Frank Hurley spent several months in the Torres Strait and Papua in late 1920 and early 1921, photographing and filming the landscape and local people for a 'travelogue entertainment' he wanted to produce. Sponsored by the Anglican mission, in return for logistical and transport support, he was supposed to be also making a film illustrating their work in the region.

The glass plates from his journey are held in the Australian Museum Archives, along with photographs he took on a second expedition in 1922. Most often used by our researchers for their cultural content, among these images are a very few beautiful underwater images.

Frank Hurley underwater
Frank Hurley underwater Image: Frank Hurley
© Reproduction rights, Australian Museum

In the Torres Strait in 1920, Hurley's diaries make clear that his initial enthusiasm for gazing into the 'galaxy of every conceivable form and colour of live coral' and 'the magic spendours of a wild morphic dream' soon faded under the pressures of heat, humidity, long working days and the technical difficulties of developing his films every night. However Hurley's experiments with underwater photography, using tanks and glass bottom boats, and his incredible eye for composition and light have left us these beautiful, otherworldly underwater landscapes.