Glebe's Golden Age
By Jamie Apps
1970: Wigram Road, Glebe — Looking West from near the intersection of Bell Street and Wigram Road as the 432 heads up towards Glebe Point Road in late August 1970. It's amazing how much trees have changed the landscape of the area today. Credit: John Ward via City of Sydney Archives
In a modern, fast-paced, internet focused age the world around us has become a fleeting folly. However, for one young man the history of Sydney has never been more important to focus on & highlight to the wider community. So in order to do just this Nathan Mete created the @RetroSydney_ Instagram page to showcase the history & beauty that has been forgotten by many Sydneysiders.
Growing up on the Northern Beaches, 31-year-old Nathan told Neighbourhood Media that interest in Sydney’s retro past first sprouted from his own family history.
“I guess coming from a migrant family (My grandparents on both sides emigrated to Sydney in the 19650's from Italy) I was always interested in why Australia & particularly Sydney was the place to start a new life… Even from as a kid myself in the 90's, Sydney is just such a different place now which is truly fascinating - it became a great obsession almost, seeing the face of our city change over time (sometimes good & sometimes in a not so good way) but it makes up the story of where we are today & there's so many fascinating people & stories that have contributed to the history of Sydney.”
1981: Mitchell Street, Glebe — A baker with his freshly baked loaves from the Demeter Bakery inspects the intersection of Derwent and Mitchell Streets in late March 1981. This location was later home to Florilegium Books until recently. Credit: National Archives of Australia, A6135, K31/3/81/5
Although Nathan didn’t have a photography background himself when he started @RetroSydney_ in August 2020 he has always been able to appreciate the skill & power of the artform. “The one thing I love about most of the photographs that I post is the level of detail & the story that one photo can capture,” explained Nathan. “It's a real art to capture a moment & there's so many complex layers to a photograph.”
Given that Nathan lacked that photography background he has had to lean on his fascination with history & research in order to source pictures for the Instagram page. Something he has done incredibly successfully, having grown the page to 101k followers in just 2 years. Many of the pictures Nathan posts on @RetroSydney_ are sourced from public archives, but the pictures which are “really special” to him come from public submissions.
1981: City Road, Chippendale — Looking towards the Grace Brothers Broadway store (now the location of Broadway Shopping Centre) near the busy intersection of City Road and Broadway in early 1981. Credit: State Library of NSW
In terms of what makes for a great image to post on the page Nathan says it comes down to “a sense of familiarity of a place & the contrast of it now is what's really amazing.” Nathan also notes that many of the images are “candid” in nature & thus “ truly are a snapshot in time” which shows just how much the way we live has changed.
It’s not just the images which make @RetroSydney_ special though. As Nathan told us excitedly “the stories behind the photographs” can be magical. One set of photographs in particular that stand out in Nathan’s mind in this regard were submissions by a follower of the page.
“One of my followers, Nick, sent me a collection of gorgeous images that his late father took in the early 1960's on his Leica camera and you have to remember this was at a time before Autofocus was a thing, so everything was done manually - the clarity of them is amazing and I just love the moments that they've captured,” Nathan beamed. “One day I was shopping bumped into Nick and his mum Di and it was a surreal moment. It was amazing hearing how Di said it was like the photographs were keeping her late husband and his memory alive - so it's special when you hear stories of how it affects people in amazing ways.”
It’s this connection with the images & the “nostalgic” feeling for a Sydney of old that Nathan feels is what has made @RetroSydney_ such a hit on Instagram. “With my posts, I try and immerse people in the journey back, mostly through the captions describing the time, sometimes it's the contents of the photograph - usually the cars or the place - & this adds another layer to the photograph or video giving it more context - and usually I'll couple that with a song of the era in a story post.
In terms of his favorite photographs that he has posted on the page Nathan called out, “the shot of the Warringah Freeway from August 1983 because there's so many great cars in there, but also the shot of the Concorde taking off from Sydney Airport in February 1985 with people lining General Holmes Drive and scaling the security fence to get a shot of it - a total sign of the times.”