IT isn’t every day you learn about a former Novocastrian who became a pioneering Dutch silent film researcher.
Although he died overseas more than a decade ago, he’s far from forgotten today.His name was Geoffery Donaldson and if his name isn’t well known these days that’s quite understandable. After all, he did leave Australian shores 60 years ago as a young man in his 26th year.
LEISURE TRAIL: Flashback to 2013 near Minmi with two cyclists pedalling through the modern, if unused, concrete rail tunnel now proposed to be reused. Picture: Marina Neil
LABOUR OF LOVE: The cover of Paul Brown’s book on Belmont, From the Dreaming to Federation which was reprinted due to reader demand.
At first glance, it seems an odd move, especially as many foreigners at the time were migrating to Australia for a fresh start in life rather than hang around and help rebuild war-torn Europe.Fast forward now to late 2013. That’s when a small museum promoting film culture and named the Geoffrey Donaldson name opened in The Netherlands. Now, however, the search for more background on this ‘mystery’ man has switched to the Hunter Valley.
From his arrival in Amsterdam, Geoffrey Donaldson began to carve out an unusual reputation in his adopted country of Holland.Donaldson became a connoisseur of early, silent Dutch films. He became a passionate collector of probably by then largely unwanted and unappreciated movies.
It was not for the silent films themselves that he was later praised, but for his encyclopedic knowledge behind the actual celluloid products.Donaldson was hailed for helping preserve the nation’s film heritage by intimately knowing all about Holland’s old, silent films, especially about who produced and also acted in them.
And now, the help of the Newcastle Family History Society (NFHS), at Lambton, has been enlisted to try and piece together the full picture of Donaldson’s early life in the Hunter Valley.To this end, Dutch film historian and chairman of the Geoffrey Donaldson Institute Egbert Barten is due to arrive in Newcastle next month.
Heather Ling of the NFHS is already researching Geoffrey Donaldson’s life in Newcastle to have information in readiness, but has come across hurdles.“Egbert Barten will be arriving in Newcastle in late January 2016 with the aim of personally retracing Geoffrey’s steps,” she said.“From my own research I’ve discovered Donaldson was born at Mayfield. He went to Mayfield East School and later to Newcastle Boys High, but there are no records now. I was told they went to a teachers college in Sydney.”
Ling believed Donaldson’s mother was called Bessie and there might be more of a family link with Scone if it can be pursued.“Donaldson was born in Newcastle in 1929 and migrated to Holland in 1955. He became one of the pioneers of Dutch historical film research, culminating in his life’s work, Of Joy and Sorrow,” she said.“This filmography of Dutch silent fiction (Film Museum Amsterdam 1997), won several awards. Geoffrey then died in Rotterdam in 2002,” Ling said.“I know it’s a very old trail to now follow in the Hunter. Donaldson seems though to have been into movies at a young age. Perhaps he was taken to the pictures as a child and from there his lifelong interest grew,” she said.
If anyone can help further, Heather Ling can be contacted on 4948 9113.
Story of two tunnelsAND now for something completely different. Former long-time Newcastle Lord Mayor, Freeman of the City and registered surveyor, John McNaughton AM, recently contacted me about the old disused section of the Richmond Vale railway inland from Hexham, near Minmi.
“Some time ago you wrote about the very large (modern concrete) tunnel under the Newcastle-Sydney expressway at Stockrington/Minmi,” McNaughton wrote.“I may have mentioned to you how the tunnel (pictured) came to be built, but it has now become topical because The Herald has reported Cessnock City Council is to spend money designing a cycleway/walkway along the old railway line.
“I am responsible for the large tunnel because when the then Department of Main Roads put the design of the expressway (now M1 motorway) on public exhibition (when I was Lord Mayor) I advised the department that if they closed the railway off to prevent further use of it for a railway or walkway/cycleway I would vehemently object to their proposal.
“In fact, they readily agreed and designed the existing tunnel to accommodate locomotives if necessary,” McNaughton wrote.
“I hope that Cessnock council will get it right and allow separate walking and cycling lanes so that we don’t get the debacle which we have at the Fernleigh Track.
“Both railway corridors are as wide as, say, Darby St Cooks Hill at the Delany Hotel, so there is plenty of room for both uses. I intend to speak to the Mayor of Cessnock about this and hope that we can get a good and usable result,” McNaughton said.
And we already owe the former Lord Mayor a great debt. Many months ago he revealed his past role before leaving office in creating the popular Fernleigh Track. Seeing the entire former railway from Adamstown to Belmont originally being offered for sale, he said he and others negotiated with Lake Macquarie Council to quickly buy the land as a future community space rather than have the long, narrow corridor developed.
Hometown legacyEARLIER this year a new, locally-produced history book entitled, Belmont, From The Dreaming to Federation (pictured) was printed. Within a fortnight, the books all sold out and a second, larger run for Lake Macquarie fans was ordered.So, it only seemed fair to mention it here now in the interest of posterity as the year draws to a close.The informative, self-published booklet by Paul Brown was a labour of love to record the development of his hometown. It was written with his daughters and granddaughter in mind and as a legacy to future generations.
The 71-page, illustrated booklet from printers Dobson & McEwan tells about the early major landholdings in the district and various characters like settler Thomas Williamson.Born in 1831, young Thomas came to Australia in 1838 as one of more than 4000 near destitute Highlanders. He must have had many happy memories though of living in the shadows of the stately 1775 Georgian home of Belmont House in the township of Belmont, on the Isle of Unst, in the Shetland Island, just north of the Scottish mainland.Williamson later chose the same name for his own house on Lake Macquarie.