Friday, December 31, 2010

Darlinghurst: Books: City of Shadows, Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948, by Peter Doyle, with Caleb Williams

This smartly dressed chap (above) may appear to be a good, law-abiding citizen, but he is actually a dirty crook by the name of H. Ellis who gadded about Sydney in the 1920s getting up to mischief. This mug-shot was taken sometime in that decade at the Sydney Central cells, but I don't really know what his crime was, because his and many other records have been lost.
As Peter Watts, the director of the Historic Houses Trust, explains in the introduction to this curious and deeply fascinating publication, a vast collection of forensic crime photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1960, was damaged in a flooded warehouse. 
In the 1980s, the Trust managed to salvage ''about four tonnes of photographic material, including many glass plate negatives still in their original Kodak boxes . . . (but) sadly, none of the detective's notes or investigation files that would have provided context and explanation for the subjects depicted appeared to have survived.''
Enter crime novelist and academic Peter Doyle who sifted through the piles of photographs, decrypted messy handwriting, examined old streets and buildings, studied the Police Gazette and other publications of the day, and was then able to piece together at least some of the stories behind the 240 crime scene photos and mug-shots in this book.
So was the man above a con-man, moonshiner, abortionist or murderer? 
We might never know, but as Mr Watts writes, the photographs still manage to ''come alive in their own right'' and are also a reminder that ''photography as a medium of visual communication possesses a deep and lasting power to move, entrance and captivate, even when produced for a purely bureaucratic or investigative purpose with no thought to the reactions of posterity.''
Here is a small selection of photographs and captions from the book, including ones shot in Darlinghurst, with thanks to Master Tailor Russell Wade for letting me borrow his treasured and much-read copy.
I thought it would be a timely post, considering the razor gangs of 1920-30s Darlinghurst, detailed in Larry Writer's excellent book, Razor, are going to be brought to life again in the latest television series of Underbelly. As an aside, I would really like a bit-part or to appear as an extra in this new series. I have the wardrobe ready. 

Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, near the corner of Riley Street, looking east, circa 1930.
''The police interest seems to centre on one of the terrace houses on the left, in the Riley to Crown Street block. Details unknown but the entire series, of which this photo is a part, has the pronounced sombre ambiance of a murder scene.''

The same street scene on December 25, 2010: no murder, more trees, Horizon building.
The 1930s murder appears to have taken place at a set of terraces, now heritage-listed, which I wrote about here.

Kings Cross, late 1930s. Details unknown.

The mug-shot of Phillip Henry Ross, in the middle row, left, was taken at Darlinghurst Police Station in the late 1920s.

Uninscribed . . .
''. . . but a similar photograph of this pair appears in Truth, 14 June 1942. They are Neville McQuade, 18, and Lewis Stanley Keith, 19, at North Sydney Police Court on charges of being idle and disorderly persons, having insufficient means of support and with having goods in their possession believed to be stolen. After being remanded in custody for a week, both were released on bonds.
Of the photographs, McQuade later said to a Truth correspondent: 'We were bundled out of the police cell and snapped immediately. My friend and I had no chance to fix our hair or arrange our make-up. We were half asleep and my turban was on the wrong side'.''
I suspect this pair (while arrested on the North Shore) may have frequented the Darlinghurst and Kings Cross area.

Crime Scene: 1930s, details unknown.
I just love the dressing table, twin lights, club chair and satin angel wings cushion. There are many photographs like this in the book, including a great number with the murder victim or corpse in situ. As the details are unknown, I wonder if the apartments and homes still exist, and if the people who live in them now are aware of their gruesome history.

Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23. Sydney Central cells, February 21, 1924.
''Both were listed in the Police Gazette, 24 March, 1924, charged, along with three others, with 'conspiring to procure a miscarriage' on a third woman. Cowman (alias Divvers, Denvers,) was eventually acquitted; Crichton was 'bound over to appear for sentence if called upon within three years'. Their three male co-accused received sentences of 12 and 18 months hard labour.''
Very fashionable abortionists, don't you think?

Harry Chapman, June 30, 1924.
''Arrested in June 1924 for breaking and entering a dwelling-house and stealing articles, valued at 2 pounds 16 shillings, 6d. In September that year, aged 19, he was arrested again and charged with stealing a motorcyle and sidecar (value 175 pounds) and a till containing money (value 17 shillings, 6d), in league with Harold ('Tarlow') Tarlington, 15, and Alfred Fitch, 17. Tarlington went on to become a well-known criminal and was eventually shot dead in St Peters by Myles Henry 'Face' McKeon, who was himself later shot dead in Chippendale. Chapman received two years hard labour for motorcycle theft.''

See, no matter how handsome Chapman was - and how well he could strike a pose - this caption proves that crime never pays.
City of Shadows
Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948
By Peter Doyle
With Caleb Williams
Published by the Historic Houses Trust 2005,
in association with the exhibition, City of Shadows,
held at the Justice and Police Museum, November 2005 to February 2007.
Hardback $65

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Darlinghurst: Apartment Buildings: Meriden

I rather fancy maps. Not only are they immensely practical, I find them rather pleasing to the eye too. So while sleuthing around the City of Sydney Archives last week, I was delighted to come across an old book of City Building Surveyor's Detail Sheets. 
It was a large compendium of about a dozen A2-sized Sydney city building maps, exquisitely and precisely illustrated. I took photographs of all the maps related to Darlinghurst and when I returned home and enlarged them on my computer, I was excited (yes, I was excited) to discover that the building at 40 Hardie Street, where I used to live, is called Meriden. It's an appropriate name too, for it was a merry den indeed.

I'm not certain of what period the Surveyor's Detail Sheets were made, but I will take a wild guess and say the early 1960s. If you look closely at the above illustration, you can see that the Alexandra Flats is still listed as a ''School'' and the Marist Brothers College closed in 1968 - so that is how I came to my scientific conclusion. And, well, if you see the maps, they've got that 60s vibe about them.
I also found it interesting to see that Iona is listed as Hughlings Private Hospital and my beautiful Stoneleigh was going through its ''Greencourt'' period.

Anyway, as I said, I was excited to learn that 40 Hardie Street, my old favourite home, was called Meriden, and this inspired me to do some online sleuthing at the National Library of Australia's Australian Newspaper archives. 

I firstly came across this old classifieds advertisement (above) from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, dated January 4, 1930. I found similar advertisements in the Herald from 1929, which were published on April 18, November 2 and December 1. 
Rental of a ''Modern, self-contained bachelor flat, comprising large bed-sitting room, tiled kitchenette and bathroom,'' at 40 Hardie Street cost a mere 30 shillings, and interested persons could apply to flat 12.

Then I hit upon this advertisement from March 21, 1953, which lists the building for sale.

But by far the most thrilling discovery was from the Sydney Morning Herald edition of September 23, 1949. Hidden amongst the classifieds was a list of prize-winners for the newspaper's Name a Foal Competition and among them was a Barbara Martin of 7/40 Hardie Street - the very same apartment I lived in for five years. 
When I lie in bed staring at the ceilings of my apartments, I often wonder who has lived there before me and what festivities, dramas and banal domesticity the ceiling has witnessed. I never wondered so much while living at number seven, because the moulded ceiling had been recently covered up. But now I know. And now I am wondering who Ms Martin was, what she looked like and what she did for a living. Was she a school teacher, nurse or exotic dancer?
Perhaps I'll never know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Darlinghurst: Reader Story: Stephen Hickmott and the Secret Tunnels

Marist Brothers College Class of 1965

A wonderful story of a boy's own adventure in 1960s Darlinghurst, by reader Stephen Hickmott (front row, last on the right), now aged 59 and living in Tasmania.

I was raised from a baby in a little house in Darlinghurst, on the opposite side of the Green Park Hotel, in Liverpool Street, just up from the corner. I went to Darlinghurst Public School through the years, up until 5th class, when I changed to the Marist Brothers College, on the corner of Liverpool and Darley streets. 

The former Marist Brother College, now the Alexandra Flats.

When I was about five we moved to the downstairs of a terrace house at 96 Surrey Street, which had a massive backyard. We stayed there from about 1955 to 1970, but my father remained there for another ten years.  My old man was a merchant seaman and later drove Green Cabs. 

96 Surrey Street.

The thing I would love to see again one day is a secret probably not many folks know about: the secret passageways that belonged to the old Darlinghurst Gaol. 
The passageways were beneath the Marist Brothers College and the manholes, or entrances to them, were boarded up after the brothers set a trap and caught me another fellow down there. 
You had to go down and along, crawling on your belly, into a small cell, only 3 feet high, which had shackles on its walls.
There was one entrance to the tunnels under the staircase in the school, which at the time was a broom closet, and there was another entryway in a room the brothers’ used briefly for music lessons. We found yet another entrance in the house where the brothers lived - when we accidentally emerged from the tunnel in to their residence. 

We first discovered the tunnels one day in 1968 when we got in to trouble and the brother told us to go and get the biggest cane in the school. As we were always getting into strife we looked ‘’everywhere’’, but of course never went into the other classes to get one.
While we happened to be looking around we opened the broom cupboard and there was a 20 feet long cane with a chimney sweep on it - we decided this was the one.
But as we were getting it out, we noticed a crack in the floorboards, so we lifted them up and discovered a tunnel down in to the dark . . . we put the floorboards back and decided to return later.
We opened the classroom door and started feeding the cane in. After about 15 feet went through, the class was laughing, but the brother jumped up and turned red and spat the dummy. He screamed ‘’Next door! Get a cane!’’. He didn’t see the funny side of it at all.
We got six each and detention for a month. 

About a week later we went back and started investigating the tunnels with a torch.
The tunnels were about 2 feet wide and made of lime and there were small rooms about 8 feet wide with shackles on the wall. I guess it was solitary confinement to the max.
We would mainly access the tunnel through one of the manholes that was in the art class, which was taught by a teacher and not a brother, meaning we could get away during the class by going down the floor under the desk.
We would usually turn our pants and shirts inside-out because we’d be white as soon as we came out, and then we’d turn them back around so it wasn’t noticeable.
This one time, we didn’t bother turning our uniforms inside-out because the old teacher had a 2-hour class and we thought we’d have plenty of time to clean up.
But someone – one of the teacher’s pets – went and told the headmaster we had gone underground, so he turned up with the other brothers to look for us.
We had made our way back to the art class by then and when we got near the entrance we heard the brothers calling to us to come out. They didn’t sound very happy about it either.
After a 15-minute stand-off they got a hammer and nails and threatened to nail us in, which they proceeded to do. 

Rear view of the old college.

We headed back to the broom cupboard exit to escape, but before we could get out the brothers realised they had been outsmarted so a general assembly in the yard was called.
We slipped out of the cupboard and joined in with all the other classes coming down the stairs from level one and two.
In the yard I was in the second row back, and the headmaster walked up each row. We stood out something shocking, covered in white. As the headmaster went past me, he said, ‘’Out!’’ and then he also got my mate up in the back row.
I received six cuts of the cane on each hand. And detention. Which was actually pretty bad because you had to stay until 4.30pm and that made the day really long. 
Ten years ago I moved down to Tasmania, where I grow cherry trees. I have many great memories of climbing all over the Cross on roofs and riding our billy-carts down Bayswater Road, and I would love to come back and explore the tunnels again.

NEXT WEEK: Violet Investigates the Secret Tunnels. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Darlinghurst: Detritus: Christmas Below the Coke Sign

Christmas Lights Above the Coke Sign, Christmas Eve, 2010.

It's a Friday night and Christmas Eve in Darlinghurst and the neighbourhood is empty. Residents have flown from the city, suburbia has decided to give the suburb of sin a miss for the night, and tourists are low key. 
Parking spots? 
Hundreds of them.
Yet over the past couple of weeks, people have been celebrating Christmas in Darlinghurst with trees, wreaths and colourful lights - in laundromats, dress shops and private homes. I wandered through the back streets seeking out such decorations and here is a collection of photographs taken on my jaunts.
I'll be back on Monday, December 27, with a reader's ripper of a story set in 1960s Darlinghurst, so make sure you check in next week.
Have a safe and happy Christmas dear readers! 

Stars and Lights, Burton Street Laundromat, Darlinghurst.

Christmas Tree, Caldwell Street, Darlinghurst.

Lights, Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst.

Bells, Surrey Street, Darlinghurst.

Red Christmas Tree, Forbes Street, Darlinghurst.

Christmas Tree, Hardie Street, Darlinghurst.

Kingsgate Shopping Centre, Kings Cross

Merry Christmas, Blossom Gardens Nursery, Burton Street, Darlinghurst.

Plastic Santa, Blue Spinach, Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst.

Christmas Tree, Womerah Avenue, Darlinghurst.

Red Door and Wreath, Womerah Avenue, Darlinghurst.

White Door and Wreath, Surrey Street, Darlinghurst.

Star and Wreath, Surrey Street, Darlinghurst.

Blue Lights, Surrey Street, Darlinghurst.

 Wreath, Craigend Street, Darlinghurst.

Nativity Scene, Nimrod Street, Darlinghurst.

Tinsel-Covered Bus, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst.

Christmas Tree, 22 Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay.

 Christmas Trees, 61 Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay.

 Miniature Christmas Tree, 46 Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay.

Lights on Frangipani Tree, 19 Roslyn Street, Elizabeth Bay

And my little tree branches!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Across the Border: Surry Hills: Street Art: D.H.R.

How many images can you squeeze in to one mural? 
Cowboy hat? Check. 
Cooked turkey leg? Check. 
Bunch of dogs? Yes. 
Raised fist? Yep. 
Strange elephant-headed man with a gun? Yes, that's there too. 
Man with parrot on shoulder riding on the back of a Segway-driving Wookie? Of course!
This mural, on the corner of Little Bloomfield and Campbell streets in Surry Hills, was painted by an artist who goes by the initials DHR. A quick google search reveals DHR is a tagger around town. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Darlinghurst: Animal Life: Rats

Rats (Rattus) are a much maligned member of the rodent family and I must admit, I am no fan of the rat. I really did not think about rats one way or another until quite recently when Darlinghurst was hit by a plague of the buggers. At first I saw them in nearby Nimrod Street, where on my night time wanderings I had spotted them darting in to drainage tunnels and on one day time ramble discovered the perfect specimen (above) lying dead in the gutter. 
But then Rattus decided to move closer to my home where there was an ample supply of leftover food for them to nibble on.

This collection of bins forms a kind of turning circle in Royston Street. Some clever council person has built an arced gazebo to cover the bins and then planted some lovely flowering Wisteria to grow all over it and perhaps mask the scent of garbage.

But their attempts at beautification don't quite mask the fact that this is one ugly bin monster. I personally only use the bins on the exterior because I couldn't bear to walk inside as the design intended. The design also makes it easy for people to just throw their garbage bags in to the centre and hope for the best, which often leads to spillage and trails of rotten food. The bin monster is also a magnet for unwanted mattresses, cupboards and clothes.
So it's unsurprising Rattus have decided to make the bin monster their new home. 
And they are brazen little rodents too. One evening, before the sun had even set, I saw half a dozen rats dancing around on the tops of bins like they were characters in a Disney musical.

The photograph above illustrates just one of the many holes the rats have burrowed in the ground around the bin monster. I can only imagine the horrors that lie inside those holes. 
Attempts to capture the critters on camera have proved difficult, as they tend to scamper off on my approach:

But this dead one could not escape my prying lens:

And this one just stood there:

So what to do about the rats? Well, the other night when I was leaving my home, I was very pleased to see the Naughty Cat trotting up the path with a frolic in his step, his tail in the air and a rat in his mouth. He looked very happy with himself too, although I don't think his owner would have been too keen to find a mangled rat on their doorstep. 
I didn't want to talk to the cat while the rat was in his mouth, but the next day I went outside for a little chat. I told the cat how impressed I was by his rat catching skills and asked, if he pleased, could he perhaps catch and kill some more rats? 
The cat said that was all very well, he didn't have much else to do, but would I please refrain from calling him the Naughty Cat and instead use his real name. 
I was so embarrassed. I felt terrible. I apologised and asked him his name. 
''Ralf,'' he said. 
''Yes, Ralf,'' he said. ''Don't laugh. I can't help it.''
I said Ralf was a fine name for a cat and he should be very proud.
And from now on, the cat formerly known as Naughty, will now be known as Ralf the Rat Catcher.

Ralf the Rat Catcher in Egyptian Pose.