2 June 2005

George Evans Museum

Popped along to have another look at the George Evans Museum again recently, as I remembered they had a collection of objects from the Asylum which I wanted to see again. It occupies a large room like an annex to the Sunbury Library.

A strange sort of space, neither one thing nor the other, really, and the display is rather chaotic. I imagine it changes over from time to time, but I visited about a year ago, and I don’t remember the show to be much different than it is now.

I realise they have travelling exhibitions through, but the current display has the feeling of a missed opportunity to it. It’s drab and incoherent. There is a small section on the Sunbury rock festivals, some material from the old asylum, some Victorian memorabilia, and a collection of photographs of early Sunbury and the pioneers.

The objects from the asylum are grim and humble, saying a great deal about the nature of the place despite themselves. There aren’t any thumb screws or straight jackets here, but there doesn’t really need to be. With my head full of stuff from the “Women’s Jail Project” I can look at the tiny ironwork bed and fill in the blanks for myself. There should be more of this – there probably is in the collection. Why not a whole feature exhibition on the asylum?

The best thing in the Sunbury festival stuff is an amazing bright orange poster, with a green naked hippy sporting an enormous afro, cross-legged and clutching a large flower. I just want to know where I can get one! (The poster, not the hippy).

The photographs are badly hung on partitions and grouped tightly so that you have to crouch down to see the ones at the bottom. They’re blow-ups and not original prints, which is a great pity, since I’m sure the originals are beautiful. The originals must be floating around somewhere. Are any in the collection?

There’s a strangely sensitive portrait of a young Mannix, the future Catholic demagogue, outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are poignant images of a wounded soldiers’ reception at Rupertswood in 1915, and a Welcome Home Parade at the Rec. Reserve, with kiddies clutching Union Jacks. I was thinking of Larkin’s words, “never such innocence again.”

Most imposing however, is the portrait of Sunbury founder George Evans, who I have to say, is one of the scariest human beings I’ve ever laid eyes on. He is elderly in the picture, posed front-on, waistcoats buttoned around his neck, and an extraordinary scowling face, like something chipped out of granite, entirely framed by a white mane. He has something resting across his lap, which he touches gently, as if feeling its smoothness. He looks like he’s about to bash someone over the head with it.

I’ve read that at the time of his arrival in 1836, the land was occupied by the Wurundjeri-Willam, a Woiworung clan, for thousands of years. They called the Sunbury area “Koorakooracup”, which is another of those lost words which people called their country across the generations, only to be erased from history by fierce patriarchs like George Evans, who remade time and space with words like “Sunbury”, which is really a town in Middlesex.

Maybe the thing old George clutches is just a wooden sign saying “Sunbury”, which was a weapon after all.

No comments: