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photos of australian tattoos in the 1930s

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A tattoo sleeve is nothing to blink at today, but back in the 1930s, permanently inking your skin was a bit of an oddity. For Fred Harris, a Sydney tattooist who ran a little shop on Sussex Street, it was sailors, jockeys and boxers who made up the majority of his clientele. Women came in occasionally for a beauty spot or flower on their leg, but only the most subversive ladies sported head-to-toe designs. In an issue of Pix magazine from 1938, Fred claimed to ink 2195 pieces a year, telling the publication that the new (at the time) electric tattooing method didn’t hurt – “it only tickles”.

Thanks to the State Library of New South Wales's tattoo-focused collection, you can peek into Fred’s establishment and marvel over some old-school body art (ships, the Aussie flag, butterflies and fair ladies all feature prominently). Elsewhere in the collection are snaps of Betty Broadbent (aka the ‘Tattooed Venus’), an American lass who visited Australia in 1938. At the time, she had 465 tattoos and made her living performing in a circus – a fact which tells you a lot about how tattooed ladies were viewed back in the day. Check out more photos over here and here.