GALLERY: Historic photo collection a snapshot in time

RICHARD Strong’s great aunt could charm the birds from the trees, but she had a heart that would not heal.

Two years ago, Batemans Bay’s Mr Strong saved Nita McLean’s photo albums from the bin and found he has also rescued a homage to Australian soldiers lost in World War One.

Travelling during the Great Depression with her engineer husband up and down Australia’s east coast, Mrs McLean photographed every war memorial she could.

Mr Strong, 60, believes his “beautiful” aunt was grieving deeply the loss of her only brother, Oswald Mutton, at the battle of Bullecourt, France, in May 1917.

With her camera, she made her own memorial.

“She was a beautiful person, very good with children,” Mr Strong said.

“She was effusive and loving.”

He has a strong memory of seeing her when he was a lad, with pee wee birds sitting on her shoulders.

“She always talked to the birds and there were always fairies at the back of the glen,” he said.

“The whole family was devastated by the loss of the brother.”

Mrs McLean’s self-assigned task was made easier, as her husband William was building bridges up and down the east coast, from Cairns to South Australia.

They had been married shortly before he was sent as an officer to World War I, where he witnessed the shelling that claimed Oswald.

“Will came back from the war and they did not want to be separated anymore, so they travelled together,” Mr Strong said.

“He took pictures of the bridges, she took pictures of the war memorials.”

She also collected postcards.

Mr Strong contacted Fairfax Media about the albums because “they need to be shared”.

“It is an insight into someone’s travels around Australia,” Mr Strong said.

“I did not know the albums existed. My brother was going to get rid of them and asked if I wanted to look. I took them. I did not even know she had a camera.

“I have given them to people all around Batemans Bay to look at or copy.”

The albums also included Mr McLean’s collection of Diggers’ photographs taken at a professional studio, probably in England.

His photograph of Oswald and several others have now been included in the Australian War Memorial’s collection.

Mr Strong’s father was a career officer in the Australian Army, serving in New Guinea and Borneo during World War II.

Mr Strong remembers marching on Anzac Day as a child with diggers from both wars and has taken an interest in history as an adult.

“The First World War veterans vastly outnumbered the Second World War veterans and they were still numerous when I was a boy,” he said.

“You got to know them as you grew up.”

Mrs McLean’s soft heart continued to be evident as Mr Strong became a man.

She collected thousands of old Christmas cards and turned them into albums for children in hospitals around the country. Some ended up with the British royal family and another with former United States president Dwight Eisenhower.

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