It is April 11, 1983 and Princess Diana walks into Brisbane City Hall.
In front of her is the council photographer, a young man keeping the tips of his shoes off the red carpet in accordance with strict instructions from the pre-royal briefing.
He leans in and in an instant takes the picture.
In a blue and white dress, Diana shines, looking straight at the camera, as she walks alone through the threshold, from a crowded King George Square to City Hall.
Diana moves on and Robert Noffke’s photograph is entered in the council’s photographic archives.
This photo is one of 250,000 photos Noffke took during a 53-year career on Brisbane City Council as the city’s official photographer and archivist.
Many of his images are now available for free online through the Brisbane Archives, including his photos from the royal visit in 1983.
Noffke joined Brisbane City Council in 1968 as a teenage clerk, working in the water and sanitation service.
It was the Clem Jones era, the start of a period of great change for Brisbane, as the streets were cobbled, sewers hooked up, parks and pools landscaped, and the first city map created.
“The roads were dirt and we had to use the outhouse in the back yard,” Noffke told ABC Radio Brisbane.
For Noffke, he was happy to have a job. But he had his eye on the next step, hoping that he could continue his childhood love of photography.
“The first thing I saved and bought was a little brownie camera,” he said.
When a position as a clerk in the council’s photographic department arose, Noffke applied and was accepted, continuing his studies in photography before securing a position as a junior photographer.
“When we started it was the old Graflex 5×4 camera, the ones you see in old movies with the sliding back,” Noffke said.
“Often you only get one chance because, by the time you take the back off and put on a new back, the time has passed.”
One of those moments came in 1982, when Elton John was in town.
“We got a lunchtime phone call from the Mayor’s office to say that the Mayor was going to meet Elton John at the city’s Botanical Gardens, and [lord mayor Roy Harvey] was going to give him a present, ”Noffke said.
Tracing the life of a city
Being the Council photographer wasn’t always about glamorous princesses or pop stars.
Daily photographic tasks most often involved recording new city buildings, housing estates, and even crawling through drainage tunnels with city engineers to document any faults.
Before Expo 88 transformed South Brisbane, Noffke walked down Gray Street and photographed buildings soon to be demolished, capturing the last moments of South Brisbane’s industrial age.
His job also required a good sense of vertigo. Long before the days of occupational health and safety, a climb of the Story Bridge required only one element of safety.
He was told to meet the city engineer on the bridge to photograph his repaint, Noffke was reminded to wear sand shoes for grip.
There was no safety harness or aerial work platform, he said, when the council engineer simply swung on the structure of the bridge and began to climb, telling Noffke to follow him. .
“We walked all the way outside of the structure to the top, then we had to go through the beam because the painters were already halfway through the beam,” Noffke said.
In 2000, the council closed its photographic unit and Noffke was transferred to the Brisbane City Archives, where he began digitizing and digitizing several of its 250,000 photos for upload to the Brisbane Image Archive.
Mayor Adrian Schrinner said Noffke gave Brisbane a remarkable visual history.
“There are a number of websites and social media pages that share a lot of these images,” said Cr Schrinner.
“The images we all look fondly on to remember aspects of Brisbane’s past, we have to thank Rob for that.”
As he retires, Noffke says he is proud to have helped Brisbane’s visual memory.
“I feel like I left something for Brisbane and the residents that they can use,” he said.