A photographic collection of great significance is housed in the Gabriel Gallery, Gundagai, featuring the work of an internationally famous photographer, Dr Charles Louis Gabriel, a distinguished resident of the town from 1887 until his death in 1927. Another resident, accountant and business Cliff Butcher, who established the gallery, found some thousand 4 inch glass negatives many years after Dr Gabriel died, and donated 450 to the National Library. There is also part of Dr Gabriel’s library, his personal letters and other memorabilia.
Items relating to poets associated with Gundagai – Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Jim Grahame and Jack Moses – are also displayed, together with memorabilia on songwriter Jack O’hagan, who wrote Along the Road to Gundagai.
Some of Henry Lawsons possessions, such as his walking stick, restored chair, and dictionary, together with his letters to Grace McManus who cared for him in 1920 at Coolac just north of Gundagai, are treasured gallery exhibits.
But the photographs remain the focus. These are pieces of art freezing time in life in a small country town at the turn of the Century. Gundagai is immutably caught in his snapshots; its streets, houses and shops are fixed permanently in photographic emulsion, its people turn to his lens their slightly self-conscious faces, found working or promenading or gossiping, all intrigued with the novelty of themselves in pictures.
Gabriels own interests provide a closer focus. A new hospital, the nurses he worked with, the people who were his friends, and the interior of their houses are all recorded.
Between these scenes, and various public events, are photos taken as the doctor drove around in his smart sulky, a witness to funerals, marriages, floods and elections, the coming of trains and circuses. His eye and camera give a very special and irreplaceable record of Australian provincial life two and tree generations ago.
Following Mr Butchers gift to the National Library, president of the Gundagai Historical Society, Mr O.I. Bell, also made a donation of plates which had come into his possession. From the Butcher and Bell collections the library published “Gundagai Days” featuring some 56 photos, and went on to release the more permanent publication “Gundagai Album”, which used 120 photographs and was edited by Peter Quartermaine, lecturer in Australian Arts and Letters, University of Exeter. The ABC has also made a 30 minute documentary on the photos, titles A Track Winding Back.
The Gabriel Gallery is located on the first floor of Butcher Roberts Store next to the Westpac Bank in Sheridan St, and is open 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 12 noon Saturday. Admission is free.