An album of crystal-clear photographs documenting the earliest period in Canberra's history as the national capital which was compiled by renowned photographer Jack Mildenhall has found a new home at the National Museum of Australia.
The album of 41 large photographs and ephemera, which includes images of the Canberra foundation stone laying ceremony on March 12, 1913, is thought to have been compiled by Mildenhall, a long-serving public servant, in the 1920s.
Mildenhall, whose own photographs captured the life of the fledgling capital for almost a decade from 1926, most likely printed the album's photographs from glass plates held by the Federal Capital Commission, the government body tasked with the construction of the new capital.
The album was then given to John Stevenson, the 14-year-old son of a close family friend, in 1944.
At a small ceremony to mark the donation of the album to the museum, Mr Stevenson's wife, Judith Stevenson, said Mr Stevenson remembered Mildenhall coming up the driveway of the Flinders Way home where Mr Stevenson grew up and handing him the album.
"I don't know the reason why [Mildenhall] would come up the driveway with that under his arm and say, 'I'd like John to have this'," Mrs Stevenson said.
"I think [John] must have pondered on it at some stage. But Mildenhall and John's dad were great friends and maybe he wanted to hand it on to somebody who he thought would really appreciate it in the future. And he did."
Mrs Stevenson said the family was excited to have the album enter the national collection. "It's wonderful and I know how well it will be looked after," she said.
Mrs Stevenson's daughter, Meredith Hunter, a former Greens MLA, said the album had been tucked away and well kept for decades. She worked with Canberra historian Dr David Headon to donate the album to the museum.
"I don't recall seeing it as a child but it was about 2012 when I went to go over and have a cup of tea with Mum and Dad, and Dad had out the album. He said, 'You might be interested in this.' And I had a look through and I said, 'This is amazing, this is incredible'," Ms Hunter said.
The album was exhibited at Parliament House during commemorations to mark Canberra's 100th anniversary in 2013.
"Dad was so excited to be at the exhibition during the centenary. He died in 2014 but during 2013 he was so happy to be there to see it in the exhibition but he was very, very keen for it to be looked after and for it to be appreciated by other people," Ms Hunter said.
"He's not with us today but I know that he would have been incredibly thrilled and pleased that it's now going to be part of the National Museum's collection."
Dr Ian Coates, a senior curator at the museum, said when items like the album came in, his first reaction was simply, 'Wow'.
"The difference between reading about an album and seeing the way in which the images in it give you a different insight into what was going on at that time. The power of those images is so striking. You can see the emotions on people's faces, you can see just the way people are moving, you can see the riverscapes. It brings the past into the present in a way that words don't," Dr Coates said.
Dr Coates said although Mildenhall did not take the photographs, the album was an important example of Mildenhall's curatorial eye and the first opportunity to see how he constructed a sequence of pictures.
"He's telling a story through that album and even though they're still images ... the sequence of images is like a movie," Dr Coates said.
Dr Coates said the album's connection to the Stevenson family was also an important part of its history.
"You start thinking about the role of these important early prominent families, like the Stevenson family. It's given to John, but his mother, Mary, is a really important person in the history of Canberra as well, setting up some of the early political structures, the YWCA, the National Women's Council. These really important families - people don't really realise it, but if they hadn't put in the hard work then, Canberra would not be what it is now," he said.
"It's interesting when things that have been so significant for a family make that transition to things significant for the nation. And it's great that the Stevenson family are so happy to donate it.
"They can see that beyond its significance to them, it's really important to the nation."