On Saturday we visited the Justice & Police Museum, which is conveniently located next to the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Whereas in Finland the similar museums are mostly closed from general public, a museum like this does fit the history of Australia. Like the introductory of the exhibition “Notorious Criminals – A snap of sinister Sydney” states:
The Justice & Police Museum covers the years 1860-1990, but mostly the material is from before 1950s.The museum is located inside an old police station, sell blocks and a court house. All those building are combined into a one museum, where you can wander freely.
After spending an hour or two there, you will know more about the history behind the police forces and the justice system, but also about individual criminals, investigation process behind big crime cases, and the complex relationship between the police and aboriginals.
The museum provides quite interesting case studies for groups, for example also about the case of Pyjama Girl.
A few words of the photographs in the museum.
The Justice & Police museum might have the worlds largest police photographic collection with about 130,000 negatives. Unfortunately many of them were damaged before they were saved by Sydney Living Museums in the 1980’s. I heard that they are now in the process of digitalizing the pictures, but they are facing the same problem as many other archives: the lack of funding. So far only about 8 % of the material is now in a digital form.
Still, I was happy to hear it was in process, since the collection is wonderfully fascinating. One thing needs to be understood as well. It is not only a collection of criminal history: for me it is more a collection of social history. The photograps store great amounts of information about everyday life. Many of the pictures are so detailed, that from a picture of an apartment kitchen, you can read the labels of the food cans on the shelves.
Needless to say, I think Matthias thought I spent a little too much time watching the photographs.
Two curious details of the photos needs to be said, though. First is the unique form of mug shots, that are taken of suspects. When normally a mug shot is a headshot from the front and the side, in Australia they evolved into something else: casual portraits of people. I did not realize to take any pictures of them, but some of the mug shots can be seen here. Have a look!
Other curious detail of the museum is the second exhibition room. When they first opened the photographs to the public in 2005 they had a lot less information of the people in the pictures. But since then, their own research and tips from the visitors have led to the stories behind the pictures open up. One man in the photos was even identified after his relatives visited the museum and recognized him from the mug shot!
And the research is still going on. So now the exhibition room and the stories featured there are updated about every 6 months. You also follow the process of historical research: the original info text is shown as it was, and the new information is added in its own paragraph. I think it is a wonderful way to bring the research behind the museum and archive material to the public.
We were happy with our visit to the museum. For people who might be interested to visit, it is good to notice that it is only open on weekends.