Time for Crime at the Police and Justice Museum

September 12, 2008 at 4:27 am (Uncategorized)

Last night Llew and I went to an AGNSW event at the Police and Justice Museum entitled ‘Crime Time.’ It’s that great old pre-Federation building behind the Sir Stamford Hotel down at Circular Quay, and I was pretty keen to get in there because every other time we’ve tried we’ve found ourselves outside their opening hours. At the moment they’re exhibiting booze memorabilia from Sydney’s colourful history of excessive imbibing. It’s fascinating stuff: original rum and porter bottles, old liquor licenses, photos taken inside watering holes both notorious and swank, plus truly devastating photos of some of the stunning Victorian hotel and other civic architecture we’re now without thanks to the pea-brained idiots in charge of development and planning back in the 60s and 70s (it’s enough to make me weep). The ‘BEFORE’ and ‘NOW’ photos are a damning indictment of these fools. I mourn the city we might have been had those dickheads left our precious architectural heritage alone. 

Oh yes, there was also plenty of material from shoot-outs and scandals and flophouses, nicely contrasted with posters and letters of complaint from the Christian Women’s Temperance League. My favourite CWTL poster featured an early 1960s social scene in the home emblazoned with the words FOR A HAPPY PARTY, THE HOSTESS SERVES FRUIT DRINKS! Points for trying, girls, points for trying… 

And then came the speakers. First up was Nerida Campbell, a researcher who’s currently putting together (I think…) both the next exhibition at the museum as well as the accompanying publication: Femme Fatales, which will open in March 2009. Sounds fantastic. Campbell was a very natural speaker and well across her subject; there was something very noir-ish about her, too, so she was the perfect spokesperson for the Black Widow and other stars of the femme fatale page and screen. Ever want to know more about the great Tilly Devine’s rivalry with Kate Leigh for the title of Queen of Sin City’s Underworld? Campbell is surely the best place to start (I’m already thinking about it myself… there’s got to be a few good books left in those bawdy broads…). 

The other highlight was debut author Lenny Bartulin, whose first novel, A Deadly Business, was launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier in the year. Tara Moss was the headliner, and she was very polished, super glam and super professional, but I kind of preferred Bartulin simply because he wasn’t reeking of glamour. Moss is just BIG in every single way, and for us lesser mortals, it can be a little intimidating. Bartulin was very natural and funny and his journey to his first published book (it took him ten years of wandering around the writer’s wilderness trying to find his thing) was very familiar to this member of the audience at least, right down to having to develop the maturity to let go of all the literary pretensions of our arrogant, not roaring (much closer to whimpering), twenties. For a time there, we were really full of shit. And having heard Bartulin recount his own years of posturing and pontificating, laughing in recognition at the worst of his confessions, I wonder now if it’s actually part of this very mysterious and on-going process. Maybe you have to be a bit of a wanker first, quoting everyone from Bukowski to Kafka, slouching in corner cafe booths reading Real Literature, before you can really get over yourself and on with the much more mundane job of actually writing. I wonder. Certainly everything Bartulin admitted to last night was embarrassingly familiar to me. In fact it was me, ten years ago. But thank Christ those years are over.

I didn’t buy a Tara Moss in the end, because I don’t think she needs my help with sales, but I did buy a copy of A Deadly Business because I liked Bartulin, and I like noir, and I must say I’m genuinely looking forward to reading it. I just have to finish Wasp Season first…

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