Rose Seidler House: Week 165

Rose Seidler House: Wahroonga, Australia

When [the] house was finished, people used to come in … people were four deep. My mother had to leave the house sometimes on the weekend, because they were all standing around the windows you know, trying to see this incredible contraption’ (architect Harry Seidler, 2003).

The most famous Australian architect, Harry Seidler, began life in pre-war Austria. After the Anschluss of 1938 (the political union between Austria and Germany), he and his family fled Vienna. The next decade of his life would read like an architectural thriller: Harry studied in England during the war until he was sent to an internment camp in Quebec.

Patio of the Rose Seidler House: Wahroonga, Australia

After the war he studied design at Harvard under Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School. Before reuniting with his family in Australia, Harry spent time in Brazil with Oscar Neimeyer, a modernist architect who was settling into his illustrious career. Neimeyer’s influence can be seen in the mural Harry incorporated on the deck of his parent’s house.

In post-war Australia it had been anything but easy to construct his ideal house. Many building materials were almost impossible to attain. “I remember going around in the car, my mother’s car, to try and get a few bricks for this fireplace. No bricks were available and you begged somebody for six bricks from this yard [and] another eight from another one”.

Interior of the Rose Seidler House: Wahroonga, Australia

When completed in 1950, the Rose Seidler House was ‘the most talked about house in Sydney’. The kitchen was, “one of Australia’s best equipped, with a waste disposal unit and the very latest model refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, exhaust fan and Mixmaster.”

The idea had been to stay in Australia long enough to build his parent’s home, however Harry had not anticipated the amount of attention nor the amount of commissions the Rose Seidler House would generate. Suburbanites were knocked off their feet- they’d never seen a house with an open floor plan, floor-to-ceiling windows, and on top of that it didn’t even face the street!

If you know where to look, you will see Seidler’s influence all over Sydney. I didn’t realize it until browsing through a book of his projects, but I’ve worked on the 47th floor of his octagonal skyscraper on Martin Place. At the time of completion the MLC Centre was the tallest building in Australia and the tallest outside of North America. Some might consider it the pinnacle of his achievements, but perhaps his true masterpiece was much humbler.

Master bedroom inside the Rose Seidler House: Wahroonga, Australia

In a eulogy given at Harry Seidler’s memorial service, the former director Sydney Living Museums hit the nail on the head: “Rose Seidler House meant a huge amount to Harry and I don’t think it was just because it launched his career in Australia. Although he never said so, I always felt that it represented something very deep for him.”

How to get to the Rose Seidler House: 71 Clissold Road, Wahroonga, NSW 2076 (only open Sundays)

Barret Dreams of Electric Spiders: Week 158

'Barret Dreams of Electric Spiders' by Barret Thomson

“I’m going to sleep on the couch.” Barret declared Tuesday night after brushing his teeth.

“Are you worried about giving me your rash?”

“No, I think there’s a poisonous spider in the bed.”

“Ok…” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this but it made me feel responsible, like I had negligently let my pet poisonous spider share the bed with us.

“So,”Barret continued, “I’m just going to take the couch tonight.”

“Should I also not sleep on the bed?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, you’re fine on the bed.”

“I’m fine on the bed but you’re not because of poisonous spiders?”

“Yes,” Barret paused. “They didn’t bite you.”

I couldn’t really understand the rationale but I pointed out that he looked perfectly healthy.

“It might take a few days to kick in.”

“That was Sunday.” I counted back on my fingers. “I don’t think it would be a very effective survival technique if the spider’s poison took three days to activate.”

Barret apparently didn’t agree with me. He found a black and white checkered blanket and placed a pillow at the end of the short red couch. While he did this I swept my hand across the sheets and shook out the comforter and pillows.

“I don’t see any spiders.”

“I think we should wash those sheets again.”

“We just washed them,” I reminded him. “Are you sure you want to sleep on the couch? It’s not comfortable.”

“Yes. I just want to see what happens.”

“What will happen is a crick in your neck. Remember that time you were cutting those hedges and you had to wear a mask because you couldn’t stop sneezing? I think you are just having an allergic reaction from working out on the grass in the park.”

I thought the matter was settled, but two days later Barret’s body was completely covered in small red dots and his lymph nodes were popping out of his neck like gumballs. He left work early and found a doctor who agreed that it was indeed caused by a bite on the back of his earlobe.

“Does the doctor know what it was?” I asked.

“No.”

“Well, I bite your ear. Are you allergic to me?”

“Possibly.”

“Hey, you know what? For a rash, your skin has a nice reptilian texture. At least it’s not scabby or leaking pus.”

“Thanks. I feel better now.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “No worries.”

While Barret’s rash spread between his toes, so too did viral videos reminding uninsured US citizens to sign up for Obamacare before the March 31st deadline. Considering Barret’s out-of-pocket doctor visit, I looked up our Australian health care plan while the sheets tumbled once again in the washing machine downstairs. Barret popped a few anti-histamines and looked miserable lounging on the couch.

We were on the most basic plan to cover our visa requirements and I realized that for only $10 more a week, our plan could cover outpatient visits. That was a pretty big oversight on both our parts, so I guess the silver lining to Barret’s awesome rash was that it caused us to pay more attention to health insurance. We immediately emailed the provider to upgrade our plan.

Now I just had to convince Barret that the bed wasn’t a spider breeding ground.

About: the artwork of Barret Thomson

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

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

Limbo in the Spiegeltent: Week 149

Forgive me for not knowing what a spiegeltent was. I know better now.

The translation from Dutch (mirror tent) sounds a bit underwhelming; in reality it’s a lot more exiting. A spiegeltent is intimate portable cabaret that oozes 20th century charm and leaded glass. The curtains are thick velvet and the wooden stage is fringed with tables and wooden booths.  There’s a bar in the back and you can be guaranteed that the bartender is probably cooler than you.

The Sydney Festival was back in town and I had intended on seeing a dramatic play at the Opera House, the kind where your mascara burns your eyes because you cried the entire second act. However I needed more tickets than had been released, so at the last moment I decided on Limbo. All I really knew was that it was playing inside a tent at the Festival Village.

Luckily, unlike your run-of-the-mill sideshow, Limbo was poetry. The simple costumes and minimalistic stage design perfectly suited the ambiance of the Spiegeltent. The acrobat with a ladder, the tuba player in grungy white with black suspenders, the fire breather keeping up with the tap dancer, the aerialist who also played the piano accordion: it really felt like a traveling circus where everyone had to do amazing things with a small budget.

Musician Sxip Shirey was the pulse of the show. He was an enigmatic fallen angel in a white suit with feathers haphazardly poking out of his pockets. He could make music from anything, in fact some of the ‘instruments’ listed in the brochure were glass bowls with red marbles. I don’t know how blue marbles would have sounded, but the red ones were haunting!

I was completely in awe. Limbo was exactly the kind of sideshow that parents don’t want their kids to see because it would make them want to go to circus school. By the end of the show I had already promised myself that I would finally learn to play an instrument and that I would pick up yoga again. I hope I’m not too old to join the circus.

About: The Famous Spiegeltent

About: The Sydney Festival

About: Limbo

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