Justice and Police Museum: Week 155

Mug shot of Sydney Skukerman, or Skukarman, 25 September 1924, Central Police Station, Sydney

There is an unusual collection of photography at the Justice and Police Museum unceremoniously dubbed the, “Special Photographs.” They were taken by Sydney police photographers between 1910-1930 using glass plate negatives.

These “Special Photographs” were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney and are, as curator Peter Doyle explains, of “men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension”.

Doyle suggests that, compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, “the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.”

Mug shot of Herbert Ellis. Presumed Central Police Station, Sydney, around 1920.

In every sense of the word, these photographs are unique. Even the identification details are yet another flourish of the photographer as they were hand-etched, backwards, onto the glass plate negative.

When you compare these Special Photographs to the ones taken at the State Reformatory for Women, the difference is intriguing. For although the reformatory mug shots possess a weird melancholy beauty, compared to the ‘other work’ being produced at the ‘more experimental’ police stations in Sydney, the reformatory is decidedly restrained.

Mary Harris, criminal record number 589LB, 15 August 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

 Mary Harris, criminal record number 589LB, 15 August 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW.

Jean Wilson, criminal record number 644LB, 25 September 1924. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW.

Jean Wilson had numerous convictions for housebreaking and theft. She preferred stealing jewelry as it could be easily pawned for money. She also robbed her employer. Wilson was charged with larceny, for which she served a 12-month sentence. Aged: 23 in 1924? DOB: 1904.

Eileen May O'Connor, criminal record number 710LB, 3 June 1927. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

Convicted of stealing. Eileen O’Connor first appears in police records as a ‘missing friend’, or missing person. She is eventually arrested for stealing a wallet and is described by police with the odd epithet ‘inclined to be weak’. Aged 17. 

Nellie Cameron, criminal record number 792LB, 29 July 1930. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

Nellie Cameron was one of Sydney’s best-known, and most desired, prostitutes. Lillian Armfield, Australia’s first policewoman, said Cameron had an ‘assured poise that set her apart from all the other women of the Australian underworld’. Aged 21.

Mug shot of Alfred Fitch, 18 August 1924, location unknown, but possibly Darlinghurst Police Station.

The subjects in the Special Photographs seem to transcend their circumstances. Perhaps, even though they had run afoul of the law, the novelty of being photographed was a welcome distraction.

When this photograph was taken Alfred Fitch was a car thief. His entry concludes:

8. … may be described as an unscrupulous criminal, who will lend his hand to any unlawful undertaking, irrespective of its nature, and invariably assaults, or endeavours to assault, police effecting his arrest.

9. Addicted to drink, a constant companion of prostitutes, frequents houses of ill-fame, wine bars and hotels in the city and its immediate surroundings, generally Surry Hills and Darlinghurst particularly.
Mug shot of Barbara Turner, 10 October 1921, Central Police Station, Sydney.

Barbara Turner was a ‘confidence woman’ who operated in Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane and Perth from the 1890s until the 1920s, and possibly beyond. This photograph was taken after she was arrested for defrauding one Henry Placings in Sydney of 106 pounds, by borrowing against a forged cheque, for which she received a year’s imprisonment.

Mug shot of Ellen Kreigher, 13 July 1923, Central Police Station, Sydney.

Ellen Kreigher was one of four people arrested and charged over the murder of Gertrude Mabel Heaydon. In October the previous year Gertrude Heaydon had been taken to the Coogee flat of a woman known as “Nurse Taylor” to procure an illegal abortion. She died there in the flat.

Police later claimed she was murdered by Nurse Taylor, at the behest of Heaydon’s husband, Alfred. A team of low-lifes was eventually assembled by Taylor’s husband Frank to remove the putrefying remains in a horse and cart, and their somewhat farcical progress across Sydney was later recounted by numerous witnesses.

Mug shot of Francis Flood, Central Police Station, ca. May 1920.

An entry in the NSW Police Gazette, 5 May 1920 lists Flood as one of two men arrested over the theft of 400 blouses from a Kent Street merchant. Both were sentenced to two years hard labour.

Mug shot of Frank Murray alias Harry Williams, 4 February 1929, Central Police Station, Sydney.

Murray/Williams’ entry in the NSW Criminal Register, April 30 1930 describes him as a housebreaker and thief, whose MO includes ‘[breaking] leadlighted door or windows or [forcing] the fanlights of dwelling houses during the absence of tenants’. He ‘disposes of stolen property to patrons of hotel bars or to persons in the street … professing] to be a second-hand dealer’.

Although he ‘consorts with prostitutes’ and ‘frequents hotels and wine bars in the vicinity of the Haymarket’, he is described as being of ‘quiet disposition’.

Mug shot of Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O'Brien and James O'Brien, 20 July 1921, Central Police Station, Sydney.

The quartet pictured were arrested over a robbery at the home of bookmaker Reginald Catton, of Todman avenue, Kensington, on 21 April 1921. The Crown did not proceed against Thomas O’Brien but the other three were convicted, and received sentences of fifteen months each.

Mug shot of May Blake, 1 September 1930, Central Police Station, Sydney.

The NSW Police Gazette 29 October 1930, p. 827 lists Blake as ‘charged with having cocaine unlawfully in her possession.’ She was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and fined 250 pounds.

Mug shot of Valerie Lowe, 15 February 1922, Central Police Station, Sydney.

Valerie Lowe and Joseph Messenger were arrested in 1921 for breaking into an army warehouse and stealing boots and overcoats to the value of 29 pounds 3 shillings. The following year, when this photograph was taken, they were charged with breaking and entering a dwelling.

Mug shot of William Stanley Moore, 1 May 1925, Central Police Station, Sydney.

This picture appears in the Photo Supplement to the NSW Police Gazette, 28 July, 1926 captioned: ‘Opium dealer./ Operates with large quantities of faked opium and cocaine./ A wharf labourer; associates with water front thieves and drug traders.’

The police files tell one story and the mug shots another, for the toughest faces could be blouse thieves and the most lighthearted could be accessories to murder. There is something so oddly beautiful about these photos and it’s not just nostalgia at play.

How to get to the Justice and Police Museum: Corner Albert & Phillip Streets, Circular Quay, Sydney NSW 2000

A Manly Bike Trip: Week 154

Barret's hand-drawn directions for the Manly to Glebe bike ride

I had no idea where to go. The 20km bike route from Manly to Glebe was scribbled in a notebook in Barret’s backpack and he had just disappeared.

When I finally reached the apex of the hill, the corner of Sydney Road and the A8, I hopped off my bike and scanned the intersection. Because he and our friend John had disappeared so quickly, my best guess was that they had turned left. However there were two routes in that direction- the sidewalk which went uphill and a steep road which went downhill. The road had no shoulder to ride down, was six lanes wide and crammed with traffic. A yellow sign near the intersection read pedestrians prohibited.

I waited a few minutes and when no one showed up I thought, stupid boys- they would take the most sketchy route possible. It wouldn’t be easy to cross six lanes of traffic and ride back up, so that must be the reason why they hadn’t reappeared. I slowly nosed my bike into the turn lane and waited for the light to turn green.

There’s a video I once saw of a break dancer spinning upside down in the middle of a large crowd. Halfway through his performance a small toddler walked into his path and was swept across the room by the break dancer’s helicopter move. That’s kind of how I felt skirting alongside the highway traffic, like a kid on a tricycle who had accidentally wound up on an F1 race circuit.

I pulled over as soon as I could and suddenly remembered my phone.

Where are you guys?

A response came within a minute.

Barret is heading back up the hill to find you.

Ten minutes later I still hadn’t seen Barret; it must have been a very long ride down. Realizing this made me feel both generous (if I head down now, it will save Barret having to go further uphill) and vindictive (if I wait a little longer Barret will have to retrace his steps even further). Either way, after seeing a couple of solo cyclists roar past, I decided that I should give it another go on my own.

When there was a break in traffic I rushed out into the far left lane and furiously peddled to pick up speed. Out of the right corner of my eye I saw Barret pushing his bike uphill. He stopped to wave his arms and then pointed downhill.

I was glad to see him, but exceptionally irritated that he had left me alone at the entrance to a highway. I also felt completely exhilarated because I was flying downhill. There was really only one way to express the duality of my feelings. I let go of the right hand grip and from across six lanes of traffic I showed Barret my best finger.

Thanks for waiting, look what I can do on my own!

Eventually Barret made it back down and found me and John resting under a shady tree at the bottom of the hill.  I was worried he might be mad at me, but he rolled to a stop with a smile on his face.

“Good thing the rear break is on the left.”

High Tea at Vaucluse House: Week 153

High Tea at Vaucluse House: Sydney, Australia

Vaucluse House is the former home of William Charles Wentworth, an Australian colonial barrister and politician. In 1827 Wentworth purchased the land and the single story cottage atop it from an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Hayes, who had been banished to Sydney for kidnapping an heiress and attempting to marry her by force.

Curiously enough, despite being sent to the ends of the earth, Sir Hayes had managed to get his hands on enough Irish peat to encircle his house to protect it from snakes. St Patrick had ‘so managed matters that no snake could live on or near Irish soil’.

Over the next five decades Wentworth and his family developed the property into one of the most charming harbor side estates that no upstanding citizen would set foot in.

Inside the servant's quarters of Vaucluse House: Syndey, Australia

Both William Wentworth and his wife Sarah were the children of convicts as well as, “part of a new generation of Australian-born colonists determined to break down the social and civil barriers that divided free settlers from the convict-stained.”

William was successful in this regard as he held important political positions and advocated for social issues like the right to trial by civilian juries. However, high society could not forgive Sarah for having her first two children out of wedlock. Even the Sydney Morning Herald put their two cents in:

Whenever a woman falls, she falls forever … She becomes as it were socially dead.

Ouch- and Wentworth had fought Governor Darling for freedom of the press.

Vaucluse House: Sydney, Australia. The flat wall on the right is where the front door was supposed to go.

In response to their lack of social status William never installed a front door (note the hedge in front of an off-color square wall) and the family spent a lot of time in Europe. Upon their return to Sydney in 1861, after having been in the presence of the Queen’s court, the Wentworths finally find a more welcoming high society. Too little too late? Nah, Sarah enthusiastically jumped into the very scene that had once resoundingly excluded her.

William died in England in 1872 and when his body arrived in Sydney, he received the first ever state funeral in New South Wales. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral and around 65,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession.

In 1923, this comment appeared in Freeman’s Journal: Much interest is being taken in the re-storing of this famous home, so that it will remain always for the people, and it will be to Australians what Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is to the American citizen.

Gluten free desserts at Vaucluse House tearoom: Sydney, Australia

By 2013, the grounds of the Vaucluse estate receive at least 60,000 visitors annually. Many of these guests flock to the garden tearoom that was added in the 1920s. The art deco windows overlook verdant landscaping and the linen-covered tables are piled high with tiered cake platters, flutes of sparkling wine, tea pots, clotted cream, and scones. There is even a gluten free option and it is just as decadent as its counterpart. See those passion fruit tarts with candied flowers above? Not a spec of gluten on that plate.

It’s a bit ironic how one’s popularity can pick up in death. I think if Sarah Wentworth had had gluten free options she would have had a lot more guests. And by guests I mean picky eaters with loose morals.

 How to get to Vaucluse House: Wentworth Road, Vaucluse NSW 2030

Crossing Boundaries: Week 152

'Ponytail' by Mylyn Nguyen: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

One day I was told I should have been a pig and that dogs are noble and should have been my brother. I was told that dragons shouldn’t like me but it didn’t matter as one day karma would turn me into a bird and then a snail. I was told monkeys would protect me from snakes and whales would save me from drowning. Naturally I thought I would marry a rooster but I was told I would fall in love with a horse. I was told that my mole would stop horses from finding me and that parting my hair in the middle would make my monkey and pig hate each other.

The sculptures above, by Mylyn Ngyuyen, were some of my favorite pieces at the Crossing Boundaries exhibit in the Sydney Town Hall. Inspired by the Lunar New Year celebrations, Crossing Boundaries showcases the local talent of Asian-Australian artists. And since 2014 is the year of the horse, equine references abounded.

'Conversations' by Jayanto Damanik: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

Not all artists incorporated the zodiac into their work though. Jayanto Damanik’s piece Conversations was created entirely from used teabags that he had collected since 1997.

Tea has a special place for me and my family. Tea can also be served for ceremonies praying to The Universe and as an offering for reconnecting with The Dead – in the spiritual realm. I collected my tea bags from family and friends and each tea bag contains a memory. In ‘Conversations’, every tea bag tells a story of daily life’s grievances and joys.

Somchai Charoen’s installation Landmind was comprised of beautiful ceramic flowers that rested on lily pad-esque  landmines. The individual pieces were arranged on the floor in a grid pattern, an uncomfortable mixture of military precision and the soft curves of nature.

'Like a Horse' by CNY Pamela See: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

This is probably the lamest selling point, but I was really happy that the gallery was open till 8pm. To put it into perspective, not even the mall is open that late on a Saturday! Crazy, right? In my mind, this is pretty much the perfect Sunday afternoon: siting out the afternoon heat with a late brunch and several cups of tea before riding over to Town Hall during the last hour of golden sunshine.

If only more places were open this late!

How to get to Sydney Town Hall: 483 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000

About: Crossing Boundaries

About: Sydney Chinese New Year

Rouse Hill House & Farm: Week 151

Rouse Hill House and Farm: Australia

“Where’s the stupid turn?” I asked, sunblock sliding down my neck like gasoline floating off a freshly rained road. My collar bones weren’t going to match my face for long.

“Didn’t you draw a map?” Barret replied.

“Uh, yeah.”

I hadn’t; I also hadn’t brought water. “I think it’s just a little bit further.”

After another grueling series of rolling hills we stopped under the only patch of shade along the rural road. The sun beat down and heated up the cow patties like aromatherapy discs. I pulled my notebook out of my backpack and we re-read my directions. “Hmm…” Barret’s eyebrow cocked up. “We were supposed to turn at that intersection back there.”

When Barret and I finally arrived we were drenched in sweat. It was worth it though- the historic home was a true country escape.

Since the early 1800s, the Rouse Hill House and Farm had been continuously lived in until the sixth generation owners moved out in 1993. The reason the house is so special is because, “chairs from the 1840s sit beside textiles from the 1950s, grand tour paintings sit above mantelpieces crowded with photographs and mementos, and a 1960s television sits in a room whose walls were papered half a century earlier.”

Interior of Rouse Hill House and Farm: Australia

Considering my nasty habit of breaking antiques (with feather dusters of all things!), I was impressed at the way the Rouse’s had preserved their heirlooms.

Although the family was riding high during the 1800s, by the time the fifth generation had come into stewardship there had been an economic depression and fortunes had been squandered (twice). By the early 1930s there were only two major heirs to the estate: Nina and her sister Kathleen. However, Nina became the sole trustee after her sister was murdered under mysterious circumstances in Manchuria while rendezvousing with her Latvian lover. This sent the gossip circles into a tizzy.

Nina remained the trustee until her death in 1963. Because she was not wealthy (at least by previous standards), she never remodeled or updated her furniture. In fact, during her later years Nina began to recognize the historic value of the property and it was her son Gerald, the last occupant, who gave the property over to the NSW government.

Interior of Rouse Hill House and Farm: Australia

Thankfully it was a lot easier to ride back to the train station. Barret and I coasted downhill past sleepy red brick homes with scorched yards, past small shops with bad fonts, past the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant in every rural town, and onto the train station platform.

The station was empty except for a mother her son sitting on a wood bench. Five minutes before the train arrived, three men crossed the tracks on horseback. Clip clop clip clop. The sound of the hooves faded down the main street. I didn’t think that a town connected to the Sydney metro could be so country, but I was wrong. Maybe time just runs slower in Rouse Hill.

Stable at Rouse Hill House and Farm: Australia

How to get to Rouse Hill House and Farm: 356 Annangrove Road, Rouse Hill NSW 2155

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