Sport Collections

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are kindly advised that this website includes images, sounds and names of people who have passed.

All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified. Certain words, terms or descriptions may reflect the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written, but are now considered inappropriate in today's context.

Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available


Black and white photograph of Sydney Harbour from North Sydney side, with house in foreground

Glass plate negatives of Sydney Harbour from the Holtermann residence, St. Leonards, 1870-1875

Photography in Australia

The first photograph taken in Australia is widely acknowledged as being an image of Bridge Street, Sydney, taken in 1841. A visiting naval captain took the daguerreotype image, using what was then-cutting edge photographic process, and displayed it in a Macquarie Street office to advertise the sale of his photographic equipment. This image is not believed to have survived.

The Library has some of the country’s most significant photographic items, including a daguerreotype image of Dr William Bland that is the oldest-known surviving photograph in Australia. The Holtermann Collection of glass plate negatives documents life on the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria, and also includes part of a 14-plate panorama of Sydney taken from the North Shore (pictured above). The three surviving plates are the largest glass plate negatives in the world, and were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register in 2017.

Accessing photographic collections

Access to any of the Library’s photography collection requires a Special Collections card. If you do not have one, you can see Library staff at a service desk to upgrade your membership and place a request for the item. For advanced requests, complete an Access to Special Collections Request form.

Other access conditions may apply depending on the type of material being requested. Here is what to look for:

Accessing photographic prints & albums

Photographic prints can be requested in advance, via an Access to Special Collections Request form, or at the Special Collections desk during opening hours. Pictorial material requested at the desk is generally available within 30 minutes. Collection services are halted one hour before the Special Collections area closes.

What to look for?

Most print collections have a call number beginning with the prefix ‘PX’. For example, the Library holds the photographic collection of swimming official Norah Morrison with a call number of PXE 1244

Other photographic collections may have a different types of call numbers. If you are unsure, check the catalogue record under ‘Formats’ and/or ‘Contents’. If the record states that the images are photographs or photo prints, they are printed images.

Accessing glass plates, slides & negatives

Many items in the Library’s image collection are not prints but photographic negatives. This may be a glass plate, a filmstrip or a slide. Negatives can be viewed at the Library using a lightbox, but a supervised viewing may be required. All requests for negative formats must be submitted via the Access to Special Collections Request form, with at least five working days’ notice.

What to look for?

An image collection with the prefix ‘ON’ refers to ‘original negative’. For example, the NSW Gymnastics Association Records includes a photographic collection of 151 negatives catalogued with a call number of ON 655. 

The catalogue record also includes a note that the negatives are held in cold storage and require three days’ notice to retrieve. For conservation reasons items held in cold storage must be collected and allowed to thaw before being issued.

Collection highlights

Photographic archives

Black and white photograph of footballer in mid air diving to tackle another footballer

Aboriginal football team, 24 August 1946

The Library’s collection includes archives from media organisations and photographic studios containing a range of sporting images. In addition to the Sam Hood collection (see right), the Library holds the following collections useful for sports research:

This collection includes over 200,000 negative images from a variety of publications, including Pix and Sporting Life magazines. Many of these images have been digitised and made available through the Library catalogue. The Pix archive includes a historic set of images from 1946 depicting the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League team, the longest-running all-Aboriginal Rugby League team in Australia.

The Tribune collection includes over 60,000 negative images. These include a number of sporting images. The Tribune images are particularly important in highlighting social and political aspects of sport, capturing moments in time such as the protests against apartheid sparked by the 1971 visit of the South African Rugby Union team. 

Suggested search strategy
To search within a specific image archive, the best strategy is to combine a call number search and the sport you are interested in. For example, to search the ACP archive, use call numbers ON 388 (negatives) and ON 407 (glass plate negatives) and enter the sport or athlete name as a keyword search term.


Photographic albums & prints

Sepia photograph of runner Eileen Wearne crossing the finish line in first place, other runners behind her

Sports Ground 4 Jan. 1936. Eileen Wearne winning the NSW State 100 yards Championship

The Library’s collection also includes many personal albums collected by athletes, clubs and sporting organisations. Below are some of our sporting highlights:

Looking for more?

Many other sporting events, pictures of athletes and officials, and other sporting scenes can be found within our pictorial collection. Enter the name of the sport or athlete you are interested in, and limit your search using the search filter. Want to view digitised material? Try the same search on our digital collections viewer.

Collection highlight: Dr William Bland daguerrotype

Collection highlight: The Sam Hood collection

Sepia photograph of Sam Hood wearing suit and hat, with cigarette in mouth

Sam Hood (1872–1953) was an Australian photographer whose work spanned from the 1880s until his death. Opening his first studio in 1899, his images are a rich snapshot of life in Sydney in the first half of the 20th century, and include an extensive array of sporting moments, from school tunnel ball games to Ashes Test matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

In 1973, the State Library of NSW acquired over 30,000 images from Hood’s studio, which have been digitised and made available through the Library catalogue.

Search tip: phrase searching

To restrict your search to just images from the Sam Hood collection, use quotation marks to create the phrase ‘Sam Hood’. This will restrict the search to only records containing these two words together. Then, build on your search by adding a sport, venue or person you are interested in finding images of:

•    ‘Sam Hood’ + golf
•    ‘Sam Hood’ + stadium
•    ‘Sam Hood’ + Bradman