So Mote It Be

Among the many artefacts left behind at the closure of this masonic centre, one of the more interesting was a typed script for a masonic ceremony. Attempting to decode the script with its mysterious redactions and abbreviations was a fun challenge. It appears that a candidate for a degree of freemasonry is given the role of Third Sojourner in a play acted out over the chessboard-tiled floor. Three sojourners have recently come out of captivity in Babylon, and offer their masonry skills acquired during forced labour to the Sanhedrin – an assembly of Jewish rabbis – to assist with building the second temple of Solomon. After convincing the Sanhedrin of their genuine intentions, they are employed and dispatched to the site of the build. They are given rudimentary tools – a pickaxe, shovel and crowbar, safety ropes and explicit instructions to keep secret any artefacts they uncover from Solomon’s first temple, which according to Jewish tradition was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE. Unsurprisingly, they do make a string of discoveries in a plot as preordained as an episode of CSI: a pickaxe loosens up the earth and reveals a hollow sound beneath; a shovel clears away the earth to uncover the crown of a stone arch; its central keystone has a ring attached; a crowbar happens to perfectly fit that ring and allows the keystone to be lifted to reveal an engraving on it signposting a path to hidden treasure; lots are drawn to determine which sojourner descends into the dark cavity with the rope “cable tow” around his waist in case he meets danger and needs to be hauled up by his companions; the air he finds below is indeed poisonous and the dark is pervasive, so they wait for the illumination of the rising sun and the dissipation of the foul air; the second sojourner descends and retrieves a scroll (which according to another online source is the last remaining copy of a book of holy law hidden during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem); the three sojourners bind themselves to secrecy, and led by the third sojourner they make one final descent as the sun reaches its high meridian; they find a beautiful subterranean chamber and another arch made of marble, banners bearing names, and other peculiar “signs”.

As the three sojourners close up the vault, obscure its point of entry, and resolve to return the scroll, a hand drawing of the underground chamber and word of their other discoveries to the Sanhedrin, they demonstrate values and practices considered worthy of a freemason. In many respects these values and practices are not dissimilar to the ways of urban explorers. We understand the thrill of discoveries made while fossicking through the forgotten, dark cavities of the modern city. We too make sure the whole crew gets out safe. Like freemasons we swear each other to secrecy, albeit somewhat less formally. And we can also exhibit a similar tribalism founded on knowledge mindfully shared and withheld.

 

 

 

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But They Can Die

It was the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm who proclaimed that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Pigs are similarly the object of resentment in under-the-mattress graffiti in Cell #26 of this former prison.

The poem began burnt into the wood:

Pigs CAN’T FLY

and continued in blue pen:

BUT THEY CAN DIE

NEXT FINE DAY

BLOW A Pig away

IF YOU KILL A Pig a day

it WILL Keep the doctor away

Nowhere more clearly did we find articulated the smoldering frustration of incarceration, channeled into the kind of blind hatred that negates any opportunity for insight.

Elsewhere was a mixture of light and shade. In the kitchen the relative gentleness of a rainbow framing the extractor fan was juxtaposed with murals depicting fearsome hyper-masculine muscularity. No such diverting decor was provided for prisoners in solitary confinement, who were required to surrender their tobacco products and were issued with fresh water, a chamber pot, one mattress, one pillow, one pillow slip, one sheet, and blankets or duvet “in accordance with climactic conditions”. How some of them obtained implements sharp enough to partially chisel their gang names and insignia into the stone walls and into the paint of their cell bars and doors is anyone’s guess.

Puzzling at what we had experienced, and all the more aware of our own freedom of movement and expression, we walked for ninety minutes back down the road through pine forests to where we’d parked our car.

This is Part Four of a four part video series. Part OnePart TwoPart Three.

 

Traces of Time

From the window of #55, an informed eye studies the moody skies above the central courtyard.  Glenn’s 1972 Christmas present – The World Encyclopedia of the Film – languishes in #11, its front cover torn off but not yet discarded. #18 plays host to a brown crayoned face, mouth agape as if inviting the throwing of ping pong balls at a fairground amusement. In another piece of art nearby, a grey-bearded pig farmer and an athletic woman carrying groceries seem to be missing an opportunity to converse at the fence line. Monied wanderlust is palpable in #16, where a shrine to cars, boats and exotic getaways gleams under fluorescent light. Outside Sunday church services advertise the promise of personal transformation via belief in a higher power, while inside #37 another route to growth is being chosen. The number of 5 – denoting maximum difficulty – is written into every column associated with expressing affection towards anyone from an intimate partner to a shop assistant.

This is Part Three of a four part video series. Part OnePart TwoPart Four.

 

Dreamspun Sherpa

It was a Monday night: the 18th of March, 1946. Forgoing the novelty of home television, including Caspar The Friendly Ghost, the audience travelled in to the heart of the town, found their seats, and fell into a rapt hush as the house lights came down. Joe Houlihan led with a roll on the timpani, Vince Burke chimed in on the newly-tuned grand piano, and Frank Parsons and Kelly Kydd entered into a sensual dance between the violin and the trumpet, respectively.

It was “The Amazing . . . “ according to graffiti pencilled onto the bricks that form a passageway leading from constriction to unknown vastness above. The remainder of the show’s title, of that night, and of the following 73 years, has surrendered itself to time.

In 2019, forgoing modern cinematic entertainment rumbling through the walls, three individuals began in the rabbit warren of basement rooms where presumably the stars of yesteryear prepared themselves. Slowly and quietly they explore their way up to the stage, where a painted hypermodern cityscape complete with nuclear reactor looms large on the back wall. Projection detritus litters the stage floor. An arch – both humble and imposing – through which the audience once entered pays tribute to the Italian Renaissance and serves as a reminder that all the world’s a stage. A wooden ladder of unknown provenance looks just sturdy enough, propped up against a side wall. The rest is history.

 

Man With Short Arms

Perhaps there was some kind of neuroscience at play in this choice of images – SpongeBob SquarePants meets the lost city of Atlantis – for a mural painted along the back corridor of the isolation cells of this now-abandoned prison. Presumably intended to calm disruptive prisoners, and engage painterly ones, further intriguing murals adorn the cold cell walls: a man pruning the limb of a tree so anatomically uniform that he might just as likely be an electrician working on wires strung from a lamp post; a Māori wahine wearing a pounamu and a kākahu feather cloak – barefoot on a pedestal – turning her face to the light; a man surveying his upcoming twisting traverse into a landscape crowned by an active volcano, with only a briefcase to sustain him; and the man with short arms – seemingly ill-equipped to utilise the key to freedom that lies beside his truncated frame with its enormous feet.

This is Part Two of a four part video series. Part One. Part ThreePart Four.

 

Out Of Bounds

Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level.

From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Maori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe.

The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet of vandalism. A 360 degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach.

This is Part One of a four part video series. Part Two. Part ThreePart Four.

 

Above The Glass

A couple of old chimneys tower over an abandoned glass factory near the village of Krushevo, in the municipality of Sevlievo, in Gabrovo Province, northern central Bulgaria. Gunner thanks his generous and kind hosts, Nicola Miller and Jonathan Taylor.