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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lang, Frederick (Fred) (1901–1993)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published online in 2017

Frederick Lang (1901–1993), photographer, was born on 3 March 1901 at Stockwell, South Australia, and named Friedrich, son of Friedrich Julius Lange, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Kleinig. His parents were of Prussian descent. Leaving school at thirteen, Fred, who had a penchant for hyperbole, later claimed to have had sixty-five jobs by the time he was thirty-two, from miner to sewing-machine salesman. He travelled extensively in southern and eastern Australia.

By 1926 he had anglicised his name. On 27 December that year at St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg, Melbourne, he married Dorothy Irene West, a typist; they would be divorced in 1943. In May 1928 he was at Leeton, New South Wales, demonstrating the Rapid fruit-packing press. A self-taught photographer, he started in Wally Ellis’s photographic establishment at Broken Hill in 1932 and afterwards opened his own business at Murwillumbah. In 1935 he moved to Tweed Heads. He obtained work as a police photographer, especially if a death was involved and photos were required for coronial or criminal proceedings.

With the slogan ‘Today’s Photos Today’ and considerable studio backup, Lang would snap thousands of holidaymakers over the next forty years. He worked the guest houses, camping grounds, and beaches of the South (later Gold) Coast, mainly at Tweed Heads and its twin town of Coolangatta, Queensland. His trademark red Akubra hat made him instantly recognisable; beneath its broad brim, his characteristic smile and, when older, horn-rimmed glasses were equally familiar.

As an official pictorial correspondent for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, he captured events, including girls and boys taking part in the paper’s Learn-to-Swim Campaign, and people, such as Joe Timbery, who visited from Sydney to demonstrate boomerang throwing. During World War II Lang photographed American soldiers recuperating in military camps at Coolangatta and at Fingal, New South Wales, and posted prints home to their relatives in the United States. In the late 1940s and 1950s he took countless images of people engaged in the hokey-pokey dances on Coolangatta’s Greenmount Beach. On 9 March 1948 in the manse of the Presbyterian Church, St Kilda, Melbourne, he married Phyllis Myrtle Hayward (d. 1992), a typist.

Lang photographed the famous, as well as everyday holidaymakers. His favourite subjects included winners of the Miss Australia contest, and the British model Sabrina, whom he snapped posing on the beach in a fetching manner, framed by a pandanus palm. He also photographed a young Queen Elizabeth II on the 1954 royal tour, and many of the star entertainers who holidayed or performed on the Gold Coast, among them Jack Davey, Bob Dyer, and Barry Crocker.

Other subjects, besides flesh on the beach, caught Lang’s photographic eye. He snapped houses collapsing into the sea at Narrow Neck, Southport, after the 1955 cyclone. His many aerial photographs show the rapid growth of the Gold Coast in the 1950s and 1960s, as it experienced more aggressive development and redevelopment than anywhere else in the nation. No other photographer created such a vast archive of images of one segment of the Australian coastline.

Such was Lang’s fame, to generations of holiday goers in particular, that a thirty-minute episode of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s A Big Country series was devoted to ‘The Man in the Red Hat’ in November 1977; it featured footage from his own movie camera. He also collaborated with the historian John Vader to produce The Gold Coast Book: An Illustrated History (1980), which showcased many of his most historically important photographs of people and landscapes.

A keen participant in community activities, Lang was prominent in the Tweed Heads Chamber of Commerce. His hobbies were growing roses and target and game shooting. He died on 20 January 1993 at his Tweed Heads home and, following a Uniting Church service, was buried in Tweed Heads lawn cemetery; the daughter and son of his second marriage survived him. His photographic work is to be found in the National Library of Australia, the State Library of Queensland, and the Southport Local Studies Library, and in the major periodicals and newspapers of his era.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Geddes, John. ‘Fred Lang “a Walking History Book”.’ Daily News (Tweed Heads, NSW), 28 January 1993, 6

  • Healey, Sally. ‘Lang’s Legacy.’ Gold Coast Bulletin, 30 January 1993, Weekend Review 4–5

  • Peebles, Karen. ‘It’s all Black and White to this Veteran Photographer.’ Daily News (Tweed Heads, NSW), 28 July 1992, 6–7

  • Sunday Sun (Brisbane). ‘The Man in the Red Hat Shoots Thousands of Birds.’ 30 May 1976, 49

  • Veitch, Carol. ‘Six Million Happy Snaps.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 19 May 1991, Magazine 10

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Lang, Frederick (Fred) (1901–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lang-frederick-fred-22702/text32246, published online 2017, accessed online 18 September 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lange, Friedrich
Birth

3 March 1901
Stockwell, South Australia, Australia

Death

20 January 1993
Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

unknown

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Key Organisations