In the mid-1990s, I began investigating the collection of 130,000 forensic photos held by the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney. From the first day, I was mesmerised. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with the collection over an extended period of time.
If you go fossicking in the archive for long enough — say for almost twenty years, as I have done — you accrue thousands of feasible but contestable stories concerning the everyday spaces of your life, and you begin to feel quick rushes of emotion pulsing between you and your city.
This is how Accident Music has come about. I started it in early 2010. It is just one of a dozen artworks, books and installations that have arisen from my research in the archive. These projects are all part of a suite known collectively as Life After Wartime that have been produced since 1998, mainly in collaboration with Kate Richards.
Accident Music is simple enough. I make a weekly post concerning a town you know well. In this town sunrise hustles fresh air in from the ocean, a day spent near the harbour gives the full catalogue of radiance, and at night you can hear accident music in fog horns and pilot bells.
Every Sunday evening I select a new image and supply three breath-short captions or ‘mutant haikus’ that evoke some qualities in the picture. Week by week a mesh of images and texts builds up and gathers the city I love.
Bright nights of hope radiate from an am amplified chord. Explain to a child the difference between a gift and a transaction. Bank everything on one thing.
See how an object can take the shape of a scream. Understand that vim can ebb in a warm sluice. Accept that heat is just a brief sigh made by cold.
The soundtrack is a glockenspiel lullaby She closes both eyes so she can walk twenty more paces. His eyes are wide open, but his legs have refused him.
Stare back at those houses. Don't give them anything. The sky wants to steam. The earth needs to bleed. Ooze into some other state and dodge the strengthening sun.
Take the town as your lover. Lean from the window. Feel how the breeze wants you and seems to offer an embrace.
The Greg Brown song is ‘Whatever It Was’, from his 1997 album, Slant 6 Mind.
The William Dawes ‘language notebooks’ can be inspected. And you could read my book, 26 Views of the Starburst World: William Dawes at Sydney Cove 1788 – 1791, Perth: UWAP, 2012.
The photograph, ‘Arthur Stace writing his message, Eternity’ (ca 1951?) (Copyright: Uncertain) is from the National Library of Australia.
(Search through the stupendous ‘Picture Australia’ consolidated catalogue.)
Kenneth Slessor’s ‘A Portrait of Sydney’ (first published 1950) is reprinted in Kenneth Slessor: Poetry, Essays, War Despatches, Journalism, Autobiographical Material and Letters (edited by Dennis Haskell), St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1991, pp. 71-82.
Ruth Park’s ‘Luna Park view over to Sydney’ is in her The Companion Guide to Sydney, Sydney: Collins, 1973, p. 315.
Gig Ryan’s ‘Dying For It’ (first published 1980) is reprinted in her superb New and Selected Poems, Sydney: Giramondo, 2011, pp. 8-10.
John Forbes’ ‘Afternoon Papers’ (first published 1988) is reprinted in his New and Selected Poems, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1992, p. 62.