Ted Ryko

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Edward Reichenbach, ‘Ryko’ (26 September 1892 – 2 September 1968)

Ted Ryko grew up on a farm at Glenlee in Quensland and left school as a child to work for his uncle’s engineering business.  Part of his job involved cycling around Victoria to deliver parts or fix machinery. Ted started to enter long-distance cycling competitions, and set his sights on one of the countries most dangerous crossings.  In May 1914, aged 21 years of age.  Ryko, with his mate John Fahey set-off from the Adelaide Post Office, with the intent on breaking Albert McDonald’s cycling record from Adelaide to Darwin. Ted was quite a talented photographer, and planned to use the trip as an opportunity to photograph some of the remote and isolated places along the route.

Image courtesy of Northern Territory Library

Trans-continental crossing

Disaster struck when Fahey sprained his ankle just before the Northern Territory border.  A decision was made for him to stop and rest with Ryko continuing on alone.  Ryko followed the old Ghan railway to Oodnadatta, then camel tracks beyond and along the maintenance tracks for the Overland Telegraph line.

The ride was not easy.  One night at Barrow Creek an animal got tangled in his water bag and dislodged the siphon hose.  Ted was then left with no water, and survived by moistening his lips from a tiny bottle of olive oil which saved his life.  He was thankful that this lady from Sydney had given him this advice before leaving.

Ryko learned a number of survival tricks along the way.  At the Finke his lighter and matches had become wet and he couldn’t light a fire.  He sprinkled some carbine on the grass, poured water on it and fired his revolver into the gas which lit it.

Saving him from freezing to death.
Image courtesy of Northern Territory Library

Even stopping to take a number of photographs along the way. Ryko broke the record when he reached Darwin in 28 days and seven minutes, covering 3,000 km of very inhospitable terrain.  Finishing at the site of the old Darwin Post Office.

Ted had been inspired to do the ride by Albert McDonald who Ted said “He was a great sport.  I was almost sorry to take the honour of the record away from him”.

Ryko opened a photograph shop in Cavenagh Street, Darwin where he sold postcard prints of his photographs.  These he sold for fourpence each. He developed and printed his films in a studio at the back. Ryko didn’t remain in Darwin very long.  In December 1915 he sold the business and resumed his nomadic lifestyle back on his bike.  Extensively travelling across the Northern Territory, to focus on his photography, and documenting Australia’s remote wilderness. He often would visit the Mary and Alligator Rivers, near Kakadu.  Where he would photograph the Buffalo shooting camps.  Ted Ryko would return to Darwin every few months to develop, print and sell his work.

Image courtesy of Northern Territory Library

The Spy

During the First World War Military Intelligence became suspicious of anyone who might have connections to Germany.  Although Ryko was born in Australia, his parents were of German heritage, and he was suspected of being a German spy.  Government officials imagined that the travel and photography that Ryko did may have been on behalf of the German government.  His name was eventually cleared, but by 1917 he had already left the Northern Territory and did not return to the Top End for nearly forty years.

Image courtesy of Northern Territory Library

Life in Sydney

Ted Ryko moved to Sydney, where he suffered a nervous breakdown.  In 1919 Ryko was admitted to the Wahroong Home of Health.  Where he reportedly recovered from his breakdown.

In Sydney, his flat was robbed and his precious collections of negatives and prints were stolen. This was a massive blow to Ryko.  One which he had difficulty recovering from. His photographs were his life and also a source of income.

He managed to move on and fall in love, married and had a son but he remained restless. By the time of the Great Depression in the 1930’s.  Ryko was living on his own and struggling to earn a living amongst the many unemployed in the city.

Around the start of the Second World War Ryko found work with the Commonwealth Railways in remote Central Australia. Here he remained for nearly eighteen years before he retired home to Victoria. In his spare time working for the railways he pursued his passion for botany, seed collecting, conservation and astronomy.

Ted Ryko; a life well remembered

Ryko move to a retirement home in Nhill due to ill health.  He passed away on 2 September 1968 just shy of his 76th birthday.

Ted Ryko was an avid photographer and writer.  He not only documented his adventures.  But also documented the people, the history and the culture of the Northern Territory.  He was also one of the first Europeans to document Aboriginal culture, which helped to enrich the world’s understanding of these people.

His collection of images that was stolen has never resurfaced publically.  All of his photos which remain comes from the prints he sold and thankfully survived in private collections, museums, archives and libraries. Of the nearly three thousand photographs Ryko took in the Territory, only a couple of hundred are known to exist today.

Image courtesy of Northern Territory Library


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2 thoughts on “Ted Ryko

    Michele Adler said:
    December 13, 2018 at 7:45 am

    I am Ted Ryko’s grand daughter. there is a booklet that has been writtenabout Ted Ryko that expands the information above. It is called Ryko the Byko, written by Howard Pohlner (Ted’s cousin) and published by Adland Horticultural http://www.adland.com.au

      Brendan responded:
      December 13, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for reaching out. Discovered the photo of Ted riding through the spears up in the N.T & wanted to learn more about him & did a fair bit of research and read through a tonne of old newspaper articles. Wasn’t a great deal of information when I wrote this and hope I did it justice. Think I spent about 6 months working on it and had a great time. Some of my favorite pieces I wrote were about the overlanders.

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