In The Shadows

Each of these images have been chosen because they reflect, in some way, the shadowy aspects of our lives and our history.

The photographs in this exhibition were selected from the Victorian State Government and National Archives collections, as well as from public submissions from contemporary street photographers.

Quarantine by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)


‘This disease is an enemy of the people, just as much as was any force the men of this nation met in physical combat.’ (Commonwealth Tuberculosis Bill, 1948)

Tuberculosis (TB) patients rest along the verandah to ensure they receive maximum exposure to fresh air and sunshine, having been forced into isolation for months as part of a disease control measure Australia adopted in the late 1940s. Known as consumption, or TB, the bacterial lung infection leaves patients coughing up infected lung tissue, and the bacteria can spread among people living in close proximity or in unsanitary conditions.

Quarantining patients from their families for up to a year while they hopefully recovered was the only option government’s had to control an epidemic which had killed 27% of Australians aged between 20 and 40 in 1946. Chalets were built across Victoria, sometimes with flyscreens instead of glass as a way to circulate fresh air. A mandatory chest x-ray, a bovine vaccine and antibiotics were introduced not long after, but overall, improved sanitation is often cited as the main cause of the disease’s decline in Australia. 

Explosion (1936) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)


On 13 July 1936 at 3:35 am, two bombs were thrown through the window of a family home in a quiet Geelong street. The intended victim, Senior Constable Frederick Milne, escaped serious physical injury, however his wife, Aimee Isabel Milne, was hit directly by the second explosion. Milne spent several weeks in hospital suffering from deafness, concussion and severe shock. No-one was ever convicted for the murder, but there were many suspects. Milne was a well-known police officer and had enemies in Geelong’s underbelly. He had many run-ins with George Edward Carr, an infamous petty criminal with a string of charges to his name. Carr was facing fraud charges and was suing Milne for wrongful arrest at the time of the explosion. During the inquest investigation, Milne claimed to have received threats from Carr.

This photograph, submitted to the coronial inquiry, shows the extent of the devastation left by the bombs. The morning sun shines through the exposed boards leaving an eerie pattern of light on what remains of the sitting room.

Inquests have been digitised to 1925 and can be found on our website. (See our inquests topic page for more information.)

Robur Tea Advertising (1930) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Robur Tea Advertising

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the Robur Tea Company saturated Australian newspapers and outdoor hoardings with colourful advertisements for its products. Robur Tea had its tea rooms in Swanston Street and was a popular staple in many Australian homes until it was taken over by Tetley in 1974.

In this 1930s photograph a young girl stands next to an illustrated advertisement for Robur Tea of an Aboriginal child in an Akubra-style hat with the slogan ‘Take It Home, It’s Good’. Since the nineteenth century, Aboriginal, Pacific and Torres Strait Islander children were portrayed by white society in imagery, ceramics, fabrics and popular ephemera as ‘piccaninnies’. This stereotype, which harked back to colonial ideas of the ‘noble savage’, romanticised black children as sweet, simple and living a pre-industrial lifestyle – ‘plump cherubs with dazzling smiles’. Commodification of Aboriginal childhood in this period ignored the diversity and richness of Aboriginal cultural groups; it also minimised the harm of government policies which separated families by prescribing that
‘half-caste’ children should be absorbed into the white population. 

Spy vs Spy (1962) by National Archives of AustraliaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Spy vs Spy

Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) operative Ivan Skripov posed as a Russian embassy official in Canberra. He developed a network of ‘assets’ including a Sydney clerk known as ‘Sylvia’. In reality, she was working for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). 

Spy vs Spy (1962) by National Archives of AustraliaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

They met seventeen times between 1961 and 1963. Skripov used initial meetings to secure Sylvia’s services. Later, he had her recover clandestine bundles containing travel documents and film canisters from Sydney parks and landmarks. Sylvia was also a postal intermediary; mail was sent to her home for her to deliver to Skripov. In December 1962, Skripov directed Sylvia to deliver a package to Adelaide. It contained a ‘high-speed message sender’. Sylvia waited in Adelaide, but her contact never materialised.

Spy vs Spy (1962) by National Archives of AustraliaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Skripov and Sylvia met only once more after this; in February 1963 the Australian government ordered him to leave the country. ASIO immediately publicised the affair to promote the effectiveness of the Australian intelligence community. Called ‘Miss X’ in the international press, Sylvia featured as the operation’s hero, though originally ASIO had deliberately obscured her face within their files, as seen in the photo outside the restaurant. 

Refinery (1955) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)


This is the Altona Refinery, 13 km west of Melbourne. It commenced operations in June 1949 and still operates today. The photograph was originally created by the Commonwealth Department of Trade for promotional purposes to stimulate overseas investment, export and tourism. The department employed a large number of ‘outsiders’, including advertising specialists and commercial artists like Wolfgang Sievers.

Sievers was born in Berlin in 1913. In 1938, he was conscripted into the Luftwaffe as an aerial photographer; but before he began service he fled Germany for Melbourne, where he became a commercial photographer. In 1942, Sievers enlisted with the Australian Army and served until 1946. After demobilisation, he returned to photography, developing corporate clientele among manufacturers and architectural firms. In 1950 he started working for the Trade Publicity Branch. Sievers’s work was influenced by the Bauhaus and Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movements that espoused simplicity of form and functionality, reconciled with artistic flair and spirit. His photography is considered ‘theatrical’; he often photographed scenes at night or with high contrast and shadow to heighten the artistic nature of the industrial environment.

Air Raid (1943) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Air Raid

At the start of World War II, Melbourne’s citizens felt far removed from the dangers of the front line, with hardly anyone taking the government’s efforts at air raid drills very seriously. However, attitudes started to change once local newspapers were filled with images and stories of the London Blitz, and the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. The fear of an invasion became so real that large numbers of Melburnians were stepping forward to join volunteer services such as the decontamination and rescue squads or the amateur firefighters.

Air Raid Procedure Displays were held across Victoria to highlight their efforts, sometimes involving thousands of volunteers, and realistic enactments with explosives and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) bombers manoeuvring overhead. They showed the public that ‘a tremendous amount of voluntary effort is being expended day and night without fee or reward by thousands of citizens to save the people from the worst should a raid occur.’ (The Age, 2 November 1942)

'Smokes' Kiosk (1930) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

'Smokes' Kiosk

The modern woman of the 1920s was confident, independent and keen to partake in activities previously considered ‘inappropriate’. Tobacco companies quickly exploited this change in social mores and started advertising directly to women, portraying cigarettes as symbols of emancipation and equality with men. By the 1930s, you can see how heavily women were targeted in this window display outside a train station barber shop.

Around this time the first medical reports appeared, suggesting a link between smoking and health problems, including lung cancer. However the evidence in these early studies was still tentative and advertisers used this confusion and lack of public knowledge to their advantage, claiming that their particular product somehow managed to bypass these negative concerns.

Craven ‘A’, for example, was famous for their illustrations of sophisticated women and the tag line ‘for your throat’s sake’. They claimed that their cork tips made smoking ‘cleaner’ and would prevent sore throats. The implication was that if iit felt milder, then it must be healthier, but in reality filters did little to stop the harmful chemicals. It took until 1973 before health warnings were required on all cigarette packs in Australia.  

Bushfire Aftermath (1928) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Bushfire Aftermath

Bushfires have long cast a shadow of danger over Victorian summers. Each year as the weather heats up and the environment dries out, communities in regional and rural Victoria are faced with the possibility of another bushfire turning the landscape to ash. In the 1926 bushfires – the most destructive of which became known as the Black Sunday bushfire – swept through Gippsland during February and into March, resulting in the loss of 60 lives and many homes. Only two years after this devastating summer, bushfires struck the region again.

In this photo, a man deals with the destruction caused by one of the 1928 fires along the Princes Highway, captured by the Photographic Services Section of the Country Roads Board (CRB). Through the first half of the twentieth century the CRB produced a vast collection of photographs of roads and bridges throughout Victoria, capturing people and snippets of everyday life among photos of infrastructure construction. The scorched landscape and lingering smoke haze depicted in this photo is the kind of daunting scene many Victorians have encountered in the aftermath of bushfires.

Nunawading Refugee Camp (1978) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Nunawading Refugee Camp

These Vietnamese families (names unknown) were among the thousands of new immigrants offered temporary accommodation at the Nunawading Migrant Hostel in Melbourne’s east between 1952 and 1987. It was the first home offered to many Vietnamese refugees fleeing southern Vietnam to avoid life under communist rule. In 1978, Huy Truong’s family joined an overcrowded boat to cross the Arafura Sea to Darwin. 'What crystallised the decision for us to leave was my father was ... [told to] sign a letter that gratefully handed over all the assets including our home ... to the government,' he says. (‘We came by boat’, SMH, 10 September 2013). Once in Australia, Truong's family applied for refugee status.

Vietnamese communities in Melbourne formed in suburbs surrounding Nunawading and other migrant hostels, including Enterprise in Springvale, Midway in Maribyrnong and Wiltona in Altona. Refugees arriving by boat today fall under a mandatory detention policy introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992, to discourage boat arrivals and upheld by successive governments. In 2013 the Australian Government extended that policy by denying any asylum seeker arriving by boat the right to settle in Australia as a refugee. 

Last Drinks (1951) by Public Record Office VictoriaPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Last Drinks

In Victoria liquor licenses and trading hours have been regulated as early as 1854. Temperance interests, such as the Total Abstinence Society, long sought to tighten Victorian liquor laws with mixed success. Particularly in slum areas, ‘sly grog’ shops illegally sold alcohol out-of hours or without a license. Prior to World War I, closure was strictly enforced on Sundays, however on every other day most pubs and bars in Australia would generally shut at around 11:30 pm. During the war, closing time was changed to 6:00 pm sharp, resulting in people racing to the bar after work to consume as many drinks as possible, known colloquially as the six o’clock swill.

By the 1950s, the temperance movement had declined. More relaxed attitudes to drinking were assisted by a post-war surge in European migrants, who opened new styles of cafes and coffee bars. In 1960 the chair of the Victorian Licensing Court, Judge Archibald Fraser, returned from an intelligence gathering trip in Europe and the United States. He summed up Australia's drinking habits as ‘unique in the sense that they are deplorable’. The six o’clock closure was lifted in Victoria in 1966, with the introduction of blood alcohol testing for driving considered a reasonable compromise by Parliament.

Chinatown (2019) by Alicia Valle SerranPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)


"Street life." Alicia Valle Serran, photographer

Indigenous Community Members (2018) by Cathrin PlunkettPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Indigenous Community Members

"On 19 August 2018, Indigenous community members are standing at a Gunditjmara campfire at Federation Square, a campfire which is a symbol of resistance, coming together and honouring their community. Despite the shadowy obscuring smoke, to me the campfire and the community presence is a reminder of the endurance and the visibility of the Victorian Koorie community in our midst." Cathrin Plunkett, photographer

Cups (2018) by Adrian WhearPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)


"In the mid-afternoon, the sun lights the north side of the GPO columns with a sliver of light illuminating the cup on a nearby café table. I just watched the rhythm of the scene, and tried to photograph the waiting staff carrying cups of coffee to customers using the shadows to hide the actual person." Adrian Whear, photographer

Kill Me Now Bro (2018) by Andrew WilsonPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Kill Me Now Bro

"A very serious problem with Melbourne and other major cities in the world is that of the homeless. They may as well live in another world as far as most people know. The world of getting through the night without violence, cold, sickness, food and often all alone must be the hardest, largest and darkest shadow in our city. Yet as seen in this photo, it could not be any clearer or noticeable." Andrew Wilson, photographer

On Hosier (2019) by Michael EdwardsPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

On Hosier

"As part of an iconic Melbourne subculture the graffiti artist extends from within the shadows to finish his work." Michael Edwards, photographer

One Afternoon (2018) by Sarah RuhullahPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

One Afternoon

"This photograph captured by me on a late Spring afternoon shows the golden evening sun filtering through a busy Melbourne tram. The sunlight hits the face of two young girls who seem to be curious about what there is outside the tram. This applies to the theme ‘In The Shadows’ in two ways – the first being the literal shadows being cast within the enclosure of the tram which gives a sense of mystery, busyness and also draws attention to the curiosity of the girls. The second way is a metaphorical one where the girls, being inside the tram while being curious about the outside world, is a metaphor for them being in the shadow of all that keeps them safe and away from the real world at such a young age." Sarah Ruhullah, photographer

Great Earth (2018) by Kelly TangPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Great Earth

"There has always been tension between our need for nature and the societal pull towards urban expansion. In the shadow of the metropolis lurks our looming anxiety towards the uncertain future of our planet and a yearning for greener pastures." Kelly Tang, photographer

The Truth Is Out There (2018) by Mark ForbesPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

The Truth Is Out There

"This image was taken during the last minutes of summer sunshine at the skate bowl park. As the skater walked back towards the bowl to retrieve his runaway skateboard, he cast a long and wiry shadow. With his board sitting at the edge of the sun and part of the bowl sitting in shadow – the scene was complete. The image was made on 35mm film." Mark Forbes, photographer

Bridge Reflections (2018) by Liz KajkoPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Bridge Reflections

"Liz Kajko grew up in Colorado and has lived in Melbourne for 10 years. She carries her camera with her to capture what she sees. She wants to record the instantaneous drama in the passing light. The opportunity to revisit that moment in that place, may not happen again.

Bridge Reflections (2018) by Liz KajkoPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

It’s important to catch the subtle beauty in the image, as the spaces are familiar and easy to pass by. They are not exotic locals, but the local background to our everyday. The beauty can be a unique view, the way the light comes through or the shadows hiding an element. There are magical moments when the object is illuminated and intrigue in the shadows. The reflections from the overpass and the illuminated poles create a mesmerizing viewpoint to draw the viewer in.

It’s important to capture the moment, because in an ever-changing environment created by removing the old and building the new, by seasons changing. These changes exist around us and affect our day-to-day lives. It’s important for Liz to continuously shoot where she lives, in order to record the day-to-day differences." Liz Kajko, photographer

The Wait (2019) by Andrew TanPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

The Wait

"The woman in the shadow gazes at the old man. He looks frustrated. Or perhaps he is tired. But he sits and waits in the bright sunshine." Andrew Tan, photographer

Resistance Is Useless (2018) by Richard HarrisPublic Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Resistance Is Useless

"At the recently renovated McKinnon station, the introduction of high-tech equipment has created some unsettling sights for passengers. As darkness descends this strange, alien lighting/PA structure, one of many, flickers into life. Emerging from the twilight shadows, it gazes dispassionately down at the ‘customers’ as its other-worldly voice announces the arrival of what, exactly?" Richard Harris, photographer

Credits: Story

In The Shadows is based on a larger physical exhibition displayed at the Victorian Archives Centre from November 2019 through to 2020.

The curators were Natasha Cantwell, Kate Follington, Carly Godden, Sarah Harris, Samantha Courtier and Kevin Hoey. The exhibition was produced by the VAC Gallery team featuring images from both PROV and NAA collections. The exhibition was adapted for Google Arts and Culture by Andrew Joyce.

To find out any details about the photographs shown within the online exhibition please contact

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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