The rescued photographs depict the life of former naval servicewoman Barbara Williams. (Supplied: Joan Stevenson)
A collection of photo albums once destined for landfill illustrates the life and times of a naval servicewoman during World War II.
- Joan Stevenson rescued a collection of historic photo albums from her local rubbish tip
- The albums once belonged to former Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service telegraphist Barbara Williams
- Ms Stevenson has since discovered Ms Williams died in 2019
When Joan Stevenson received a call from her local rubbish tip operator about several discarded albums, she knew they were worth salvaging.
“He said an elderly lady who dropped them there said that maybe if you take the photos out, people might be interested in using the photo albums,” Ms Stevenson said.
As president of the Amusu Theatre and movie museum at Manildra in central-western New South Wales, Ms Stevenson possessed a fascination for unravelling tales.
“After bringing [the albums] back and having a look and reading all the stories that were in it, I decided to keep them for the museum,” she said.
What she rescued were the visual memories of a woman who served on the home front during World War II.
“Obviously she must have lived around here for a while, but no-one seems to know who she is.”
Mystery behind the woman
From inscriptions and captions written throughout the albums, Ms Stevenson discovered they once belonged to a Barbara Williams.
Many of the photographs depicted her early career with the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) at HMAS Harman in Canberra.
“It looks like from some of the photographs that she was a telegraphist,” Ms Stevenson said.
Many of the photos show the contribution of the WRANS during the war. (Supplied: Joan Stevenson)
During the war the base provided communications for Allied ships in the Pacific.
The album’s photos included a mix of candid shots, probably taken by Ms Williams or fellow servicewomen, and others issued by the former department of information.
“They didn’t go to war, but they did their part in the war as well,” Ms Stevenson said.
“It must have been frightening.”
Candid photos capture the daily life of women stationed at the naval base. (Supplied: Joan Stevenson)
Other images from Ms Williams’s time teaching in Armidale, along with holiday snaps from around Australia and New Zealand, are placed throughout the albums.
Ms Stevenson also came across portraits of an outgoing young woman who grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and attended a boarding school in Moss Vale.
“She went to private schools; obviously she came from a very well-off family because the address at the front says Vaucluse.”
Joan Stevenson displays the albums for museum visitors in Manildra. (ABC Central West: Luke Wong)
Custodian of history
Ms Stevenson displayed the albums for museum visitors and said they showed the importance of retaining personal, tangible mementos.
“Especially these days when you don’t have [printed] photographs, you only have them on your phone,” she said.
“But this tells a wonderful life and it should be left for those people who are left behind or to come and see what these people did for our country.”
This image depicts Barbara Williams holidaying at Lake Canobolas near Orange. (Supplied: Joan Stevenson)
“She had a marvellous life by the looks of this.”