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Police museum on Show

Posted on : 26 January 2017

WORDS: Vicki Hastrich
Article first appeared RAS Times November 2016

Part Two in a Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) Heritage series by Vicki Hastrich
While operational policing has always been an important part of the compact, NSW Police have traditionally joined in the fun of the Show, taking part in activities which go above and beyond normal duties. Over 120 years an interconnected relationship has developed between the force and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS), to the mutual benefit of both organisations.

The most popular of all the force’s public relations efforts was the Police Museum exhibit. This opened on a large scale in the Mark Foy’s Pavilion in 1940, although it appears to have been trialled in a more modest form in 1938 – just after the police’s in-house museum closed. Sydney people had been tantalised by newspaper reports of the grizzly contents of this museum for years, but it was strictly off limits to the public. Created in 1910, the collection of weapons and criminal paraphernalia was used to educate trainee officers, but it also contained many items of genuine historical interest, such as the original arrest warrant for the Kelly gang. In the display at the 1940 Show, almost all of the museum’s items seem to have been exhibited, including plaster casts of the unidentified victim of the famous Pyjama Girl murder, a case then perplexing police. Not surprisingly, the museum display was an instant sensation. Long queues were a problem. An entry fee was charged with proceeds going to the Police Boys' Club and some very tidy sums were raised. At the 1950 Show over 42,000 adults and 14,000 children were admitted. Nobody seemed concerned about murder weapons and gruesome photographs causing nightmares – on Children’s Day the area was packed!

But it wasn’t all ghoulishness. Modern policing methods and scientific aids in criminal detection were explained, with a police lecturer on hand to answer questions about finger printing, ballistics and chemical analysis.

From time to time law enforcement used the opportunity of the exhibit to seek information from the public to help solve crimes and community policing and safety messages increasingly featured. A special display about road traffic accidents and drink driving in 1954 was perhaps overdue, with NSW road deaths running at about 700 per year.

In those pre-internet, pre-TV days, the Show was a very effective way for the police to communicate with a broad spectrum of people.

The Police Scientific Exhibition and Museum, as it was later named, disappeared from the Show by the early 1960s, turning up again as a fully fledged public museum in 1992 at its present location in the old Water Police Courts in Phillip Street, Sydney.

Read Part One: RAS join the Force