A Million Square: Tom Hungerford captures 1960s life in WA

Grant WoodhamsGeraldton Guardian
The late Tom Hungerford, at his writing desk with his 30-year-old typewriter.
Camera IconThe late Tom Hungerford, at his writing desk with his 30-year-old typewriter. Credit: WA News

Fifty years ago, for his birthday, I bought my father a copy of a book called A Million Square — Western Australia.

I suppose it could have been described as a coffee table book, full of marvellous photos of the wonders of the western part of our magnificent continent.

I was reunited with the book earlier this year when my father passed away.

It was in a cupboard with literally hundreds of books on cricket.

My father was mad on cricket.

I brought the book back home to Geraldton with me.

And like my father, I put it in a cupboard with lots of other books, mainly atlases.

I’m mad on maps.

Earlier this week, I took A Million Square out to have a look at it.

I’d never read it or looked at the photos in all the time my father had it.

The book was written by the late Tom Hungerford, one of WA’s greatest writers.

The photos are the work of Richard Woldendorp, one of WA’s best photographers.

Hungerford had written a book in 1950 based on his time in the army during World War II.

I had read the book sometime during my youth and was so impressed I wrote to Hungerford, but he never replied.

I guess I must have forgiven him by the time I bought A Million Square.

Hungerford was a great writer. His Stories from Suburban Road was turned into a television miniseries.

In A Million Square, the way he describes Western Australia in the 1960s is fantastic to read, and the photos are equally stunning.

Woldendorp captured a Western Australia that is barely recognisable today.

But turning every page I soon discovered Geraldton and the Mid West was under-represented.

There is no St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Point Moore Lighthouse, cray boats in the harbour or headers cutting a swathe through the hinterland.

However, there is a revealing photo of the main Greenough Hamlet — far more comprehensive than what exists today.

There is an equally impressive photo of mining at the Koolanooka range, near Morawa, the first place in WA to export iron ore to Japan.

In the book Hungerford suggested West Australia was in danger of “becoming a no-holds-barred, hedonistic, completely materialistic promoters’ dream ... where the dollar is the only discipline”.

It was a big statement 50 years ago, but his words were right on the money.

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