When you pick up a biography, do you first turn to those glossy pages in the middle? The pages with the pictures, the paintings, the maps. The pages that somehow tell you what it is you’re going to be reading about. The pages that the author – a person by definition good with words, rather than images – has sweated blood over.

Reader, I know of what I speak!

When I signed the contract with Text Publishing, my agent carefully pointed out the clause that says I’m responsible for “all illustrative material” and “shall bear all costs relating to supply of such illustrative material”. Yep. Sure. No worries.

In the writing lull which occurred after I submitted the draft manuscript to my editor, I started compiling a list of all the images I wanted to include. Then I went away to find them, on the interwebs.

Some of them were easy to find (thanks, Google). Some were happy surprises, like this photo of Clovelly, the Macarthur holiday house at Watsons Bay, where Elizabeth Macarthur died. Some of them were much harder to find (and I could only find them in hard copy books).

‘Clovelly’, Watsons Bay, NSW (circa 1900). 

Source: SLNSW

Some of them didn’t exist – for example, Elizabeth Macarthur’s youngest daughter, Emmeline, does not seem to have a picture anywhere, despite being married to a premier of NSW (Henry Parker).

Eventually, long weeks later, I happily sent off my list (my very long list) to the editor.

You, being a person of intelligence and discernment, can probably guess what happened next. Yes, the editor edited my list. Kindly, wisely, and altogether ruthlessly, she cut it back. Right back. And, once I’d stopped sobbing, I agreed with her.

So now that she and I had an agreed list, I needed to actually source the images.

Some of the images I could download for free. The State Library of NSW provides low-res images quickly and easily straight from the online catalogue, and only asks that you mention them, in passing. Thanks SLNSW! But even if you need a high-res image, they’ll sell it to you for the bargain price of $44. Per image. I know. $44 seems a lot for what basically amounts to an email attachment. But, as I was shortly to find out, $44 is indeed a bargain.

The Art Gallery of NSW (same state, same government, same contribution from my taxes, dammit) charges a sliding scale that starts at about $230. Per image. Again, for what basically amounts to an email attachment. And that was just for a low-res image. The high-res version cost over $300. Umm, because they have to pay for the extra pixels, or something!?

The Natural History Museum (it’s in London but apparently they’re so important that it’s not necessary to say that in the title) charged me 120 pounds. Again, one image. I daren’t look at the exchange rate, for fear of fainting.

But the images that kept me awake at night were those that I’d only ever seen as poor reproductions in hard copy books. Crucial images. Images taken from miniature paintings of Elizabeth’s sons as young men. The originals of those images hang on the wall at Camden Park House, the Macarthur family seat where Elizabeth’s descendants live to this day.

Long story short – I contacted the Macarthur family, took a day trip to Sydney, was collected from the airport by Jane McKenzie (a dear friend who is also an artist and a talented photographer) and she drove me out to Camden Park. There we spent a delightful hour in the company of John and Edwina Macarthur-Stanham and the volunteer archivists who help maintain the Macarthur collection. Jane painstakingly photographed the paintings – some of which were framed with convex glass over the top, just to complicate things – and by that same evening, almost before I’d walked in the door at home, Jane had cropped and sent them to me. Phew! And what a woman! Of course I forwarded copies to the Macarthur-Stanhams and the lovely archivists.

Now, finally, I think I have the all the images I need. Well, I’m still waiting on one high-res map of Sydney from the SLNSW but apart from that, I’m done! So when you eventually look at those glossy images, dear readers, savour them. Examine them. Enjoy them. But don’t discuss them with me because I don’t think I ever want to look at them again!!