Sporting relics lost in fire
By Yoni Bashan
February 01, 2009 12:00am
TREASURED Australian sporting memorabilia, including priceless NRL artefacts, have been reduced to ashes after a fire gutted one of Sydney’s oldest photographic studios.
Investigators spent yesterday at Melba Studios, on Victoria Rd, Gladesville, after a blaze started about 8.30pm on Friday. “There’s nothing to be saved, from what we can see,” Inspector Greg Reid said. “It’s a mess, basically ash.”
Regarded as the photographer of choice for major sporting events, Melba Studios housed historic prints, lithographs and glass plates. Among them was a glass plate of the All Golds, the Kiwi team that toured Australia in 1907, and included legendary rugby league foundation player Dally Messenger.
Other items included a rare print of Australia’s squad for the second Test of 1932, which later became known as the Battle of Brisbane because of the ferocity of the play against the touring England team.
Also housed there were one-of-a-kind sets of NRL teams, dating back to the game’s first days, and priceless photos, including a portrait of Sandy Pearce, Australia’s first great hooker.
Pictures of the sport’s immortals, including one of North Sydney legend Albert Broomham, one of the standout three-quarters in the game’s first decade, are also believed to have gone up in smoke.
NRL chief executive David Gallop said he was holding out hope that some of the more precious items would be salvaged.
“Obviously, we’re hoping that damage to our photo library and, indeed, that of other sports, is at a minimum,” he said. “The photos are literally irreplaceable and we’re hoping that not too much has been damaged.”
The family business, reputed to be one of the best studios in the country, was also known for its extensive collection of historic school photos, wedding photos and landscape photography.
The blaze started on the second floor of the Heritage-listed site and razed the premises. One witness said the intensity of the flames emitted an oven-like heat and “turned the sky orange”.
Thick plumes of chemically tainted smoke billowed from windows as more than 12 fire trucks and appliances doused the flames.
Melba Studios general manager Kerry Beever said she was hopeful that hallowed items could be recovered: “The next few days will be spent determining just what has been damaged.”