Courtney found an old camera with a roll of film still in it, so she got it developed

Courtney Hart was browsing for knick-knacks in her local op shop when she came across an old camera sitting on a shelf.

It was a model people used to call a ‘box Brownie’, because the early models were, quite literally, in the form of a cardboard box.

It was a valuable find for a photography buff like Courtney, who’d started experimenting with old-school film cameras during Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

“I saw this camera and I thought, ‘That’s really cool’ and my mum told me how my grandmother used to have one,” she said.

Courtney wasn’t sure whether the camera was worth the $20 price tag, but when her mother opened the back of it, she knew she had to buy it.

There was a roll of film in it.

“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, if there’s film in there I really want to see what’s on it. I wonder if I’ll be able to get any photos from it. I wonder if it’s going to be able to be developed’,” she said.

Courtney took the film to a film laboratory in Geelong without much hope – the film must’ve been sitting in the camera for decades.

Would it still be okay?

An old camera, but how old?

An old camera
The first Kodak Brownie was sold in 1900, but the model that Courtney found was much newer. (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

Courtney’s camera is a Kodak Brownie Six-20 Model D.

It’s old and obsolete, but holds a unique place in photography history.

Kodak released the first Brownie model in 1900, and it revolutionised photography, giving virtually anyone the means to take photos for a relatively low cost.

An old Kodak ad
The Kodak Brownie that Courtney found was a model sold in the 1940s and 1950s. (Supplied)

They were also quite small and portable, making them ideal to take on holidays.

Many soldiers in World War I and World War II also took them overseas as they were small enough to fit in a soldier’s pack.

Some of the most iconic war photographs from the Western Front were taken with a Kodak Brownie, as well as photographs of the actual iceberg that sank the Titanic.

The Six-20 Model D was sold between 1946 and 1957, but the specific face plate design on Courtney’s camera was only a feature on models up to 1953.

Some photography enthusiasts still use the Six-20 Model D, but film is extremely hard to come by and the resulting photos are not quite up to the standard people have come to expect.

Courtney’s camera could be 70 years old, but of course the film roll itself could be much newer.

The laboratory that Courtney took her film to told her that particular camera film was available between 1939 and the late 1950s.

That news did not fill her with hope. 

Images hidden for decades are revealed

An old photo.
Courtney is hoping somebody recognises the people in the photos she had developed. (Supplied)

Courtney was sitting at her desk at work when an email came through from the photo laboratory with six images attached.

The first two were just dark smudges, but the rest were not only clear, they had people in them too.

Identifiable faces.

“I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh there are photos here, there are people in it’. I was just so amazed,” she said.

The photos are of a bunch of blokes clearly having a good time – shirts and shoes are clearly optional, but beer and cigarettes are plentiful.

They prompted more questions than they answered for Courtney.

“What was happening in these photos? Who are these people?” she said.

An old photo.
A group of men having what looks like a party can be seen in one of the photos Courtney had developed. (Supplied)

Courtney has now set herself the task of answering those questions, posting the images on Facebook groups across the country in the hope that someone might recognise the men or the gathering.

“A lot of people said it could be up in Darwin, some people said PNG or Vietnam, but I’m not sure if it’s war related,” she said.

“I looked up some photos from the Vietnam War and I noticed there were some similarities, but I’m just not sure about the timing.”

Hands holding an old photo.
The men in the photos are clearly having a good time, but what are they celebrating? (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

The setting is clearly tropical, but several of the men also have full beards, which was not generally allowed in the military.

One thing that’s clear is that photos were definitely not taken in Geelong, but somehow that’s where they ended up.

Courtney said she’ll keep trying to solve that mystery herself.

“I really just want to try and reunite these photos with their family, I think it’s really special.” 

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