gate.
 Fairy Glen.
 A woodland nook, Eaglehawk Creek.
 Brookes’ Falls.
 Jellawak Bay, Lake Tyers.
 Bairnsdale Landing.
 Hospital, Sale.
 St. Agnes Bay (Lake Tyers).
 Devil’s Kitchen.
 Snowy River.
 The Tara Valley (landscape from Bald Hill).
 Rosherville (Regatta day).
 Calagurnie Bay.
 Mountain ferns (Callignee).
 Eagle Cliff.
 Traralgon (looking south from Post Office Tower).
 Walhalla (a street scene).
 The Devil’s Pool (Nowa Nowa River).
 On the backwaters (Lakes’ Entrance).
 Lake Wellington (from Marley Point).
 The Upper Thomson.
 View of Buchan valley.
 Old Moses (Giant Eucalypt).