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Frank Hurley Timeline

Frank Hurley led a long and adventurous life and became one of the most famous Australians of his day. He was a showman, a storyteller, an adventurer and almost obsessive in his single-minded pursuit of the perfect image.

From the bloody carnage of the Passchendaele battlefield to the desert sands of the Middle East, from the frozen wastes of Antarctica to the remote valleys of Papua New Guinea, he sought out extraordinary experiences, caught them on film and brought them back for the rest of us to see. In later years, he turned his eye to the natural beauty of his homeland, to cityscapes and still lifes, along the way pioneering new technologies and inspiring a generation of photographers and filmmakers. Hurley’s iconoclasm, healthy disregard for authority and technical mastery of his craft made him a classic ‘larrikin’, the much-admired Australian character that still resonates today.

We are indebted to researcher and chronicler Karyn Bradford for this wonderfully detailed timeline of Frank Hurley’s life:

15 October 1885

Born in Glebe, NSW.


Ran away from home aged 13. Obtained board and lodgings at Lithgow and a job as a fitter’s handyman at the Eskbank Ironworks.


Sent by the Ironworks to Sydney to work on a contract aboard a ship, decided to remain in Sydney and returned home.


Apprentice electrical fitter and instrument maker at NSW Telegraphic Department. Studied at Sydney Technical College.

c. 1902

Purchased his first camera.

c. 1904

Employed in a Sydney photographic studio.

21 June 1905

First image published in Australasian Photo-Review


Began work with Cave & Co, a Sydney postcard business. Eventually becoming a partner, and ultimately, owner.


First solo exhibition - Kodak Salon, George St Sydney


Douglas Mawson appointed Hurley to be the photographer & cinematographer for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE)

2 December 1911

The AAE departs.

10 November 1912

The Magnetic Pole sledging party (Bage, Webb & Hurley) departs the Hut at Cape Denison

11 January 1913

Magnetic Pole party returns to Mawson’s Hut, having sledged over 600 miles, and reached within 50 miles of the South Magnetic Pole.

25-29 January 1913

Hurley joins a sledging party to search for Mawson. They see no sign of him, but leave supplies for him in three depots. Mawson found one of these only hours after the search party had turned for home. These supplies undoubtedly saved Mawson’s life.

8 February – 15 March 1913

Aurora departs Cape Denison (with Hurley aboard) to collect the Western Party of the AAE, and returns to Hobart.

July to December 1913

Hurley’s cinematograph film is assembled and titled Home of the Blizzard. It was shown in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to raise funds for the Expedition. Public response was disappointing, with only £166 raised to benefit the expedition.

Mid 1913

Hurley undertakes a commission for the Royal Dutch Steam Packet Company. He visits Java, taking photographs and cinematograph film to promote tourism.

19 November 1913

Aurora departs Hobart to rescue Mawson, the men who had remained behind to search for him, and the Macquarie Island party. Hurley travels south again with the expedition and secures many more photographs and additional cinematograph footage.

26 February 1914

Aurora returned to Adelaide, where Mawson and the party received a tumultuous reception.

April to July 1914

Hurley joins adventurer Frank Birtles on a 6000 mile car journey across NSW, western Queensland and the Northern Territory. The film of this expedition titled Into Australia’s Unknown was shown in 1915.

17 July 1914

Hurley named as a member of Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition. He may have accepted the position as early as April.

26 October 1914

The British Trans-Antarctic Expedition departs Buenos Aires aboard their vessel Endurance.


Mawson’s book The Home of the Blizzard published in London, featuring Hurley’s photographs.

15 January 1915

Exhibition of photographs from the AAE opens at the Fine Art Society, London. Also included are some of Hurley’s photographs from Java, and Central Australia.

From 15 February 1915

Endurance is beset by ice and eventually sinks, Shackleton’s men are stranded on the ice. In August Hurley takes his iconic photographs of the ship in the throes of the ice. In October he is forced to select the best 150 negatives to be saved. These and the cinematograph film were kept, more than 400 negatives were destroyed. He also abandoned all his equipment, except for a Kodak pocket camera and 3 rolls of film.

8 April 1916

The men take to the boats and reach Elephant Island on 14 April. On 24 April, Shackleton leaves on his boat journey to South Georgia, reaching it on 10 May, and proceeding overland at last to civilisation at Grytviken Whaling Station.

30 August 1916

On the third attempt, a vessel is finally able to rescue the men on Elephant Island. Yelcho, a Chilean steam ferry reaches the island and rescues the men of the Expedition, returning them to Punta Arenas.

September 1916

Hurley immediately set to work in a dark-room placed at his disposal developing his films and printing from his glass plate negatives. The men sail from Punta Arenas to Valparaiso, then Buenos Aires.

October 1916

Hurley remained behind in Argentina negotiating film rights and displaying his photographs. He departed for England on 15 October.

November 1916

Reached England, handed over the cinematograph film to the ITA Film Syndicate, who concluded that the film would suffer in a release due to a lack of wildlife. Hurley therefore plans to return south for further filming.

November 1916

Mawson is now engaged in war work in England. Hurley and Mawson meet, particularly discussing the lack of success with the Home of the Blizzard film. Hurley frequently meets with other Antarctic comrades while engaged in photographic work for the ITAE and awaiting passage south for more filming.

11 February 1917

Hurley travels to Glasgow to board a whaling supply ship bound for South Georgia, where he took over 100 colour plates, and 4000 feet of film during a stay of several weeks on the island.

17 August 1917

Joined the AIF as an official Australian War Records Cinematographer and Photographer, assisted by Hubert Wilkins. With the honorary rank of Captain, he worked in France, Belgium and Palestine. Wilkins would be responsible for images as historical record, and Hurley for providing images for propaganda and press purposes.

25 August 1917

Accompanied by war artists, Hurley recorded images of recently destroyed Hill 60, and the tunnels surrounding. He met and photographed fellow AAE veteran, now Captain, Leslie Blake. Around this time also met his Antarctic sledging companion, New Zealander, Eric Webb.

3 September 1917

Photographic unit moved to Ypres. Hurley is captivated by the ruins of the city and photographs and films it extensively.

2 October 1917

Hurley clashed with his superior CEW Bean over his proposed use of re-enactments and composite images, and submits his resignation, but continues to work.

15 October 1917

On leave in London, Hurley meets Shackleton, seeking the payment he is owed for his work on the ITAE. Shackleton paid him the following day.

20 October 1917

Returns to France, observed battle at Passchendaele from a balloon overhead.

October 1917

Despite their opposing points of view, Bean recommends Hurley for the award of Mentioned in Dispatches, “having carried out his work gallantly and conscientiously”.

9 November 1917

Hurley ordered to proceed to Egypt. While waiting on transport in London, worked on preparing photographs for a planned major exhibition in London during March 1918. Hurley arrived in Egypt, 17 December, and reached the Australian Light Horse frontline near Gaza after a week’s travel.

January 1918

Filmed and photographed the Australian Light Horse brigades, much of it in pre-arranged “parades”, including a group of Australian troopers in Jerusalem, even though Australia had played no part in the city’s capture, and a re-enactment of the charge at Beersheba.

February 1918

Arranges to fly over the Turkish front lines with the Royal Flying Corps.

14 February 1918

Flew with the Australian Flying Corps in their Bristol Fighters, finding it difficult to obtain cinematograph film from the air. He experimented with various means to reduce vibration.

15 February 1918

Flew with Captain Ross Smith, who would become one the AIF’s most decorated pilots, including flying in enemy territory for the first time.

24 February 1918

From an observer aircraft, Hurley watched and filmed several bombing raids.

March - April 1918

Returns to Cairo. During his time here, Hurley meets and falls in love with Antoinette Thierault-Leighton, a singer with the Bandmann Opera company. After a whirlwind courtship they marry on 11 April 1918, and honeymoon in Luxor.

May 1918

Hurley returned to London alone, and prepared his work for the Exhibition of his photographs that opened on 24 May. Dissatisfied with the work done by assistants in his absence he refused to attend the opening of the exhibition. Nevertheless the exhibition opened to critical and public acclaim and was well attended.

11 July 1918

Resigns from the AIF.

Late July 1918

Hurley negotiates to buy the Australian rights for the film Endurance, as well as Ponting’s 90 Degrees South (film of Scott’s last expedition) and the Home of the Blizzard film.

3 August 1918

Departs London for Cairo. Spending some time in Egypt with his wife’s family, the couple eventually took ship for Australia, arriving on 13-Nov-18. By this time Antoinette was pregnant, so she suffered doubly on the voyage, both sea-sickness and morning sickness.

Early 1919

While feted by his peers and the notables of Sydney society, the influenza epidemic had closed all cinemas and public gathering places. When restrictions eased in March, he was able to arrange screenings of his film With the Australians in Palestine, and an exhibition of photographs at the Kodak Salon in aid of the Red Cross.

21 May 1919

Twin daughters born - Frances Antoinette and Sidney Adelie.


Hurley’s career as a film distributor starts badly, with the business partnership he had formed dissolving. Mawson had lectured extensively and shown Home of the Blizzard, and there had also been unauthorised showings of the film, or parts of it, in suburban and country theatres in Australia throughout the war. He believed that there was no commercial market for this film as a result.

July 1919

Hurley and his AAE companion Walter Hannam are presented with the King’s Silver Polar Medal by the Governor-General. Hurley also received an additional clasp for the Shackleton Expedition.

1 September 1919

Issues prospectus to sell shares in “The Hurley Australian Film Production Company Limited” to finance a film. The scheme was unsuccessful.

Late 1919

Hurley campaigns publicly for an end to the penguin oil industry on Macquarie Island. Mawson campaigns similarly through scientific and academic channels. (The licenses were revoked in 1920, and Macquarie Island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933.)

21 November – 3 December 1919

The film from the Shackleton expedition, now named In the Grip of The Polar Pack-Ice opened at Sydney’s New Lyceum Theatre, with Hurley narrating evening sessions. Toured to Brisbane, Wagga Wagga, Adelaide, Geelong and Melbourne. The tour was extremely successful, with large attendances.

December 1919

Shackleton’s book of the expedition South is published, featuring Hurley’s photographs.

10 December 1919 – 14 February 1920

Capt Ross Smith, together with his Keith Smith, Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers were taking part in the challenge to complete the first flight from England to Australia. They reached Darwin in their Vickers Vimy on 10 December within the time limit to claim the prize. Delayed in QLD by mechanical problems, Ross Smith arranged for Hurley to join them for the final legs to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. They reached Sydney on 14 Feb 1920. Hurley wrote articles for The Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the Sydney Mail which also featured a photographic souvenir.

Feb to June 1920

Back at home, Hurley edits his footage, and combines it with other footage from the flight, scenes from his expedition with Birtles, scenes from Palestine, and faked aerial shots of cities along from the route (taken from postcards.) Titled Sir Ross Smith’s Flight From England to Australia, the film premiered at Sydney Town Hall on 8 June 1920.

December 1920 to August 1921

Joining forces with the Anglican Church’s Australian Board of Missions Hurley travels to the Torres Strait Islands to film missionary activities, people and the environment - still largely pristine and unseen by Europeans. Hurley shot and filmed extensively, but the tropical heat was not kind to chemicals and emulsions, and the early Paget colour plates particularly suffered. On 24 March 1921 he travelled to Papua and further journeys to numerous missionary outposts. He returned to Sydney 27 August 1921

25 June 1921

Third daughter - Yvonne, born.

August 1921

The AIF photographic exhibition first shown in London in 1918 goes on display in Australia for the first time at the Melbourne Aquarium.

3 December 1921

The Film of his New Guinea expedition, titled Pearls and Savages opens at The Globe, George St, Sydney for a season of five weeks. Later moving to Adelaide and Melbourne.

December 1921

Two hundred enlarged photographs from the Torres Strait and Papua exhibited at Kodak Salon, Sydney, to coincide with the film season.
March 1922
Hurley honoured his contract with the Board of Missions providing them with films of Papua and Torres Strait, plus a large number of photographic negatives. These were toured widely until 1924 by the Board titled The Heart of New Guinea to raise funds for missionary work.
May 1922
Exhibition of photographs of Jenolan Caves on display at Kodak Salon, Sydney.
September 1922
Second expedition to Papua. Equipped with a flying boat and a floatplane, and authorisation to collect artifacts from the Australian Museum, plus scientific personnel. Travelled up the Fly River to Lake Murray. Disputes led to many of the collected artifacts being impounded.
February 1923
Returned to Sydney, plans began for an international tour. Pearls and Savages is recut, and renamed With the Headhunters of Unknown Papua. Shown in Sydney from October, and touring to Melbourne and Adelaide in 1924. Portions of the film were hand-coloured by Hurley, and theatre foyers decorated with spears, shields and headdresses.
May 1923
First son, Frank, born.
1 August 1923 to Mid 1924
Travels to the United States. Unable to secure a deal for Pearls and Savages in Hollywood, since the moguls considered that this type of film had had its day, he continued to New York. Selling reproduction rights to his photographs to the press and claiming that the natives of New Guinea could be the descendents of the lost tribe of Israel, he caused a sensation. The film was renamed The Lost Tribe and premiered at Carnegie Hall on 17 Feb 1924. The film toured to Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then Hamilton and Toronto in Canada. The tour lost a great deal of money.
Early 1924
Publisher GP Putnam arranges for Hurley to dictate the text for a book, titled Pearls and Savages. It was lavishly illustrated with Hurley’s photographs. Published in early 1924
31 October 1924
Reverting to its original title, the film Pearls and Savages debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, followed by a London season and a provincial tour.
Late 1924
While in London, Hurley seeks backers for a change of film-making direction – dramatic productions filmed in exotic locations. He receives a £10,000 advance for two dramas, to be written by himself and set in the Torres Strait and Papua.
August 1925
Hurley returns home. Actors had already been hired for his films, but Hurley was unable to obtain permission to shoot in Papua. In September, he proceeded to Thursday Island to film The Hound of the Deep. This project included the construction of an aquarium for underwater images.
December 1925
Still unable to obtain permission to film in Papua, Hurley and crew went to Dutch New Guinea (modern West Papua) to film The Jungle Woman.
Argonauts of the South, Hurley’s account of expeditions with Mawson and Shackleton, published in New York by GP Putnam.
The Jungle Woman premieres in Sydney 22 May, followed by The Hound of the Deep on 6 November. Reactions were mixed, but opportunities for distribution were limited. Block bookings of Hollywood films were squeezing out local product.
Finally taking a desk job - appointed picture editor at The Sydney Sun
October 1928
Joined the Spirit of Australia - flight from Australia to England, with limited camera equipment and no cinematograph. The problem plagued flight ended when the plane crashed on take-off in Athens.
Early 1929
Hurley was in London seeking employment in the film industry, engaged by British Tone Films. During this time he saw The Jazz Singer, the first movie with a soundtrack, and bumped into Mawson who was planning a return to Antarctica.
July 1929
Hurley’s appointment as photographer and cinematographer to the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) announced in the Sydney Morning Herald.
1 August 1929
Hurley departs London aboard the expedition vessel Discovery, captained by John King Davis. Mawson and the scientific staff boarded in Cape Town in October. The expedition was planned to extend for two summer seasons. It was ship-based, with boat landings, and an aircraft for survey and reconnaissance. The first year they visited Crozet, Kerguelen, and Heard islands before approaching the continent. On 13 Jan 1930, unable to reach the continent itself, a flag pole was erected on Proclamation Island and the area claimed for the British Empire. Hurley photographed the ceremony, but was unable to take cine film. Later, flying over the continent itself, flags were dropped on land. Hurley was able to film from another flight. Discovery headed for Adelaide, reaching there on 1 April 1930.
April to November 1930
Back at home, Hurley combined the limited footage from the first BANZARE voyage with footage from Mawson’s earlier expedition. Complete with live voice over commentary, recorded music and sound effects, Southward Ho with Mawson did as well as could be expected during the Great Depression.
22 November 1930
Discovery departs Hobart for the second BANZARE voyage. Mawson had been in conflict with Davis almost from the start of the first voyage. Hurley thought Davis was obstructing his efforts to get cine footage. For this second voyage, the first officer Kenneth MacKenzie was promoted to Captain. Calling first at Macquarie Island, Hurley was pleased to see an increase in the numbers of wildlife. Proceeding to Commonwealth Bay, they called at Mawson’s original Hut. Again formal possession of the territory was claimed. Very limited time was spent on land which greatly restricted Hurley’s opportunities for filming. Discovery returned to Hobart 19 March 1931.
Once again working on his footage, the film of the second BANZARE voyage was to be a full sound production titled Siege of the South, which included the scene of the proclamation that Hurley was unable to capture, restaged on cliffs near Bondi. The film premiered in Brisbane during early October 1931, and toured extensively, but barely recovered its costs
Hurley accepted a contract with Greater Union/Cinesound making a film on Lord Howe Island titled Jewel of the Pacific. This was followed by Symphony In Steel, about the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Fire Guardians, about fire-fighters throughout history, which included re-staging a massive fire.
Ken G Hall, who had great success with On Our Selection, now engaged Hurley as cinematographer for the sequel, The Squatter’s Daughter. This included staged bushfires, and was hugely successful.
The Silence of Dean Maitland, featuring scenes shot in Sydney and Camden, was a drama designed to appeal to overseas audiences, which had not taken to Hall’s previous films. Hurley was again cinematographer. The film was hugely successful. Often shown in a double bill with another Hurley film, Cinesound Varieties.
May 1934
Awarded King’s Polar Medal in Bronze for his work as the photographer with the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.
June 1934
Hurley was again engaged as cinematographer on Hall’s next production - Strike Me Lucky, featuring popular comedian Roy Rene as Mo McCackie. While Hurley’s camera work was praised, the film was a flop
Returning to a previously successful subject, Hall and Hurley’s next project was Granddad Rudd, another sequel to Hall’s successful On Our Selection. Hurley and his film crew narrowly escaped a runaway tractor during filming. The film was a success.
Ken Hall travelled to the USA to study new rear projection techniques, filming actors on a stage in front of a previously filmed background. Meanwhile, Hurley made two documentaries for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria - Pageant of Power and From Brown Coal to Bricquette.
Hurley now headed a short films department at Cinesound. The South Australian government commissioned documentaries Oasis and Here is Paradise: A Tour of the Garden State of South Australia. Other productions include Silver City, Vulcan’s Crucible, Keeper of the Trees, Treasures of Katoomba and A Nation is Built.
Hall finished Tall Timbers, for which Hurley had written the storyline, while Hurley returned to Thursday Island to film backgrounds for Hall’s next feature Lovers and Luggers.
Worked as cinematographer for Charles Chauvel on Forty Thousand Horsemen, which included a restaging of the Light Horse charge at Beersheba in the Cronulla sand dunes.
Two films made for the Tasmanian government: Scenes that are Brightest, and Isle of Many Waters.
Solo photographic exhibition at David Jones gallery: My Twenty-Five Years of Photography.
As soon as war was declared Hurley offered his services to the AIF. However previous conflict with Bean, as well as his age (now 54) was against him, and his application was rejected.
Instead, he was appointed by the ABC as a roving correspondent. Embarked in May 1940. However when British forces (and BBC reporters) were evacuated from Dunkirk after France fell, the ABC decided that more correspondents were not needed, so Hurley, his team, and equipment were offloaded in Fremantle.
August 1940
Appointed by Department of Information to take control of all Australian photographic activities in the Middle East. Released by the ABC, he took the role.
3 September 1940
Departed Sydney by Qantas flying boat, bound for Palestine. His team consisted of Damien Parer and George Silk, photographers, Ron Maslyn Williams, producer and writer, and Alan Anderson, sound. They established their headquarters in Cairo.
Early 1941
The unit filmed extensively in Egypt and Libya, following the British and Australian attacks on the Italian forces.
February 1941
Extensive coverage of Prime Minister Robert Menzies visit to the Middle East.
April 1941
Rommel’s Afrika Corp land at Tripoli. Australian and British forces besieged at Tobruk. Parer, Williams and Silk had followed the forces to Greece. Hurley and Anderson took ship from Alexandria to Tobruk filming there for a month.
12 June 1941
Awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), for his work as Official War Photographer with the AIF.
July to December 1941
Britain and the AIF 7th Div invade Syria. Photographic unit re-deploys to Lebanon and Syria to cover the campaign. Hurley falls ill with malaria, recuperates in Cairo before returning to Lebanon.
Early 1942
Most of the photographic unit deploys to New Guinea and the Pacific with the 6th & 7th divisions. Hurley remains in the Middle East alone. He makes several featurette films, but finds the North Africa campaign difficult to photograph especially single handed. Parts of his footage of the battle of El Alamein used in the film Desert Victory (combined with film from British units.)
Appointed Middle East Director of Army Features and Propaganda Films with the British Ministry of Information. Hurley made numerous films and travelled extensively, including as far afield as Iraq and Iran. Finally returned home to find the family fortunes in a parlous state.
1947- 1952
Embarked on a series of photographic books featuring Australian subjects. 1947: The Garden of Tasmania 1948: Sydney: A Camera Study 1949: The Holy City: A Camera Study of Jerusalem and Surroundings 1950: Queensland: A Camera Study 1952: Sydney From The Sky: A Camera Study 1952: The Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. There were numerous other titles in the Camera Study series. These books were very successful and frequently ran to multiple printings.
1947- 1962
Although primarily known for his still photography after the Second World War, Hurley continued to accept commissions for documentary films. These were mostly for government authorities, or for commercial purposes. Known examples include Garden of Tasmania (1949),for the Tasmanian Tourism Department; Tasmania: Gem of the South Seas (1949) for the Tasmanian Education Department; and The Eternal Forest (1952)for Australian Paper Manufacturers.
Published Shackleton’s Argonauts, which won the Australian Book Society award for children’s literature. It was a reworking of parts of Argonauts of the South for younger readers, with some additional material.
Became a storyteller on ABC Radio children’s program, The Argonauts.
Provided photographs for numerous John Sand’s calendars, tourist booklets and postcards. Continued to travel extensively throughout Australia, sometimes assisted by his daughter Adelie, a professional photographer in her own right.
Hurley, together with Phillip Law worked on Antarctic Pioneers, a film that combined Hurley's Antarctic footage along with later work to create a history of Australia's Antarctic involvement from Mawson's 1911 expedition until the establishment of Mawson Station in 1954, Australia's first permanent base on the Antarctic continent. Hurley provided a voice over narration for his original footage. The film was completed just a few weeks before his death and released in 1962.
June 1961
Sydney Film Festival features a retrospective of Hurley’s work.
September 1961
Suffers a heart attack after exploring caves near Eucla WA, but keeps this a secret.
16 January 1962
Following a day’s work on a commercial project assisted by Frank Jr, he complained of feeling unwell, but refused to have the doctor called. Died peacefully in his favourite armchair at home in Collaroy, NSW.


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