Ever since I was little, I can remember being drawn to nocturnal activities. Not things regular people get up to, like going to sleep, or heading out on the town, but secret things, like exploring dark places, and finding treasure. Secrets even.
I can remember lying in bed, waiting until my brother was asleep on the bunk above, and then creeping out to the living room. Sometimes to find my Dad in his big, old arm chair, watching TV. And sometimes finding the house quiet and dark. And that’s when I’d start to explore.
It felt entirely normal to go through drawers, through boxes of old photos. Other people’s stuff, I suppose, but stuff that wanted to be looked at. And I always put things back, quiet as a mouse, trying as hard as I could to remember the exact way things were stacked so as not to arouse suspicion. I was James Bond, prying through Russian documents, about to save the Australian Empire.
One memory involves a pre-dawn trip up to the shops, aged about 4. This might be the first time my parents hear about this! I was keen on a He-Man, and I knew the Newsagent had in the window a He-Man diorama. So I had to make sure, and make sure I did. I seem to remember my mother’s puzzlement at my advance knowledge of its existence.
Other times, left alone at my aunt’s house, I would spend hours looking carefully through her lifetime of collected photos and trinkets. Drawer by drawer, I would carefully examine each and every object she’d collected over a long career in the arts; beautiful jewellery, photographs old and new, and all sorts of sculptural objects. Looking back, I’m sure she knew of my interest. I once went to stay with her, and found a pile of boxes near my bed, ready for my attention. But each time I was as careful and secretive as the last, and just as respectful for every object, every page of each book that I disturbed, in case I left a sign of my passing.
So it’s still with a sense of adventure that I carry on these activities. Only now, I venture further, and deeper, into less familiar territory. Usually on the way home, we explore. Abandoned buildings, warehouses, sheds. And find things we do. Old machinery. Objects of art. Signs of life, even signs of death.
I was once exploring the roof space of a heritage building once lived in by a well known Sydney identity. A man of ill repute. Climbing carefully across dusty rafters (great name for a celebrity?), I came across a bracelet, lodged between the old plaster and the wooden beams. It must have been beautiful once, a metallic ring, inlaid with what I think is coral, or some natural stone. Only thing was that the bracelet had been burnt. It was as if it had been through an oven, baked white and brittle. I kept it as treasure, or as evidence?
Other times I have found hidden poetry. A man’s membership badge. A signed cricket bat! And a suicide note. All carefully documented with my camera.
I have no intention of stealing, only bearing witness. Exploring, preserving, and documenting what would otherwise be forgotten.
There’s a lot of beautiful stories out there, ready to be re-discovered. All it takes is a bit of searching, and you find the most amazing stuff.