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The hunt for J.J. Graves: a Trove detective story

The hunt for J.J. Graves: a Trove detective story
Team member Mark investigates to find just who is in this photo
16 January 2015

Recently, a Trove user contacted us about the caption assigned to a picture from the Fairfax Glass Negatives collection held in the Pictures Collection at the National Library of Australia. He claimed that despite its assigned caption, 'President of the Australian Labour Party Mr J.J. Graves standing beside a car, New South Wales, 1930', J.J. Graves did not appear in the picture.

Picture of three men standing next to a car

Fairfax Corporation (1930). Australian Labor Party member standing beside a car, New South Wales,1930. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/200621722

We found a picture that we could confirm was Mr J.J. Graves published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 October 1946. It was quite obvious that whoever the people in the original photo were, none of them was J.J. Graves. So we started investigating to see if we could identify them.

Picture of J. J. Graves

President of the Australian Labor Party Mr J.J. Graves at a Labor Conference, New South Wales, 21 March 1931. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/184210046

Our first step was to confirm the date by looking at the car in the photograph. The grille badge quite clearly declares it to be a Dodge, and by using the shapes and placement of the windows and other features we were able to narrow it down to the most likely candidate, a 1927/1928 Dodge Fast Four.

Advetisement for a car

'Dodge Four Fast Sedan', Sunday Times (Sydney), 15 January 1928, p. 20.

The vehicle appears to be quite new in the photograph, so there's a reasonable chance that it was taken in 1928 rather than 1930. An examination of advertising around this period shows that it could have been at any time during the year, as some dealers were advertising it in November 1927.

We had an idea of the approximate date so we could begin digging a bit deeper. First of all, we needed to confirm the location of the photograph. Taking the Australian Labor Party and New South Wales references as accurate, we compared it to other photographs in the Fairfax collection of members of the Australian Labor Party. This indicated that the location was Trades Hall, on Goulburn Street, Sydney. By comparing these photographs with contemporary photographs of Trades Hall we concluded that the photograph was taken in front of Trades Hall.

Picture of men in the street

Leader of the Opposition Mr Jack Lang outside the Trades Hall during the Federal Labor Conference, Sydney, 21 March 1931. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/184209899

So, we had a date, a location, but we still didn't have any information about the people in the photograph. Looking carefully at the image we noticed that there was some writing along the bottom, which was obviously on the negative. By inverting the contrast (so the writing is black on grey) and flipping the image, we revealed what appears to be 'Peach Week [unknown characters, could be Mr] McPherson' written along the bottom of the photograph.

Extract of photo showing writin

Searching for information about Peach Week returned a lot of articles about a Peach Week in Melbourne in 1926, and a less successful one in 1928, however they didn't appear to be relevant to the photograph. Instead, we focused on the name 'McPherson' searching for links to the ALP in newspapers from the 1920s. We discovered a Mr A.J. McPherson, who was succeeded as president of the party in 1927 and appointed as organising secretary. It had been decided that he would be provided with a car to help set up new branches of the party.

Newspaper article

‘THE LABOR PARTY’, Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 10 December 1927, p. 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45995516

This information leads us to the conclusion that the person on the left hand side of the photograph is most likely A.J. McPherson, with a reasonable chance that the car is the one he was provided to undertake his new work. By searching for A.J. MacPherson (note the different spelling) in the Pictures zone we were able to confirm his identity with this photograph:

Picture of A. J. Macpherson

Fairfax Corporation (1930). Mr A.J. Macpherson of the Australian Labor Party in a courtyard, New South Wales, ca. 1930s, 2. http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/186347112

We didn't find J.J. Graves, but we did find A.J. McPherson.

This is just one way that Trove can be used for research and newspapers can be used for dating photographs. It also shows how we can use different zones in Trove to confirm or find the identities of people in photographs.

[Post authored by Trove team member Mark]


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Thank you! Such a great story. I use Trove a lot for classroom resources (I write educational books for SAKGF) and I'd love to share this process with some of the students. We look at photos and menus from kitchen gardens in Australia's past.
Bev, We'd love to hear about how you use Trove and if you have ideas about other support we could give educators. Please use Contact us from the Trove homepage if you'd like to give us some feedback.