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In portrait: Three decades of Canberra

Heide Smith has photographed Canberra for the past 30 years and there's a little story behind nearly every picture.

Smith recalls the founder of Questacon, physics lecturer Mike Gore, appearing at her studio for a portrait dressed as Galileo.

Gore brought with him a panoply of props, including a cheerful-looking stuffed monkey which was suspended in mid-air.

The final portrait is whimsical and slightly eccentric - Gore is academically draped, surrounded by the accoutrement of astronomy, and gazing with dignity upon the monkey.

The German-born Smith has launched a new coffee table book - Portraits of Canberra and Canberrans - which includes subjects new and old.

Some are no longer with us, such as Manning Clark, an old friend whom she shot sitting pensively on his verandah. Smith counted Clark’s wife Dymphna as one of her closest friends. 

Others are still going strong.


There’s a fresh-faced Kate Lundy, newly elected to parliament and looking determinedly down the barrel of the camera with her arms crossed.

‘‘She was beautiful then and she still is,’’ Smith says.

And there’s a young Ricky Stuart, athletically bare from the waist up, sporting chest hair from 1991 and wielding a set of weights.

‘‘When I photographed the Raiders, they were cash-strapped,’’ she remembers. The topless shots were to raise money.

‘‘We printed 6000 posters which were sold and the profits went to the Raiders. And then also we [did] some more prints and they were sold at an auction. So that was fun.’’

Smith originally planned to do the photoshoot in the locker room at Bruce Stadium but she didn’t like them - they were stark concrete with tiny windows high up.

So her husband Brian built a locker room set at her Fyshwick studio and she shot the Raiders there.

Smith was working as a photographer in Germany in the early 1960s when she met Brian Smith, a British Army officer who was dating one of Heide’s models.

After they married they moved to England but felt that they ‘‘outgrew’’ Europe and Britain and moved to Australia in the 1970s.

Smith had a successful photography studio in Fyshwick for years, with Brian leaving the army to help her run the business when it grew too large for her to manage on her own.

Smith freely acknowledges she has had her critics over the years - ‘‘and I take on board what they say’’ - who suggest that she only looks on the glossier side of life, taking photographs that are pretty rather than gritty.

‘‘They say... maybe next time I should photograph the drug scene and the brothels, but having seen so much of that sort of scene in Sydney and Melbourne, I don’t really want to,’’ she says.

This will be her fifth book of Canberra photographs and she says it will probably be her last.

She and Brian will celebrate their  50th wedding anniversary next January and ‘‘I’m 75 next Christmas’’.

Heide Smith’s A Portrait of Canberra and Canberrans: 1979-2012 is out now. For more information go to