Chance discovery uncovers Walter Rumble's photos and a slice of Katoomba's history

The discovery of century-old negatives in an old shed in Katoomba is shedding new light on Upper Mountains history and bringing a family closer together.

Katrina Patrickson and her dad Peter Staton from Hazelbrook Cottage Antiques, came across the glass-plate negatives earlier this year in a wooden box, covered by a hessian sugar bag in the corner of an old shed where they were going through the contents for purchase.

"The sugar bag was the only thing protecting the glass negatives inside, which were covered in dirt and in a really bad state," Mrs Patrickson said.

"We brought them home and could see Sans Souci written on the signs. I noticed on two of the negatives they had been signed by W Rumble.

"We knew they were pretty special," Mrs Patrickson said.

She contacted friend and Blue Mountains historian Jim Smith, who began to research, piecing together the story of the Sans Souci guesthouse in Katoomba, owned by Walter and Ada Rumble.

The Rumbles bought a small guesthouse called Sans Souci in Lurline Street, Katoomba, in 1905, which would later be renamed Alston. In 1915 they built a larger establishment, with room for 70 guests, on Station Hill, overlooking the Jamison Valley, and transferred the name Sans Souci, which means 'without care'. They built next to the 'California' guesthouse, which is now known as Mountain Heritage.

"By a miracle when Sans Souci was sold, an employee must have picked up a few plates and put them in the garage [in Katoomba]," Mr Smith said.

In total 80 glass negatives were uncovered, and Mrs Patrickson spent a few weeks cleaning them and converting them into photos.

Mr Smith offered to share the history and photos in a book he wrote entitled Blue Mountains Photographer Walter Rumble and the story of 'Sans Souci' guesthouse at Katoomba. The book was launched on June 22 at Hazelbrook Cottage Antiques

As tourism boomed, both Sans Souci and the California guesthouses would have extensions added, until they became the largest guesthouses in the Blue Mountains, Jim Smith writes in the book.

Sans Souci accommodated up to 200 guests and developed a loyal clientele who came back year after year for holidays in the carefree atmosphere created by the 'proprietress' Ada Rumble.

Ada ran Sans Souci for four decades. "She did all the work, and she was supporting the family," Mr Smith said.

It was sold in 1955 and became a nursing home in 1959, renamed Anita Villa in 1995. Ada died in a nursing home in Leura in 1963.

Walter and Ada's son Lindsay, with wife Roma, ran the guesthouse in later years, and lived onsite with their three children Garry, Merilyn and Margaret.

Garry was born in 1941, the same year his grandfather died. He says they lived at Sans Souci until he was about 12 years old, and remembers the hotel being popular with honeymooners.

"We used to run up and down the building and knock on people's doors and say 'it's time you went to your bedroom'", a cheeky Garry Rumble, now 78, recalls.

"They had great parties and dress-up nights where they were dressed to the nines. There were tennis parties and competitions [at Sans Souci]. There were 160 guesthouses in Katoomba at the peak."

Garry and his wife Louise, who live at Caddens, near Penrith, were thrilled to see the old photos and learn more about Walter, a man they knew little about as Garry's father Lindsay was a man of few words.

Via schoolfriends who live in the Blue Mountains and had read in the Gazette, the couple found out about the launch in just enough time to attend.

Like his grandfather, Garry has been involved with local government - working for Blue Mountains and Penrith councils for more than three decades and was a Penrith councillor for four years. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for service to the community of Penrith and to local government in 2009.

Walter Rumble was active in the community, which saw him elected to Katoomba Council in 1920 for six years, including a year as mayor. During this time he was the prime mover in the opening of Katoomba Golf Club, and vigorously defended his views in council debates, earning a reputation as an argumentative personality, Mr Smith writes in the book.

He was also one of a group of councillors who were unsuccessful in their attempts to sue the Mountains newspaper Smith's Weekly over comments published during a debate on whether the council should buy the local electricity supply, some of which was generated by Carrington Hotel owner and the newspaper's editor Sir James Joynton Smith.

Walter was also a street photographer, producing a plethora of photos between 1915 and 1920.

"He would wait outside the Carrington - he was a street photographer - for tourists coming out of the Carrington and would deliver the photograph to the guesthouse that night," Mr Smith said.

In 1957, when bushfires swept through the Blue Mountains, destroying the entire contents of Lindsay and Roma Rumble's home in Leura, the family thought they had lost all of Walter's photos.

"These slides are the only known work of Walter Rumble," Mr Smith said. "It's quite important in Blue Mountains history and in the history of Australian photography.

"He had a short-lived studio in Tamworth and was never heard of again. They [the photos] were very skillfully done and posed."

Walter never produced "postcard" shots, but would traipse into the bush with his big, heavy camera, tripod and glass slides to take photos of people. This discovery includes photos taken from Dante's Glen at Lawson, Wentworth Falls, Sublime Point lookout at Leura, Federal Pass at Katoomba and Beauchamp Falls at Blackheath.

Blue Mountains Photographer Walter Rumble and the story of 'Sans Souci' guesthouse at Katoomba is available for purchase at Hazelbrook Cottage Antiques.