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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Jones at the State Archives

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Jones at the State Archives

Andrew Ryan

Second trip to the Queensland State Archives today; I’m waiting for the bus, across the road diagonally from Runcorn station, sitting on the grass behind the stop--- half an hour ‘til bus, gonna sit and have my first ciggie of the day in a bushy suburban park aww yehhh… and within 5 minutes some cops pulled up on the main road, got out of their car and walked towards me.

Two burly dudes, short hair, looking fairly intimidating.
“Are you alright?” one of them asks, “Were you laying down just before?”  
“Uhhh. nope? I’m just having a cigarette while I wait for the bus”.
Turns out someone called them about me, and they came to check on my welfare or something. They used the word welfare.
“Uhhhhhhhh. I’m fine. Just heading to the state archives.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, family history research.”
They asked where I was from, asked to see my identification etc etc.
[I stub my cigarette out on the side of my boot, go to put the butt in my bag pocket]
One says:
"Nah don't worry, just chuck it on the ground"
"I'd rather not-"
"I used to smoke, I don't care, I used to chuck em anywhere."
"-Oh haha, yeah, nah, I do care though, I try to dispose of them as best I can."
"Nah seriously just chuck it on the ground"
[I put it in my bag and stare at the trees behind them]
[pause while the other guy checks my ID (a Western Australian Working with Children Check btw, don't have a passport or a drivers license) in his digital machine]
“Any criminal convictions in Queensland?”
“Nope.”
[puts the machine back in its holster]
“Alright, all good, have a good day.”
“Yeah, you too.” (Big Smile from Me to Them; Work It Tiny White-Skinned Girl, Work It.)

I wonder if the caller was the guy that was looking at me heaps on the train? I was sniffling a lot on the train, felt sickly, a cold? Hay fever? Both are very rare for me. I chugged a berocca that i dropped in to my water bottle in a minute (maybe it looked like booze?), I was probably visibly uncomfortable because I was sniffling and my jaw hurts and my head hurts and they've both hurt for a week or more and also I could feel him watching me… hell, maybe he was concerned and called the cops for safety precautions of some kind. Or maybe it was the old couple I walked by on the way to the bus stop. Maybe they didn’t like the look of me. It was about 10am. They seemed very much like that suburban area’s locals. Jeez, am I really that bad? I'm just trying to live my life *exasperation*.

It was the first time I have encountered police responding to a call about me specifically, if it even was about me. I make a point of only very very discreetly breaking colonial laws (minor ones only), if at all.

And it was interesting timing, given that I would leave the archives later that day with a copy of a photograph of my great-great-great uncle Frederick, a photo taken after his release from prison in 1913.

OH MY GAWD DID HIS GHOST CALL THE COPS?

~

I was sniffling a lot during today’s archival session. I was a lot more prepared than the first time around, and had a long list of items to look at, printing off about 10 request forms in my 10 minutes, just before a round of retrievals began. My work flow was good, I timed things right, I’d planned it well in my head, and I was moving smoothly and taking notes and looking hard and reveling in the opportunity to access historical papers that marked the control over our 'Strayan ancestors. They also sometimes marked who did the controlling, and often how. It’s very easy to figure out when you know what you’re looking at. I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was looking at most of the time: colonial English was written VERY differently to the various styles of English that I am familiar with. There are so many things I probably missed. Most it of was heaps of blatant sucking up to people in positions of authority though.

I have to admit that I wasn’t as reverential this time around.

On my first trip, last week, I unfolded the packaging of the collection that held my great-great-great aunt’s “Lunacy” files, absorbing every detail of every precious moment of the unveiling of this material. I will never forget that feeling. It was like the time I let myself in to an abandoned, burnt out building at the edge of Collingwood, and found piles of antique spools of thread tumbling out of their rotting packaging, peeking out from beneath the fallen-in ceiling. Awe. Reverence. Inspiration. I was elated. Giddy.

This time, though... maybe because I was sniffling so much, maybe because I was tired, maybe because my back hurt... I didn’t feel so holy, so drowned in sacred light.

This time, I made sure I ritualised the unpacking and repacking, because I knew I owed the relics and their spiritual populations that much, but most of my historical journeys today were spent scanning for names, not knowing if my ancestors would show up, having to ignore all else. They showed up where I knew for sure that they would, but all the other items, their names, which I hoped would be there, were not, or if they were, I could not decipher the colonial scrawls.

~
Very little Aboriginal history is on display at the ol’ Queensland State Government Archives. Their PR/Social Marketing team seems pretty concerned with Happy Nostalgia For Fun Times Passed, and also Respect For Those Who Experienced WarTime... but the vibe reminds me a lot of how I understood Australian past when I was learning about it in late primary school. Shallow.

Granted, I did not spend time looking at the displays in the front foyer, as the day was short and my item list was long. Maybe if I'd taken the time, I would have spied something deeper than Respect for Australian Service Men and Women. Maybe. I hope so. Maybe next time.
 
I was one of the youngest people in that building; almost everyone was old enough to at least be my parent, if not my grandparent. I wondered how many Grey Nomads drive through Brisbane just for the archives; or like, do they notice them in a little foldout tourist guide and think “AH-HAH! NOW IS THE TIME TO LEARN OF MY LONG DEAD GRANDPARENTS”?

A woman approached me in the microfiche room and asked what I was up to. She was surprised when I said “Family History Research”, because she had assumed I "was writing a thesis or something", because I’m "so young". I told her I hoped to write a book about it eventually. She seemed pleased. She was researching the history her recently acquired, "very old!" home.

~

I look closely at the photo of my great-great-great uncle when I get back to my hotel room, where I’m living for these two weeks. I’m looking closely at Frederick W. Stiff (alias Jones)’s calmly serious face. He is the grandson of English Wealth on one side, and pre-1845 Aboriginal/European Biological Union on the other. In his face, I see traces of sadness, of curiosity, of resignment; and eyes that sparkle with emotion and intelligence. Placidity. Compassion. Discomfort.

What you reckon? What can you see in his face? What do you think he’s seen?

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