December 2nd, 2011


Australia Day Twelve: In which we visit The Man and then the governor's house

The Justice and Police Museum’s current exhibit focuses on the ASIO, which seems sort of like the CIA and sort of like the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. Half a million Australians ended up with dossiers because of membership in suspicious organizations (like the Australian equivalent of the ACLU) or other suspicious activities—one film director had his file opened because he went twice to the Soviet Embassy to arrange for travel visas so he could attend a film festival in the Soviet Union. Some actual spies were caught, but a whole lot of surveillance film was shot of ordinary people doing things like waiting for buses or getting their shopping. Now, the exhibit attempted to reassure viewers, the focus of the reformed ASIO is on terrorist activity. Somehow, it didn’t work on me.

Here is a sign that is now in an inner courtyard of the museum:

The permanent collection includes a room focused on the evolution of punishment and on the various forms punishment has taken. The question of what criminal punishment is for has been hotly debated from very early in the history of Europeans in Australia—some governors were focused on working the transported convicts hard, some liked flogging, and some looked at transportation as a time for skills training and rehabilitation.

In the Police Court, I was struck by the fact that the accused had to sit in a cage in the middle of the room. I sat there for a minute. Not a good place, and I hadn’t done a thing but go in and sit down.

The collection of confiscated weapons was sobering. I saw a homemade mace with screws sticking out of it, a knife made from a scissors blade, guns of all sorts, bludgeons, bayonets, and axes, each with a handwritten tag describing what the object was and occasionally the crime in which it was used. Chilling.

Horrendous prison conditions historic and recent had their place among the exhibits as well as issues of bias (disproportionate numbers of aboriginal people are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned). There were some moments of hope, however, in the discussions of alternates to incarceration, community policing, and outreach services.

I liked the forensic exhibit except for the chilling little note at the end about how the human genome project will soon allow us to figure out who is most likely to commit a crime in advance. Here is a photo album of tire tracks:

After the museum, all three of us wanted lunch. I was forced, absolutely forced, I tell you, to walk through part of the botanical garden again on the way to the café to get food. I am, however, not posting any more of my close-up and personal flower pictures. T.R. brought a book just in case I took it in my head to take a lot of photos…

Our next stop was Government House, where T. got to use that book in the half hour between coming in the gate and our tour. I am very seriously considering getting Brent his own camera like mine because he wanted to take photos, too. Government House is an ornate pile of rocks in the ornamental neo-Gothic style. Photos were not allowed inside, but here is a view from the back garden:

Also, I liked the doorbell:

Inside, we saw various state rooms, fancy furniture, amazing woodwork, and a very cool rug in shades of crimson with an amoeba-like pattern. The current governor is the first woman to hold the position and when she finishes her term in 2014, her portrait will break up the boys’ club of heavily medaled men on the walls. T.R. was more interested than I expected, perhaps because our guide focused on architectural details. Or it might have been the uniforms and swords.