“To be great in the future we must learn about the greatness of the past” Richard Simpkin
In the early 1990s I began reading about certain Iconic Australian’s that had passed away, there was usually a story about them in the newspaper and a photo but after you finished the story you threw the paper in the bin and many of our Iconic Australians were being forgotten, I wanted to change that.
I started going to libraries and reading about some of the people that helped shape our great nation. Some of them were households names, others had achieved greatness but were not known by the general public. I wanted to meet, photograph and interview as many Australian Legends as I could for a book and possibly an exhibition that could be enjoyed by the people of Australia.
In 1995 when I was 22 I was in Adelaide (South Australia) for the Grand Prix. I had a day off from working as a photographer and decided to see if I could meet the reclusive Sir Donald Bradman. I had his address from a cricketing book and decided I would knock on his door to see if I could meet the iconic but reclusive cricketer. I knocked on his door and to my amazement a few moments later out came Sir Donald. We got chatting and I ended up taking a few photos of him. On my return back to Sydney I wrote a list of Australian Legends that I knew about and that I wanted to meet. Next on my list was Dame Joan Sutherland who was regarded as one of the greatest opera singers in the world.
I had her address and popped a note under her door asking for a meeting with the legendary opera star, a week later I received a phone call from her daughter in law asking if I wanted to come over to Dame Joan’s house the following week to take some photos of her for her birthday. As time passed I continued to spend most of my spare time in libraries trying to find out about as many Iconic Australian’s as I could. This was the time before the internet so the books that I was reading were great help to me which kept me motivated as I knew once I had met as many legends as I could then maybe I could have my own book about these remarkable Australian’s which could then be read by people just like me that had a keen interest in our history. I was sending out hand written letters every week to the legends asking for their time so I could take their photo and interview them.
I didn’t have anyone backing me so it was a huge task but one that I felt was extremely important. In those days all of my photos were taken on a camera that used film, I would sometimes struggle with the cost of buying the film, getting it all processed and at times travel to various parts of Australia and other countries to meet each legend.
I loved meeting people such as Sir Donald Bradman and Dame Joan Sutherland but it was the ‘lesser known’ Australian Legends that I found most fascinating, people like Nora Heysen who was the first female to win The Archibald Prize in 1938 and Dr David Warren who invented the Black Box Flight Recorder in 1953. I also felt very proud to spend time with the last of our World War One Veterans and felt privileged to hear their courageous stories about WWI.
After 8 years I had met, photographed and interviewed 80 Australian Legends and after 3 years of trying to get a book deal and receiving numerous rejection letters from publishers I finally got a book deal with New Holland Publishers to publish my book.
On the 16th August 2005, the then Premier of New South Wales Bob Carr launched my book; Australian Legends – The people whose story we should know at Parliament House in Sydney in front of a packed room full of family, friends, media and 8 of the Australian Legends including Reg Grundy, Murray Rose, Smoky Dawson, Jimmy Little and Charles Blackman.
I had finally achieved my dream of meeting as many legends as I could and getting the book published. That book went into over 1000 libraries throughout Australia and is still used today as a reference book by school children in Australia. After the book was released I continued to meet more Australian Legends and in 2014 my book; 100 Australian Legends – The people who shaped a nation was released.
I met more Australian Legends like Frank Lowy (Co-founder of Westfield) and Bob Hawke (Former Prime Minister of Australia) for the second edition of the Australian Legends books.
It was because of my Australian Legends books that I started World Letter Writing Day (1 September). I enjoyed writing letters to each of the legends and was always very excited receiving a returned letter back from the legends. I treasure all of these letters and I look at the collection as a small pieces of Australian and world history that I collected over a period of almost 20 years.