Crime and punishment have been taboo topics for as long as people have been starving and stealing bread. The Justice & Police Museum is a perfect place to explore Sydney’s hidden past and discover what methods have been used to establish justice and peace. The museum is part of the Historic Houses Trust and is only open on the weekends.
Consisting of 12 rooms, the museum takes the viewer on a journey through policing, law and crime. There are several rooms that explore the early sabres through to the rifles used by policemen, as well as showcase the uniforms and the cameras used by crime scene investigators to document their findings. There are also displays of the confiscated tools used by criminals as well as the, well, torture techniques employed by the law enforcement. The Crime and Punishment Room was of particular interest as it uses the sounds of iron and rattling bronze, sirens and screams, to enhance a room filled with torture paraphernalia used on early Australian prisoners.
The court rooms provide a sense of perspective as visitors are able to touch and explore the places where criminals were brought in to and then tried. The First Cell is another room that visitors can take a moment to reflect in as they stand in a small room, with limited light, where up to 12 prisoners would have been held. The most confronting aspect of this room was the nail scratched graffiti which covered the cell’s walls and even though upon closer inspection I saw that the tags included phrases such as ‘waz here ‘09’, I couldn’t help but feel that somewhere beneath the school uniformed writing, there were real messages of despair, hope and hatred.
The museum also takes a look at some of the more recent events that gripped Australia as a nation including the stories of ‘The Pyjama Girl’ and little ‘Graeme Thorne’. The displays available tell of how these cases were solved as well as showcase some of the evidence that was used by the investigators. The room also contains the history of forensic technology as it developed in Australia, whilst another explores how early scientists theorised what a criminal should look like.
Temporary exhibitions are also held at the Justice & Police Museum; I was lucky enough to be there when the ‘Wicked Women by Rosemary Valadon’ series was displayed. This beautiful exhibition depicts contemporary women, from burlesque performers to lawyers, as sexy and dangerous femme fatales. Inspired by early pulp fiction magazines, the women are drawn in front cover poses that expose both their modern personalities as well as their wicked inner selves. From the first portrait of a woman subtly adding poison to a glass to another firing a gun whilst a drop of blood slides down the side of her mouth, the viewer is thrown into a confusing world of right and wrong. There is also a 20 minute video in the adjoining room, which explains the production process of the exhibit as well as showcases the many sketches that Rosemary Valadon used in preparation for her final portraits.
To me, the quote on the wall that captured the exhibit was “with a gun in her hand she was slaughter in satin”.