Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

Skip to content

Arblaster, Mabel Mary (1882 - 1943)

Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Professional photographer


Mabel Arblaster was a professional portrait photographer who worked in Eaglehawk, where she opened she studio.


Mabel Arblaster was born in 1882, in the small gold mining town of Eaglehawk, Victoria, into an upper middle class family. She was the second youngest child of the family and left school when she was fourteen years of age.

The Arblaster family owned a gunpowder factory but suffered financially during the Depression, especially after the catastrophic event of the factory blowing up. Nonetheless, when Mabel declared her intention to become a photographer at the age of 18, her father supported her in her quest.

Arblaster entered an apprenticeship with a local chemist, who taught her how to prepare photographic plates as well as darkroom processes. The apprenticeship entailed her working for six months without pay, then a further six months for five shillings per week. She was eventually paid seven and sixpence for the remainder of her time with him.

Arblaster's father set up a studio for her in one of the shops he owned in High St, Eaglehawk, c.1901, which she named The Federal Photographic Studio. Advertisements in the Bendigo Advertiser observed that the studio was 'specially designed and built for the production of the highest class of work, such as family groups, wedding groups, groups of football and athletic clubs' (Bendigo Advertiser 1901). Even though Eaglehawk was badly affected by the Depression, Arbalester's studio stayed busy. She worked every day of the week and had to employ a messenger to assist her. Arblaster's work shows she was highly competent in lighting, composition and printing techniques. Unfortunately only a few portraits have survived.

Arblaster married John Bell, a school teacher, on 18 April 1906 and then closed her studio. She had a number of children and for a considerable amount of time the Bell family moved from one town to another, before eventually settling in Melbourne. The family came to be quite impoverished, so Mabel was unable to take up photography again.

However, Arblaster did keep her camera with her always, and had it set up on a tripod everywhere she lived. She died in 1943.


Museum Victoria

Private collections

Sources used to compile this entry: Eaglehawk, Bendigo Advertiser, 8 May 1901, 5 pp,; Hall, Barbara and Mather, Jenni, Australian Women Photographers 1840 - 1960, Greenhouse Publications, Richmond, Victoria, 1986, 164 pp. Includes the following photographers by Mabel Arblaster, Portrait of Self and John Beck [sic] Taken When They Were Engaged in 1904, 1904, Private Collection, p. 24; Self Portrait, 1903, Private Collection, p. 23..

Digital resources

Bendigo, Victoria
c. 1890
Arblaster, Mabel
Museum Victoria


Anne Maxwell (with Morfia Grondas and Lucy Van)

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

© Copyright in The Australian Women's Register is owned by the Australian Women's Archives Project
and vested in each of the authors in respect of their contributions from 2000

The Australian Women's Register is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

The Australian Women's Register is published quarterly by the Australian Women's Archives Project
ISSN 2207-3124