Time travelling

Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth. Martin H. Fischer

Before I left Australia, I was given a perfect early farewell gift by H., the professor and researcher in design and architecture who heads the university Design Archive where I worked part time. She came in to work one day excited by what she had found, presented me with a small parcel and insisted that I did not wait until I was leaving to unwrap it.

H. knew that I have a small collection of postcards of Egypt from times past (see my previous entry on that), and she had found two beautiful glass plate photographs of a woman at Kom Ombo temple. That these fragile images had made it from Egypt to Melbourne was gift enough, but that the person featured was an intrepid woman traveller from the early 20th century was doubly significant for me.

The originals are stored safe in Australia but prints have come with me and grace the lounge room wall here. I often wonder who she was, this young, unidentified traveler who I can only call Kom Ombo Woman, and what was she doing here? Was she on a Grand Tour like many well off young men and women of her time, extending her cultural education between her schooling and future career or marriage? Perhaps she was sent here for health reasons, as many from the UK were, with the dry climate and long summer being better than English damp houses and fogs for those with chest complaints. Was she English or Australian born, and how did her photo end up in Melbourne? One of the images also shows an Egyptian man, I suspect he was a dragoman, one of the translator guides who accompanied tourists and explorers.

I had a previous favourite image of a woman tourist climbing the pyramids, also shown above. Since then I have found a wealth of wonderful images online including “Looking across the Sahara Desert from the top of the pyramid of Cheops at sunset”, c. 1920s.

You can no longer (legally) climb to the top of the pyramids, but I wonder how the women clambered all the way in those shoes with little heels – even wearing runners it is difficult negotiating the big blocks of stone on the lower reaches of the pyramid, which I have done like so many other recent tourists.

I would now like to return to the pyramids to take some black and white photographs to sit with these old treasures.

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