During the 1890s, photographer H Walter Barnett must have used an awful lot of eggs in making more than 1600 albumen prints of subjects ranging from Sarah Bernhardt (a frequent sitter) to Robert Louis Stevenson (visiting from Samoa) and JC Williamson (already Australia’s pre-eminent impresario). 

Miraculously this unique body of work has survived virtually intact – as an album. By the 1910s it was in care of a JCW theatre manager, JW Hazlitt. In 1943, on his death, it went to Frank Tait, JCW general manager, and over time it passed through a number of other hands, all of whom realised its worth. This handy soft-cover compilation of some of the best portraits is illuminating and intriguing. It illustrates the non-stop comings and goings of performers, famous and forgotten, to an Australia that had a theatre culture we can only marvel at. 

In 1899 Walter’s studio manager and brother Charles told the Critic magazine, “…we want to get effects that the portrait painter might envy: produce for fifteen shillings what a Whistler or a...