Bull ‘mafia’ celebrates key milestone

Melbourne's Bull photographic mafiaMELBOURNE, April 4, 2013: Between them these five men can boast more than 200 years as iconic Australian news image-makers and photography is well and truly embedded in their lineage.

They are Melbourne’s Bull clan – from left, Geoff, Dennis and Ken, along with Dennis’s sons Peter and Colin – and they gathered on April 4, 2013, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Dennis and the 87th of Ken. Little brother Geoff is a mere 83, while Peter is 58 and Colin 61.

Dennis worked most of his life at The Age as a press photographer, Ken was a photo-engraver at The Age, a craft which all but disappeared with technology advances, and before his retirement Geoff was a press photographer at The Sun.

Geoff, a national photographic award winner for a spectacular image taken in the Tasmanian fires in the late 1960s, was joined at The Sun by his nephew Colin, who made a mark for himself there as a crack news and sports photographer for two decades before retiring early to a more settled life in country Victoria while Peter, who started his working life at The Australian and later worked for Queensland’s The Courier-Mail before going freelance, has picked up several industry awards of his own.

Peter, too, has specialised in news and sports photography, capturing the only untouched photograph of the controversial “underarm” incident at the MCG, when the youngest Chappell brother, Trevor, was told to bowl underarm to secure a tight win over New Zealand.

For many years, though, the Bull clan worked simultaneously across all of Melbourne’s daily newspapers and would frequently bump into one another on the same jobs.

Indeed, while still a cadet photographer at The Australian, Peter was one day sent to cover a car race at Sandown Park.

He’d set himself up in the centre of the track only to be struck heavily from one side by a wayward wheel and axle that had broken off a car that came to grief nearby.

As he was being loaded into an ambulance, photographers from The Age and The Sun raced up to record the commotion.

Colin, The Sun’s photographer, reached there first and broke into fits of laughter while Dennis, working for The Age, fainted when he saw his youngest son covered in blood.

For Peter, the next six months hobbling around on a full-leg cast wasn’t much fun as his badly smashed knee healed.

But the Bull family link to news photography goes back even further.

Hugh Bull – father to Dennis, Ken and Geoff – was the first full-time photographer at The Age, appointed after showing his ingenuity as a newly engaged casual.

As a young Welshman who had seen action in the trenches in World War 1, Hugh afterwards turned to work as a photographer in London on a daily newspaper that eventually folded in the mid-1920s.

While his cash payout was paltry, Hugh was given the camera he’d worked with and he decided to put it to good use.

Not to be deterred by deteriorating economic conditions in Great Britain, Hugh and his young wife, Winifred – who by then had a toddler, Dennis, and another on the way – boarded a ship to Australia to seek better opportunities.

A couple of months later, when Hugh turned up at The Age in Melbourne, he initially was engaged as a casual photographer, most likely because he had his own equipment.

Then, one day, when Melbourne turned on particularly foul weather, he was sent out to photograph an important horse race.

Along with other photographers at the track, Hugh was confronted with limited visibility that made photographing the big event quite tricky. But Hugh had a trick of his own.

While his peers aimed their cameras and tried to take shots of the blurred action with their big, cumbersome cameras mounted on tripods, only to be thwarted by the awful conditions, Hugh panned his camera in time with the horses passing by.

As the only photographer to return with a usable image of the winning horse that day, he was a hero back in the office. That sealed his fate and he became the first The Age’s first full-time photographer.

Later in his career, Hugh was among the first Australian news media to be flown into a flattened Hiroshima to document the devastation wrought by the world’s first wartime atom bomb.

Over his working life, Hugh encouraged many other young photographers to excel at their craft and was delighted as each of his three sons, and then two grandsons, chose to work into newspapers for a living. It was certain work back then and each excelled in his own area.

Hugh passed away in his late 90s, while Winifred made it to 106. Their legacy, though, is still very much alive and Hugh’s descendants, not all of them photographers, are still taking damn fine photographs.

Words: Trina McLellan (wife of Peter Bull)
Picture: Trina McLellan (on an iPhone 4S)

One response to “Bull ‘mafia’ celebrates key milestone

  1. Pingback: No Melbourne trip complete without visiting Victoria Market | reporting4work·

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