FOR more than a decade, photographer Neville Owen had been preparing to hand ownership of his vast photographic collection to his beloved Coonamble community so both his original photographs and the historic images he had collected would be available to future generations.
With assistance from successive staff members at Coonamble Shire Council, other local history and arts enthusiasts and volunteers, his detailed catalogue of work will be protected and preserved into the future.
For those not familiar with the man and his work it is difficult to comprehend the scale and importance of the gift he has bestowed upon our district.
In 2012, with a small heritage grant from the NSW Government, Coonamble Shire Council engaged Shah Jones and Associates to provide an independent assessment of the historic, social and artistic significance of the Neville Owen Collection.
‘The Collection is unique in size, scope and detail, as an ongoing document of the physical, natural and social history of an area, that extends from Coonamble to Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Warren, parts of Warrumbungle, Bogan and Gilgandra from the 1960s to the present,” Ms Jones said in her final report to Council.
According to Ms Jones, Neville Owen’s original photographs (numbering towards 300,000) “detail almost every individual and event in the Coonamble and surrounding areas area over a forty-year period.”
“Together with the historical photographs he collected to complement it, his work presents a visual microcosm of regional Australia since the late nineteenth century and documents demographic change, the rise and decline of country towns, changes to primary industries, floods and droughts, climate change, social problems, celebrations and sorrows,” the report states.
“The combined collection is unique in providing a detailed visual history of Aboriginal families in the area documenting at home, at work and at play.”
In terms of artistic or aesthetic significance, Ms Jones found that Neville’s work demonstrates “craftsmanship and technical in excellence in creating superb images across themes ranging from captured movement to seemingly timeless landscapes.”
Ms Jones acknowledged Mr Owen’s “capacity to respond to the natural environment; joy in the people around him and his documentation of different stages of their lives; and a playful approach to his work.”
Ms Jones assessed the collection as having “high social significance in documenting life over more than a generation across a wide geographic area of regional Australia.”
“It contains images of every civic event between 1970 and 2009, including Anzac marches, sporting events, weddings, school plays and debutante balls in Walgett, Goodooga, Lightning Ridge, Gulargambone, Baradine and Coonamble,” Ms Jones reported.
“It is unique in recording the life of the region’s inhabitants from the richest to the poorest, both settler and Aboriginal families, in towns and villages and on properties, at work and play and in focusing equally on the private and public.”
What a priceless treasure! Thank you Neville.