Following my return from Albury, I’ve spent the last week and a bit gathering more research. I headed along to the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where I spent an afternoon scanning through 1930s editions of Truth newspaper, until I got seasick from the microfilm.
Then to Sydney, where I visited the Home front: wartime Sydney exhibition at the Museum of Sydney to get context on the time in which the pyjama girl case unravelled. I also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and saw part of Vivid Festival while I was there—all in one whirlwind day.
The main event of the day though, was the Justice and Police Museum, housed in the historic building that was once home to the water police and court. Inside it’s a place of heavy sandstone walls, labyrinthine corridors, and old cells that would be eerie if they weren’t so neatly kept. Inside, you’d hardly know you were just steps away from Circular Quay.
The x-rays of that led to the discovery of a bullet
My reason for visiting was the exhibition dedicated to the Pyjama Girl, which includes her penultimate resting place—the lead lined coffin in which she was preserved for 10 years.When people hear that she was submerged in a formalin bath, they often imagine something like a bathtub—or else, something in the way of a glass coffin. Even though I knew that wasn’t the case, seeing this receptacle in person gave me goose bumps. In fact, it made me feel incredibly sad. I tried to work up the nerve to touch it—after all, it was just a wooden box—but I couldn’t.
I left the room—an old cell—and wandered through the narrow corridor of the historic building to the next room. When I walked into this one, I saw two men in police uniforms with their backs to me and at first, I thought they stuffed manikins—ghosts on display, along with the photographs that lined the cinderblock rooms.
|The lonely second-last resting place|
Then one of the police officers shifted his weight, rolled his ankle in circles like someone who had been on his feet too long already that day, and moved across to the next row of photos.
I shuffled around the room too, following them without making eye contact—I was too spooked to look up.
We were all silent, until they began to leave the room, and I heard a radio crackle.Later, I went back into the room where the Pyjama Girl’s casket was kept. This time, I touched it.
It was a wooden box, hollowed, empty.