Vale Bob Bolton – A Life and a Legacy

by | Apr 18, 2023 | Articles, Industry News, Obituary

The folk community was saddened to hear news of the recent passing of Bob Bolton musician, photographer and longstanding member of Sydney’s Bush Music Club. Born in 1945 and growing up in western Sydney Bob joined the Bush Music Club in the early 1960s before moving to Tasmania. A professional photographer by trade, Bob returned to Sydney in 1970 becoming a familiar face at festivals and folk events, not only with his accordions and concertinas but also with his camera, documenting in film the people and the events.

Bob loved Australian folk music and will be remembered as a generous musician willing to share songs and tunes and, for helping others in their pursuit of Australian folk music. He was also a regular contributor to the Mudcat data base leaving a legacy of information and lyrics regarding Australian folk songs. His major legacy however is undoubtably his vast collection of photographs spanning over 50 years. The significance of this collection was recognised in 2017 by the National Folk Festival, presenting Bob with a Lifetime Achievement Award for this outstanding contribution to the Australian folk community.

In recent years Bob’s health had declined as he suffered from dementia. In 2014 he gave his folk related negatives spanning 1970 to the early 80s of Bush Music Club events and various folk festivals including four Nationals to Rob Willis, Folklore and Social History Interviewer at the National Library of Australia (NLA). It was Bob’s wish that these negatives (some 500 rolls of film, each with at least 24 frames) would be digitised and become part of the National Library of Australia collection. However the NLA, understandably, was reluctant to accept material that had not been documented and so began the mammoth task of identifying the many subjects of these several hundred photos. One such project was undertaken by Graham McDonald a former Sound Archivist at National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, just one of his many roles in a long and varied career. Below are some of Bob’s photos and Graham talks about this project.


Above L-R Captain Matchbox NFF 1971; Chorus 1972

In 2022 I started a pilot project using a Facebook group “Bob Bolton Photos” to see if the people in the photos of folk activities could be identified if the photos were scanned and made available. I figured out a way to photograph the negatives using a DSLR camera with a macro lens which produces images at basic archival quality (around 4000 pixels on the longer side) and then a simple batch processing to convert the negatives to positive images. The photographing process takes only a few minutes per roll of film, but there is some manual renumbering each image to match the numbers on the film strips themselves and some cropping and rotation for image consistency. 20 rolls of film have been processed and selected images posted on the group with most of the people in the images identified.

Colin Dryden.     Peter Parkhill

From the early 80s, I think, Bob switched to colour film, but I don’t know where those negatives or slides might be. The National Folk Festival has digital copies of Bob’s photos of the festival from 1996 to 2010. Those from 1996-2001 are scanned colour film and with those after that all digital, though I remember Bob at the National with his two Nikon F cameras for some years after that.


Above L-R Step Dancing NFF 2002; Nancy Kerr & James Fagan NFF 2005; The Mills Sisters NFF 2002

Bush Music Club’s Role: After Bob retired all his photo albums, Bush Music Club (BMC) Library and Archives went to the Hut (Hut 44 – Tritton Hall, BMC headquarters in the Addison Road Centre, Marrickville). These albums were all labelled, and as Bob was a professional photographer, all the negatives were date stamped. Bush Music Club members have set about identifying  the people in these photos so that these albums can also be handed over to the National Library of Australia. You can read more about this HERE.

We have a lot to thank Bob for. His music and generosity and foremost, we are fortunate to have had such a passionate documenter of folk, its people and events for over half a century.

Vale Bob Bolton 1945 – 2023

Cover photo by Anthony Simon from BMC blog site. All other photos by Bob Bolton and provided by Graham McDonald.

If you have memories of Bob or further information to contribute regarding his photographic archive please record your comments below.


1 Comment

  1. Colin Fisher

    I worked with Bob for a few years in the Technical Documentation Department of Sydney Electricity.
    In 1986-87 I had worked in the UK and my wife and I attended a performance of the Houghton Weavers a famous Lancashire folk group.
    After the show I “borrowed” the large advertising poster and had the group members autograph it.
    Bob knew of the Weavers so I gave the poster to him and I wonder if it ended up with his photographic collection.


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