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Nutt, Ernest Arthur (1911–1974)

by Kate Evans

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Ernest Arthur Nutt (1911-1974), press photographer, was born on 5 June 1911 at Camperdown, Sydney, third child of native-born parents Arthur Edward Nutt, clerk, and his wife Stella Kezia Maud, née Crundwell. Ernie (or Ern, as he was also known) was educated at Ashfield and Croydon Superior public schools. In 1916 he joined the Sydney daily newspaper, the Evening News, as a copy-boy. Disliking shorthand, he found the lure of the darkroom stronger than that of the journalist's desk. When the News folded in 1931, he was a second-year photographer cadet. He remained in Sydney, moved to the photographic staff of the World and later worked for Truth. During the Depression he had a job as a milkman. By the mid-1930s he was employed on the Daily Telegraph, part of (Sir) Frank Packer's Consolidated Press Ltd. At the Methodist Church, North Croydon, on 24 August 1935 he married Florence Winifred Francis.

A stocky, affable and talkative man, Nutt was particularly skilled at action photography and at 'thawing frosty interviewees'. As a staff photographer, he was expected to cover news stories, social events, court cases and sport. His specialty was sport, and it was said that he outran wingers as he sprinted along the sideline taking shots of Rugby League football. On 24 September 1936, while on a routine assignment for the Telegraph, he photographed the collision of the Kulgoa and Kurra-ba ferries in Sydney Harbour. His 'scoop' was used in the Court of Marine Inquiry's investigation of the incident, at which he demonstrated his speed and expertise by taking pictures with a bulky reflex camera before a startled judge.

In February 1938 Nutt photographed the tragic sinking of the launch, Rodney. Like other senior photographers, he contributed to various magazines and newspapers owned by Consolidated Press. He regularly went to the Melbourne Cup for the Australian Women's Weekly and in World War II produced some of the Weekly's first coloured photographic covers. Unable to enlist in the armed services due to high blood pressure, he travelled throughout Australia and went abroad, spending time in the Territory of Papua-New Guinea and in Japan. In 1948 he made a picture series on Broken Hill and Lightning Ridge for the monthly magazine, A.M.

Press photography had its occupational hazards. Nutt began his career in a period before flashbulbs, when photographers filled rooms with smoke from their magnesium powder flashes. If assigned to a divorce case, he tried to keep an eye on all exits from the court-house. In 1940 he was assaulted and robbed of his camera. In 1952 he was involved in a motorcar accident. Despite his occupation, he never owned a camera and relied on the camaraderie of his colleagues when he needed to record a family occasion. Although he took a huge number of photographs during his professional career, his name was seldom acknowledged. He died of cancer on 26 July 1974 at his Croydon home and was cremated; his wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. O'Brien, The Weekly (Melb, 1982)
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 14 June 1947, 14 Aug 1948
  • A.M., Aug, Nov 1948, Feb 1949
  • Journalist, Oct 1974
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Sept, 4 Nov 1936, 14 Feb 1938
  • private information.

Citation details

Kate Evans, 'Nutt, Ernest Arthur (1911–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 June 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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