Eye-witness to history

Christadelphian Aged Care Homes resident

Phil Thompson worked as a photographer for much of his life, and was on the Harbour when the Japanese subs invaded Sydney.

Phil, now a resident at Courtlands Village in North Parramatta, grew up dirt poor in Sydney’s inner west in the 1930s after his father contracted tuberculosis.

In 1941, he got a job at the Daily Telegraph as an office boy, and because the war meant many of the male staff were called-up for duty, he soon became a messenger boy for the photographers.

His new job meant he had to carry around heavy equipment, including flashes, batteries and cameras that weighed more than 12kg.

Phil was out with the photographers on an open boat with an outboard motor when the Japanese subs entered the harbour, and he remembers getting soaked to the skin.

At 17 he was appointed as a cadet press photographer, but soon after his 18th birthday had to enlist.

Due to some problems with his knees he was transferred to the Signal Corps in Victoria and learnt Morse Code, and then was sent to New Guinea to work at the signals office.

After the war he went back to photography and worked on the Daily Telegraph and then the Herald, where he had a few scoops, including covering the floods of 1950 on the North Coast.

He was also there the day two workman crashed to their deaths while building the Circular Quay Railway Station, and took a photo of the men in mid-air with heavy blocks and tackles wrapped around their bodies when they fell from a high crane.

Phil married in 1948 and became a father to Ross the following year. After separating from his wife he remarried Barbara in 1959 and had two girls and a boy.

When they moved to Courtlands Village in 1995 it was the first full brick home he had lived in since 1936.

He is now a grandfather and great-grandfather, and a very active resident of Courtlands Village.