No time lost – Stanley Fowler

Bruce Kay
Friday, 1 March 2024

Coastal photographs

Stanley Fowler's photographic collection consists of 13,000 images from around Australia's coastline. A remarkable legacy to his photographic skills and his work pioneering aerial reconnaissance and research of Australia's fishing resources.

The photographs were snapped between 1936 and 1947 during his work as a Research Officer with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Not only do they include images of vast shoals of fish, marine-life and coastline from the air but they show scenes of people and places from around the Country.

He often 'hitched' a surveillance plane ride with the Royal Australian Airforce to undertake the surveys. These planes also feature throughout the images, along with the many fishing and research vessels he utilised and observed during his work.

Gallipoli, France and perseverence

Remarkably, Stanley undertook this work with debilitating injuries caused by shrapnel and gunshot wounds received while on his World War 1 service in Gallipoli and France. His Gallipoli wound to the buttock occurred on what became known as ANZAC day, 25 April 1915. He recovered in military hospital and the following year he returned to the battlefield at Pozieres. It was there that he received gunshot wounds, firstly to his legs and ankle and then to his forehead between the eyes. Miraculously he survived and recovered before returning home. Sadly, his brother John was killed in action in the same battle.

His Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) medical file reveals the full extent of the injuries and the affects they had on him. The damage to his left leg and sciatic nerve had caused a dropped foot, a loss of sensitivity and extreme discomfort with changes in temperature. He lost vision in one eye and suffered from headaches and severe bleeding from the nose.

He received treatment throughout his life for his war service injuries. The weakness in his leg and ankle caused several falls. One fall from a tram in Melbourne on his way to medical treatment resulted in a broken hip. By his account the incident could have been far worse.

Despite these ailments his DVA medical updates often reported: civil servant – no time lost.

His CSIR correspondence files reveal his skills in Pitman shorthand, which he used to log details of the flight observations and locations of the photographs. There are typed versions of these logs in the files along with extracts and articles from fishery publications such as Big-Game Angling Australia.

When a new division of Fisheries Exploration was created by the CSIR in 1946 Stanley was extremely disappointed with being overlooked for the head position. True to his character he made his views known to decision makers. He also pleaded that he be allowed to properly describe and annotate his collection of photographs, but unfortunately this did not go ahead.

In correspondence upon his departure from CSIR both the Chairman, Sir David Rivett and Secretary, George Cook paid tribute to his tenaciousness and courageousness to conduct the pioneering new line of work with his war injuries. In his honour they undertook to name a new CSIR research vessel the 'Stanley Fowler'.

You can discover the Stanley Fowler photographic collection in series A14435, along with his correspondence files P2780 and P2782 and, his service record and DVA file.