Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Rare photo find returned to Durnan family

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The patriarch of one of Riverina’s best-known families has been given a photograph of his mother he did not even know existed taken 120 years ago after the precious portrait nearly ended up in a Central Coast rubbish tip.

Former Narrandera resident Don Durnan, 92, was overjoyed when the beautiful old image, called a carte de visit, was handed to him by Federal Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack.

Mr McCormack spotted the unidentified image, taken by famous Narrandera photographer Carl Tarbutt Dugdale, on an Easter Sunday search of online shopping platform eBay.

The item had two dates penned on the rear – 18 February 1897 and 14 June 1950.

Mr McCormack purchased the photo because of its Riverina connection and because he thought it might be useful for a future ANZAC Day publication.

“Given its age I thought this person possibly had some war-time connection,” Mr McCormack said.

He then set about to try to identify the girl.

With the help of the online newspaper site Trove, Mr McCormack took just a few clicks on the Narrandera Argus to establish the picture was of Mary Durnan (née Whillans), who had indeed died on the latter date, aged 53.

She was about six years old in the posed photo which would have been taken in about 1903, the same year as Carl Dugdale’s picture of a massive dust storm over Narrandera which gained worldwide acclaim.

Mr Dugdale’s photography studio was located in Narrandera’s East Street and he was renowned for always keeping his camera ready and loaded in case it might be urgently needed.

He would race around town on his bicycle taking snaps.

“I have known and been friends with the Durnan family for 40 years so when I realised just who this was I was delighted,” Mr McCormack said.

“I can only imagine the joy this will bring to Don and his family. It’s all very serendipitous.”

Mr McCormack contacted the seller, from Point Clare near Gosford, who told him: “I found this beautiful photograph a few months ago in a council clean-up and didn’t want it to end up in landfill. I don’t know much more than what was in the description.”

Mrs Durnan, who lived at Mount Crystal north of Narrandera almost all of her life, was married to John, who predeceased her in 1947, aged 63, and they had six children of whom only Don and Beth survive. 

Narrandera Argus 4 May 2023

This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 4 May 2023.

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