Home / Australian Photo Industry 1978 -1986

Australian Photo Industry 1978 -1986



A look at personalities in the retail and wholesale arena over the past three decades

1978 – 1979

by Les Brener

I arrived in Australia in December 1978 and found myself immediately back in the photo industry. My photographic experience came from my pharmacy (which had a large photographic department) in what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.

Within a few months after my arrival it was suggested that I apply for and was selected to head up the position of Director of the Australian Photographic Industries Association, a body operating under the secretariat of the then Sydney Chamber of Commerce – now the State Chamber of Commerce. The association was formed to coordinate the activities of the retail and wholesale bodies supporting the industry.

These were the PDA (Photographic Dealers Association) and PIC (Photographic Industry Council).The Chamber also supplied secretarial services to the professional photographer’s association, the AIP (Australian Institute of Photography now the AIPC – Australian Institute of Professional Photography.) as well as PIMA (the Photographic Industrial Marketing Association), a body formed for the industrial equipment importers and retailers. The similarity of the name to PMA eventually led to it being changed to PICA (Photographic Imaging Council of Australia)

I was interviewed by officers of the photographic associations and David Abba, the Chambers Executive Director. Names on that interviewing committee will still be well known to many of today’s industry personnel.  From memory they included John Bleakley, James Coleman, Bill Cutbush, Joe Mitchell, Paul Curtis and Jack Wagner (Melbourne).

On joining the chamber I was thrown into the photographic industry’s involvement in the PIC sponsored Festival of Sydney from November 1978 to January 1979 and where a small trade show was held by the PIC at Centrepoint. Paul Curtis (for PIC)  had organised  a “Click with a Camera” holiday photo contest and “Pictures in the Park” exhibition, where photographs by top Australian photographers were displayed on boards erected around Hyde Park – these could be bought and I can recall being called out in the middle of the night when police observed some of them being stolen. Photographic exhibitions were also held in two of the main banking halls in the city.

The major activity, which had to be attended to immediately, was the SPPC 79 (the third South Pacific Photographic Convention) to be held in Sydney at the Hilton Hotel and if ever there was a way of getting to learn all about the industry quickly, this was it. Support came from chairman John Bleakley (of ???Rank, Canon, Bleakley) and Keith Laker of Polaroid Australia.

A look back to 1977 (before my arrival) saw the second SPPC (South Pacific Photographic Convention) held in Surfer’s Paradise. I mention this because it really is the key to my future in Australia as that convention was the platform for the foundation of the PDA (Photographic Dealers’ Association).  The initiative was sparked by Rob Tolmie and Garrick Smith with the support of John Paxton and Joe Mitchell.  The organiser of the meeting however was Paul Curtis and for his efforts he was made a Life Member, an honour which has been recognised to this day by PMA International. The PDA was officially initiated in January 1978.

It is intended to write about industry personalities and their recollections as well as individual articles, and for this to be shown on a website. After having sufficient material we will then consider editing the material into an overall industry history.  We also intend sending a questionnaire to all members of PMA and PICA asking them to give their own recollections and to use these in conjunction with the main themes.

Initially the material used will be from PMA’s Newsline Australia, which I have edited since February 1984. There are also minutes from the original PDC (Photographic Dealers’ Association) and forerunner of PMA Australia, the PIC (Photo Imaging Council) and PIMA (Photo Industrial Marketing Association – at that stage the association for industrial suppliers).

PIC eventually merged into an enlarged PIMA which later became today’s PICA (Photo Imaging Council of Australia) and, of course Photo and Imaging Retailer, which at that time was the only trade publication but soon after joined by Photo Forum.



Australia certainly had an inordinately large number of photographic magazines including a couple produced with only industry news.

James Coleman was regarded as the doyen of publishers having established his Photo Publishing Company in 1950   and produced the US based Popular Photography under license for a few years before establishing Australian Photography, which still exists today under the Yaffa Publishing banner.

He also produced Photo Trade News which is today published as Photo and Imaging News and purchased the rights for Industrial and Commercial Photography, which after a couple of name changes is now called Capture..

Paul Curtis, an established photo retailer sold his business and entered the publishing field by being the founding editor of Photoworld initially named Australian HiFi Photographic Magazine published by Australian HiFi publications. This magazine ceased production under editor Neil Sudbury about ten years ago.

Curtis had been writing for Photo Trade News as a retailer for over three years. He was also editor of Photographic, then published by Gary Cutler and David Paul.  He then established his own company, Iris Publishing which introduced Australian CameraCraft (1979), Photo Forum (a successful) trade magazine in 1980. In 1982 he purchased Professional Photography  magazine (then edited by Neil Murray)  which is today know as ProPhoto. He later he sold the magazines to Horwitz Publications in 1989.  Camera Craft is now known as Camera Australia. His editors included John Back, Paul Burrows, and Peter Eastway who since 1994 has his own magazines Better Photography and Better Digital as well as a Professional photographers’ newsletter which started as Profitable Photography and is now called The Working Pro.

Curtis today, as most readers will know is still extremely involved in the industry, initially as president of the PIC (Photo Imaging Council) and then as the Executive Director of PICA (Photo Imaging Council of Australia), a position he held until 2014 and has been responsible for the Annual Photo Trade exhibitions and promoting the industry.

Back to PMA

At the South Pacific Photographic Convention in 1979, Roy Pung, Executive Director of Photo Marketing Association International was invited by the then PDA President Ken Peters as a keynote speaker, and to hold discussions with the PDA executive committee. This resulted in the PDA affiliating with PMA and later establishing its own office away from the Chamber of Commerce.

Officers of the PDA at the time were Ken Peters (Queensland – President), Mark Alderson (NSW Chairperson), the late Rex Alexander (National Chairperson).

I then left the Chamber of Commerce after a year and spent close to four years as a professional photographer and then back into the retail and wholesale industry before being invited back to take over the Australian Division of the PMA by the then President John Paxton in consultation with Paul Curtis and Roy Pung. We then established an office in my home unit. The break away from the Chamber was also partially caused by the then PMA Director (an employee of the Chamber) being involved in the embezzlement of industry funds.

The first priority as Director of Australian Activities was to recruit new members and to make contact with the original PDA members who had not been receiving any material (or even renewal notices) from PMA during this period. Of the one hundred members still on the lists, only half had paid their dues.

Recruiting involved calling by telephone or spending a week at a time in each capital city and visiting and recruiting potential members. This turned out to be a great exercise in public relations as well.

Newsline Australia became a monthly publication and was sent to all members. It must be stated that many of the first to sign up as members at this stage were the major distributors even though they were classed as ‘cooperative’ or associate (non-voting) members.  The organisation grew rapidly thanks to the assistance of key retailers (and wholesalers) in each state.

Of the first 22 new PMA members listed in the first issue of the new Newsline Australia (bearing in mind that there were already 50 PDA members) Foxy’s Fast Foto Finish, G&V Photographics, Mainline Photographics and Maxwell Optical Industries are still in existence. By the end of the year PMA had enlisted its’ 250th member

Relationships with the PIC and PIMA were extremely cordial and together with the professional photographers, bi-annual Conventions and Trade Exhibitions were held in either Melbourne or Sydney.  Annual events and the inclusion of Brisbane came at a later stage.

APIA (Australian Photographic Industry Association)

An attempt was made during 1979 to create an overall industry body in order to coordinate industry activities such as approaches to government and industry promotion. This started off with a high profile conference in Canberra organised by its appointed director Jens Carsten-Petersen but the organisation eventually seemed to run out of steam with the associations being comfortable to meet together and hold discussions whenever they needed to do so. One unifying event occurred when the Grey Market reared its head and the APIA prepared a case for submission to Canberra.

The Department of Industry and Commerce started an inquiry on passenger Concessions due to 17 per cent of all 35mm cameras by Australians being purchased overseas – little seems to have changed!  To be fair however, PICA with Paul Curtis has, after constant and persistent efforts, recently succeeded in obtaining an increase in the duty free and tax free allowances for passengers travelling overseas.

A PMA Trade-In Guide was produced and printed in Photo Forum. This was welcomed by the retail industry but proved to be too time consuming to produce by an office staff of only two.

A few events of the year 1979 (prior to my arrival) not mentioned above that come to mind included Des Franklin becoming MD of Hanimex, Harold Hald (founder of Haldex) passed away, and Neil Fletcher was advertising for stores to buy. Kis Australia, a subsidiary of the French parents arrived with great new ideas and inexpensive minilabs but the company did not last for long!

PIC (Photographic Industry Council) had as its’ chairman Keith Laker of Polaroid with the executive committee including Don Hogarth of Kodak, John Swainston of Maxwell Optical Industries, Rolf Barmé of R.Gunz Photographics, James Coleman (Photo Publishing), Paul Curtis (Iris Publishing) and Peter Rose (Merit Imports). 

PIMA was chaired by John Koens (Kayell) and his committee members were Roger Smith (Ilford) vice-chairman, Peter Rattray (Kodak), Brian D’Arcy (Adeal), Ken Visca (Hanimex) and Peter Michael (Peter Michael Plastics).

At the end of 1979 I resigned from the Chamber of Commerce and joined R.Gunz Photographics as National Sales Manager.


1980 – 1986

by Les Brener

The Festival of Sydney saw the 1980 year start with the PIC participating and producing newspaper supplements as well as a large equipment exhibition at Centrepoint. The Photography in the Park concept was once again well received at the centrally located Hyde Park and which included  awards winning photos from the professional photographers organisations.

The then newly formed camera technicians organisation the Photo Service Guild took part in the exhibition with free testing of consumers’ cameras. The first president was Royston A Wallis of Tasmanex.

Events which will be covered in more detail later, whilst the author was not employed by the Chamber of Commerce or the PMA, included the photo industry’s participation in the Melbourne Moomba Festival, the Photographics ‘81 and ’83 Conventions and exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne, the change of ownership of Hanimex, Rabbit Photo and the early attempts of KIS to set up in Australia,

On January 2nd 1984 Les Brener started work in the new PMA office in the dining room of his home unit. He was the only member of staff but conceded that he had the luxury of having PMA Australian president John Paxton popping by frequently and assisting. In fact the issues of Photo Marketing Magazine (at least six of which had never been sent to members due to problems which the previous director had to contend with) were carried by John and Les and members of Paxton’s city store staff to the post office.

This was also the time for his first visit to the PMA convention in Las Vegas as well as his first visit to the PMA Jackson, Michigan headquarters.

Amongst the initial services PMA Australia obtained for its members were the photo retailer industry specific insurance cover by Guild Insurance and known as “Photopak”  and special low rates for credit cards were negotiated as well as the “Telechek” – cheque verification service.  These initiatives were responsible for a considerable increase in membership.

PHOTOGRAPHICS ’85 was held at CentrePoint in Sydney May 31st – June 2nd  and considered to be a great success – this was organised by PIMA with Bill Hargreaves, Chris Riches and Phil Jacobs running the programme and the show. Over 4500 consumers visited the exhibition.

Due to its success the organiser Bryan Humphris and his company Exhibitions & Trade Fairs were appointed to organise the next 3 exhibitions in ’87, ’89, and ’91.

“Passenger Concessions” was one of the problems facing the industry. Under the umbrella of the APIA, submissions were made to the Federal Government in Canberra. In 1982 it was estimated that 17 percent of all 35mmm cameras by Australians were purchased overseas.

In August 1985, PMA office was transferred from Les Brener’s home unit to a terrace in Edgecliff, Sydney, just as PMA signed its 350th member – there were 99 in January 1984)

Photo-Regatta ’85 brought a bit of fun to the industry when Photo Forum and “Kaptin Curtis” organised a picnic day with boats and sporting games while picnicking at Pittwater – quite surprising how many sailors there were. These “regattas” carried on for a few years.

KIS Australia went into top gear with the arrival of Paul-Armand Flouzat as MD and Swainson Hawke (from the USA). They enrolled a large sales force which seemed to be selling their low cost  minilab units to all and sundry. Whilst appearing to be extremely successful at first, the units were of questionable quality and training of lab operators left much to be desired.

A conference by Hawke and ex New Zealand provincial rugby player Waka Kele was attended by over 100 delegates (introduced by a brass band and the delegates later found to be salespeople who sold labs for the company on commission.)  They claimed sales of 280 minilabs. Kis did not last long in Australia and it is only in recent years that Kis is back with excellent equipment and servicing.

RABBIT PHOTO as wholesale photo finishers and guided by founder Neil Cottee and Richard Uechtritz went public in October, with all shares  having been offered by firm reservation and being fully subscribed a week before the lists were due to open. Cottee stated that the company had 28 minilabs in NSW and Victoria and that they would have 48 by the end of the year

The Minilab Boom:

Here we found entrepreneurs from other professions and industries foreseeing the ability to “make easy money” and we had veterinarians, businessmen, chemists, accountants and eventually photo retailers (who at first appeared to be reluctant).

Photo Express which had a number of franchised and company owned specialty retail stores, started putting in minilabs into them at an early stage, then went on the interstate trail from Victoria  and into NSW. They claimed to have over 50 outlets in Victoria including ten company owned stores.

Gary Connely a financial entrepreneur from Brisbane had 12 SpeediColour labs around Australia and claimed to be Australia’s largest non-franchised group – this was eventually bought by Rabbit Photo. However, at the time Richard Uechtritz and Neil Cottee disputed this by stating that Rabbit Photo already had 19 company owned minilabs.

Other groups who were building their presence in the minilab world were, Replace-a-Film headed by Jim Southcott in Victoria, Foto Island and Pacific Express owned by Gary Levin and  Roy Abrams of Sydney were merged under the Foto Island Banner and later taken over by Hanimex.

We saw the expansion of the ColourCare franchised group of minlabs with Len Sandler and Rick Abrahams (Sydney) the largest members of the group expanding at a rapid rate including buying the Queensland based PhotoFun Group, thus becoming a strong force in Queensland and New South Wales– they eventually sold the operation to Kodak

ColourCare members included Barry Larter (in Tasmania) and John De Jongh, Quick as a Flash

Sony arrived with 8mm video and quietly pipped all its competition in Australia by having a PAL system Camcorder.

The Perth Electronics show was joined by photographic wholesalers and left 10 percent of Western Australia’s population knowing more about photography.

The unions – specifically the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union of Australia – went on the move to attempt to force minilab staff to join their Union and threatened minilabs with outrageous logs of claim. The industry fought back over the next few years through its industrial advocate, Graham Farrar and were able to eventually secure reasonable agreements with the aid of an industry “Fighting Fund.”

Bill Cutbush who was the MD of Hanimex Corporation announced significant changes, amongst which were Des Franklin Australian MD adding New Zealand and manufacturing to his portfolio. Martin Hannes MD of Colour Services added Colour Services UK.  Peter Watt, Director of Finance and Administration became Director of Operations with responsibility for day to day operations. John Cashmore MD U.K and Europe continued to be responsible for West Germany and France.

HANIMEX management under Bill Cutbush were extremely active when senior management and a number of unrelated institutions and their clients entered into an agreement with Burns Philp for the latter’s majority shareholding.

Palcolor, after a one million dollar loss, after being in existence for 21 years, was acquired by Hanimex, who then closed the Palcolor processing laboratories in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane. The announcement read:

“Palcolor and Hanimex  joined forces – Palcolor being one of the countries largest independent wholesale labs with Managing Director Ross Adair was purchased by Hanimex. Eventually this would lead to the complete absorption by Hanimex.”

Around the same time Hanimex  acquired Vivitar in the USA and their manufacturing division was successful in exporting surf boards to Japan and Hawaii and overhead projector kits to the New Zealand government. Martin Hannes resigned shortly after as G.M.Colour Services and was replaced by Ross Adair.

ELMAY MARKETING were put into receivership and closed its doors on January 17th 1986. One of the casualties was NSW sales manager Kevin Aston, a former editor and writer of photographic magazines and who later joined BCS Photographics and where he remained for a few years before retiring.

KONICA  broke off from long time agents R.Gunz Photographics early in 1986 and Satoshi Sakamoto arrived from Japan to open their own Australian office, with Hazel Beasley as the administrative secretary.

GUNZ filled the gap by securing the Olympus  agency which they then held until Olympus opened their own organisation in Australia.

PACIFIC FILM LABORATORIES was sold by the then holding company of Perth businessman Kerry Stokes to Kodak Australasia Pty. Ltd. in December 1985. MD and CEO of Kodak at the time was Ed Woods.

Larry Tyler of Kodak was appointed as Pacific’s National Retail and Marketing Manager with Haroon Mohamed coming from Amcal as his assistant.

People and Places

Nov 1984  – The PIC (Photographic Industry Council) elected Peter Terry of Polaroid as its president with an executive consisting of Don Hogarth (Kodak), John Swainston (Maxwell Optical Industries), Claude Martin (Agfa Gevaert), Rolf Barmé (R.Gunz Photographic), James Coleman (Photo Publishing), Derek Plante (Swift) and Peter Rose (Merit Imports).

IRIS PUBLISHING had outgrown its original premises and expanded to larger premises in Sydney’s Dee Why to accommodate its growing staff and magazines.

PIMA (Photo Industrial Marketing Association) elected Chris Riches (PICS) as chairman with Brian D’Arcy  (Adeal) as vice chairman.

1985: The APIA (Australian  Photographic Industry Association) executive committee comprised Don Hogarth (Kodak – chairman),  Chris Riches (Pics – vice chairman), John Swainston (Maxwell – treasurer), Peter Terry (Polaroid),  Ian MacKenezie (IAP), Will Street (Townsend Colortech – IAP), Brian D’Arcy (Adeal), John Paxton (Paxton’s Photographics and  Les Brener (PMA).

Later in the year the name was changed to APIC (Australian Photographic Industry Council) with Jens Carsten-Petersen  appointed as the Photographic Industry Officer. He was responsible for organising an industry seminar with government departments in Canberra which clarified the various photo industry associations to the government departments. It was proposed that membership would consist of the representatives of PIMA, PIC, PMA and the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photographers) . The board would consist of seven members, one each from PMA and AIPP and five from full members.

PMA had John Paxton as its Australian President.

PIMA (Photographic Industrial Marketing Association) at its Annual General Meeting elected the following: President: Brian D’Arcy (Adeal), Vice President  John Swainston (Maxwell Optical Industries), Treasurer:  Zoard Kulley (Goodman Bros), Immediate Past President:  Chris Riches (PICS), Board members: Phil Jacobs (J&P), John Koens (Kayell), Peter Terry (Polaroid), Bill Hargreaves  (Filmlab Engineering). PIMA put forward a resolution to wind up the PIC and APIC. Members of PIC would then join PIMA and the registered PIMA company would later change its name to PICA 

Walter Reuter one of the industry’s great characters, an excellent retailer was the Camera Craft/Photo Forum Dealer of the Year. Reuter had come to Australia from Germany as a camera technician, set up his own repair shop and then started up two camera stores in Melbourne, which he later sold to Teds Camera Stores.

Photoworld Magazine (published by Gary Cutler and edited by Neil Sudbury) featured a PMA page in its magazine directed at consumers and Paul Curtis in Photo Forum promoted PMA membership for retailers.

Australian Camera Craft produced its Photographic Handbook for 1985.

This was the year when a photo retailer was fined $2000 for losing customer films and caused PMA to offer insurance for all photographic stores.

PSPA (Professional School Photographers Association) was formed as a division of PMA and most of the school photographers in Australia joined up immediately and the association was later to assist and clarify privacy issues in school portraits in schools.

Fletchers Fotographics became solvent again with Neil and Irene Fletcher buying back their shares from API Fletchers. Neil then started up the Fletchers Fotographics franchise scheme which signed up quite a few franchisees in their first year and eventually grew to over 80 stores. The first two franchisees were George Smith in Brisbane and the partnership of Eddy Vandenberg, Weibrandt Renekema and Herman Posthuma in Canberra.

Pacific Film Labs sold a number of their stores to Roy Abrams, owner of Picture Hut in Sydney.

AUSTRALUX, stated to be the country’s largest manufacturers of stand-alone (and boardroom ) projection screens was sold by long-time owner Kurt Mandl to Russel Lyons who immediately started to expand the company.

FILMLAB ENGINEERING headed by Bill Hargreaves were able to state that their Australian manufactured film processing machines were used in 26 countries including London,UK; Hollywood, USA and Outer Mongolia.

PMA Membership  growing rapidly with groups adding their branches (as branch members) such as Gary Connely’s Speedi Colour, Paxtons Photographics, Rabbit Photo, Stallards (Tasmania) and Colour Care (Barry Larter in Tasmania), Len Sandler and Rick Abrahams Colour Care group

Bruce Watt, a well known New Zealand retailer and Past President of the NZ PMA who often visited Australia passed away at the age of 58.

Norm Inder general manager of Camera House since it’s rebirth left the company to set up his own import- wholesale operation Barcond Promura with George Slamer .

Roger Hart  succeeded Inder who had been involved in the industry for many years in roles at Chem-Mart and in Joe Mitchell’s Milversons organisation. Camera House chairman for this and for many years was Alan Small of Camera House Ballina.

GEORGE’S Camera Stores celebrated their 25th anniversary. George Weiss started his first business in 1960 in Sydney and at this stage had 16 outlets in four states. His general manger was Terry Rimmer who had come from Adelaide.

Dr.Ziggy Switkowski  (Manager Consumer, Professional and Finisher Markets, Kodak Australia) moved to Kodak, Rochester USA.

America’s Cup Challenge brought together Kodak and Alan Bond’s America’s Cup Defence 1987 with Kis Australia giving $10,000 to the French entry “Challenge Kis France.”

Joe Mitchell was now in photographic wholesaling and his company Novaco introduced a complete accountancy package (similar products claimed to sell for $2000 to $5000) for less than $100 – the computer world was arriving in the photo industry and Joe had a brief stint at importing and selling computers.