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Paternal Side

We are NOT demonstrably linkable to the Tasmanian Belbins whose ancestors won free travel passes to Australia via Norfolk Island. My Granddaddy (Capt Robert. James Belbin) hied from NF Canada, he was a Master Mariner at 21 and had command of the Lady Darling by age 23. The Lady Darling was a Queensland Government Blackbirding ship giving away beads and axes and guns in the Torres Strait Islands, dunno what he got in return for such generosity, 'cos he never left me anything from there as an heirloom....... He, funnily enough, did Command a trip to Tassie where he shanghaied a 16 yr old lass Amelia Heir (ward of the Court - means orphan-), set sail quick, and gained court permission to marry her in Sydney ( I guess the Sydney court figured there wasn't much else to do by then, but I reckon he may have told her that being Captain he could marry her on board ? Dastardly fellow ??).



My Father

When my daddy was 2 yrs Capt Belbin (now in command of "Borough Belle") was shot on Ambryn Island in the New Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu (see - shouldn't have given them guns, They wouldn’t throw a GOOD axe at him in case he kept it). He was buried at Epi Island, also in the Vanuatu Group. My father, Robert James Herbert Belbin must have been a late developer, he had two marriages, first when he was 37 yrs to Isobel McDougal, resulting in a son Robert James who in time married Betty Phillips and they had 8 children. This couple lived variously from Ipswich to Sydney in Australia, plus alternating to New Zealand where some of their children have married and remained to rear their families. The second marriage was obviously more important 'cos I arrived. He married Nancy Gladstone when he was 48 (see Gladstone), and two years later my sister Nancy turned up. Bravely they tried again and got me, shaken but undeterred they made one more try and gave up after sister Moira’s arrival.

Robert James Herbert Belbin (Bob). As you have read above, his father was shot when he was only 24 months old. In those days there was no option for a Mother than to remarry, and indeed the widow Belbin did marry a Government agent M. Mitchell.

Dad was brought up by Medlin Mitchell and trained as a Cub Reporter with the Mackay "Daily Mercury". Always fascinated by photography, his early cameras included a Kodak Pony Primo then an American half-plate folding camera (actual negative size was 7"x 5") following which a Kodak Panoramic camera was added into the armoury. These had a lens which rotated around a near half circle, and made a negative about 3 inches (75mm) wide by about 12inches long (300mm).

He fell in love with Panoramic Cameras, and around 1913 went the whole hog and ordered a Kodak half plate camera, with Cirkut attachment. The Camera was manufactured by Kodak of Rochester, and the Cirkut attachment featuring a clockwork gramophone motor to drive it, was manufactured by Kodak of Germany. By todays standards this was a behemoth of a camera, for an average photo the film measured 6 inches (150mm) wide by 3 feet (.9M) long. If he wanted to take a big photo, then the camera would get a 6 foot (1.8metres) long roll AND USE THE LOT ON ONE PHOTO. He operated up and down the Queensland Coast (see first son Bobs story below), and in 1919 was married in Brisbane to Isobel McDougal and in due course his first son Bobby, was born. The marriage unfortunately did not last long, and after sometime he divorced and returned to Mackay.


In 1930 he married Nancy Gladstone, and for their honeymoon they did a Photographic Survey of The Sugar Industry and those industries which used the product. This was commissioned by the Sugar Producers of Mackay (A.S.P.A) and (Canegrowers Co-op) and entailed Photographing from Mossman in North Qld, to Perth West Aust. Included were photos of Arnotts Biscuit Factory in Melbourne, IXL Jam in Tasmania, sugar refineries in Sydney, and other notable users of Sugar. Two sets of these photos, most of them 2 feet 6 inches long (.8M) were assembled onto panels and presented by the Sugar Producers to Parliament House Australia and Parliament House, Great Britain. A third set was assembled into a large album ( 3 feet long by a foot deep- .9M by 300mm) and presented to King George V. One further similar Album was constructed and is in the possession of Bobs second son Douglas.


The background photo is of Dad with the Cirkut camera taking the Mackay Harbour being built around 1933


We divert here to some recollections from the first son Bobby,

My Dad, Robert James Herbert Belbin Born 31 Dec 1881 Died Aug 1962

Educated at Mackay Boys School. Queensland Australia Worked at Mackay Daily Mercury as reporter, advertising salesman and proof reader. Married in 1919 and established a weekly newspaper in Bangalow NSW "The Bangalow Herald" which continued until 1924 when a fire destroyed the premises.

He then made his way to the Innisfail area where he worked with his panoramic camera which he had imported from USA in 1914, a CIRKUT manufactured by Eastman Kodak in Rochester.NY (see Doug's sections for more detail). From 1925 to 1930 he photographed Sugar mills, farms, town centres and scenic views from Mackay to Mossman. Most of the mills were taken whilst crushing so he organised farm photos in the slack season. He would line up the farmer's family on the front verandah, their milkers and draught horses, drays wagons car and truck even the chooks if they were handy and with the panoramic swing could show the cane crop on both sides of the house and the view over to the nearest mountains. Good value.

In later years the canecutting gangs were photographed just before their paydays. In the towns he would set up the camera in the main street, wait for a lull in the traffic, try to halt the pedestrians and stray dogs and let it go 180 degrees for a very different view, which was later offered for sale to the shop owners, staff, local newsagents. He always enjoyed his unique ability to use the panoramic format to transform an everyday scene into an interesting saleable item. The cirkut camera was loaded with special sized film wound on a wooden spool with either 36 or 48 inches of Kodak Vérichrome film 6 inches (15 cm) Wide~ - -. The ideal view was from 24 to 30 inches long(about 80cm), as the viewer has difficulty looking at a 48 inch photo (1.3M) that gives a 240 degree view. The sensitised paper on which the prints were made was supplied in rolls 20 feet long by 3 feet wide and had to be cut to the size required in the dark room.

Two ends of such a panoram. Don't you love the Farmer and son at tractor in "Sunday White" shirts and the Dad with Bow Tie!! JUST A NORMAL DAY ON THE FARM!!

Processing the exposed negative and later the prints was a real hands on process. No developing tanks would handle such sizes so the film was unrolled in the darkroom, and gently immersed in the developer in a dish 10 inches by 12, and see sawed through the developer, fixing and washing by raising and lowering the arms. One family member sat outside and called the minutes until processing was to the "lights on" stage. Further washing was given usually in the bath tub and then the resulting negative was hung to dry. The same process was followed for each print so there were often dozens of prints drying on string lines rigged on verandahs and passageways. All the panorams are contact prints from the negative the same size, hence their wonderful sharpness. To make the prints required a wooden frame 3 feet long and 6 inches wide with a heavy plate glass insert, the back consisting of removable hinged sections that were clamped in place by spring clips. The negative was laid on the glass, the cut paper positioned on the negative and the back then clamped shut. Most of the prints were 5 inches wide so a degree of composition was available at the printing stage. The frame was then propped up at a 45 degree angle, the glass surface facing the front.

The white light was then taken out of the safelight fitting, the bulb on a lead moved across and back until the required exposure was given. Extra dark areas of the negative could be given more exposure by slowing down the process over that area. Most of this processing was carried out in the lnnisfail area in improvised darkrooms such as under stairs cupboards, hotel bathrooms or bedrooms suitably blacked out. There was also a "portable" darkroom made out of black headcloth lined with red cloth about 6 by 4 feet about 7 feet high which was used in various hotel rooms, factories, or other areas when he made the trip around Australia taking the photos for the "Mossman to Perth" publication. It was erected by fastening long tapes to various fittings in the room, can you imagine the heat generated by working in such a confined space. Dad would never risk moving on until he had a useable negative of each site. He probably needed to produce and sell prints at each place to help with his finances. He was never rich but enjoyed working his "schemes" that were sure to be the bonanza we needed in the future.

C-GrowaCanegrower Office, 2 staff members with Wife Nancy (Right of photo)


An office and darkroom was established in Mackay from about 1928 and after his second marriage in 1930 the "Canegrower Weekly" printery came into being from which the paper was produced until 1937. The paper was posted free to every canegrower in the Mackay sugar district for the first three years but as the Canegrowers Council would never support it as an official organ of the industry it eventually dwindled in readership and the printery closed. The panorams were reproduced on art paper as an insert to the Canegrower Weekly each month as a pictorial bonus. Candid photography was then coming into popularity so with our newly acquired "Leica" 35 mm camera the family left Mackay and worked our way north arriving back in Innisfail in 1938 still using the panoram camera, even taking Italian and BaIt cane gangs before they were interned in the war years.

Photo on Left was taken in 1940 before enlistment.

L to R - Douglas, Bobby, Nancy behind, Moira front.

BobArmyDuring the war years, I enlisted in the AIF and the rest of the family spent the war in Rockhampton, using the Leica to photograph American troops as it was not possible to get film for the Panoram in wartime. After the war they were at Hervey Bay and Maryborough then back to Mackay still using both the panoram and Leica cameras and the story of those years passes back to Douglas, who has arranged all the illustrations above for my story.



Bob Belbin and Wife Nancy at Rockhampton during WW2.

Doug again
Photos of the American troops were distributed to them in a folder with this cover on (see below) and many thousands of these photos with the Kangaroo and Koala went home to USA before the troops left for the war zone. If you have such a photo in your heirlooms, it was taken by Bob and Nancy Belbin (Alma Studios Rockhampton).


Alma Studio Photo

Doug again

During the post war years we made a printing machine to replace the "swinging bulb" method of printing panorams, and also embarked on wedding photography, with Nancy and Mum taking the photos until Nancy joined the Navy, then Mum and I carried the baton with this aspect, while Dad and I carried on the panorams. Mackay at this time had an influx of Maltese immigrants who worked hard and were very successful cane farmers. We would line up all their inplements, tractors, ploughs, motor truck and car, line up the family in front of the house, (theres little Johnny on his pony) and then swing to show their property covered in sugar cane. These photos were sent "Home to Malta " to show the folks back there how well they were doing. The sheer size of their farms and the late model cars and tractors would greatly impress those at home in Malta

Eventually in 1958, they retired to a property they owned at Blacks Beach, Mackay. Dad passed away in 1962 aged 80.

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