As soon as I found out that the Queensland State Archives are located near a station called Fruitgrove in a suburb called Runcorn, I knew getting there would turn out badly. Suburbs are only given such halycon semi-pastoral names when they consist of ugly greenfields-style developments, roaring roadways without footpaths, and scraggling stretches of bush overgrown with bulldozers and weeds. I walked along a seemingly interminable stretch of this bucolic countryside when the taxi arranged by the Archives failed to met the long-delayed train I had caught, cursing Brisbane’s public transport services and humidity.
Roadside in Runcorn
That prelude to the State Archives was a fitting one, really, which are full of bureaucratic detritus in spite of their lovely and cheery staff. The Archives are simply stuffed with details of lives overrun by regulations and governmental intervention, some of it well-meaning in a kind of paving-the-road-to-hell way, some of it more obviously infused with animus. I leafed disconsolately through files compiled by police devoted to the eradication of larrikinism and to preventing theatres from spoiling citizens’ peaceful observance of the Sabbath day. I looked at letters from doctors about prostitutes incarcerated in Brisbane’s turn-of-the-century Lock Hospital; in particular, their loathsome habit of talking through the fence to larrikins in the street outside.
The whole thing was depressing, I have to say. And it ended, of course, with another trip though Fruitgrove, past verdant Sunnybank and Fairfield, chastened by the thought of all those broken lives and landscapes not my own.