Peterborough engineman's photos live on

LEGEND: The late Lionel Noble was a 'genius' of photography while working as an engineman in the railways based at Peterborough.
LEGEND: The late Lionel Noble was a 'genius' of photography while working as an engineman in the railways based at Peterborough.

Photographs taken by Peterborough railway engineman Lionel Noble are dotted around the Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery.

This is part of an exhibition, Transportation and Transformation, chronicling the days of slow bullock drays to rapid locomotives and a changing industrial skyline.

Mid North residents are being treated to a display of “how we moved it and how we made it”.

The third exhibition in a trilogy by Nyrstar lead smelter, it looks at the history of Port Pirie and its major industry with the help of work by the late, legendary Mr Noble.

Mr Noble’s sons Jeff and Mark attended the exhibition’s opening night on Friday.

Jeff, wearing his late father’s jacket and trousers, and brother Mark, showing off his Dad’s tie, gathered beside some of the stark black-and-white images captured by Mr Noble in his travels while based at Peterborough.

“He would stop the train and the crew would get off and he would photograph them,” Jeff said.

The faces of Scrub Heidenrich and Bill Munro stared back from a framed portrait taken in 1960 … the Adelaide-based Noble brothers had no idea who they were or where the photograph was taken, but they were proud of their father’s work.

Master-of-ceremonies Andrew Male described Lionel as a “genius” of photography. Lionel died in 2015 aged 90 years

“Dad bought me my first camera when I was aged 10 years old. It was an old reel-to-reel unit,” Mark said.

With Father’s Day just a couple of days ahead, it was a sentimental time for the brothers.

“Dad loved every aspect of railway life,” Jeff said. “He loved working on the steam locomotives. He was the youngest man in South Australia to become an engineman at the age of 23.”

He said the steam era was “extremely hard work”. His father never knew when the next breakdown would happen or such things as grasshoppers on the tracks would interfere with transportation. 

With a vast array of photographs of trains, horses, old ships, vintage cars and motorcycles and a video of the $660 million “transformation” taking place at the smelter, the exhibition thrilled about 80 people who attend the opening on Friday.

The images include one of the late Syd Jacobs, on a motorcycle with his sister-in-law in a “Hollywood-style” depiction on the wharf.

Pride of place at the exhibition was a century-old bullock dray restored by yourtown’s youth and some apprentice boilermakers from the smelter. It was originally in decay next to the old railway station and is thought to have once been used to carry coal from Port Pirie to Broken Hill.

True to the theme of the exhibition, a giant picture of Ellen Street from the 1900s depicts a dray which is believed to be the same one that graces the gallery.