When I first heard a recording of Bea's voice, it carried her identity and body along with it. In other words, her voice anchored a corporeality to the public archives as I moved and 'listened' through them. This felt like an agitation within the media she was enmeshed in. Later, during our many visits to Callan, Bea's mirage increasingly became imprinted on the psycho-geographic landscape of Callan. Through my association with the place, it became more apparent how her radical selfhood overcame what could have been a statistic. or footnote in a historical case study.
Three years after her admission, Bea was released from the psychiatric institution, due to a newspaper article decrying the unethical nature of her detainment. In this way, she become not a story of someone relegated to the shadows of the 'moral' architecture' of this now gentrified space; but she pushed beyond and through it; evading pathologisation - emancipated through an archive to, ironically, evade her memorialisation in such a despository today - always reverberating towards infamy as one of the last of Sydney's true bohemians.
The attempted institutionalisation of Bea's *mad* individuality also brings to mind the broader abuses of early psychiatry - particularly in the period - such as the the unjust sectioning and treatment of POC; women; queer people; the precarious; and free-thinkers - particularly political radicals. Yet, in this way, Bea is no more bound to these archetypes, or to institutions like Callan Park, (nor is anyone really) - but a type of blurring persists because of the associative qualities that emerge when subject and object collide - producing a stickiness to the subject's memory that is near-impossible to unglue. This is not a fusing of two or more parts, but a place of necessary and obstinate contact, and from this, springs the possibility for intimate and thick empathetic arousings within us.
Bea Miles (1901-73) was a notable Sydney eccentric and writer, who was institutionalised at Callan Park, Hospital for the insane (among other hospitals) in the early 20's. She was sectioned by her father, for whom she never forgave, for her eccentric and subversive public behaviour.
Head Miles; Act One
Bea was known for many things; her radical views; her polemical and engaging writings; her penchant for riding on the bumper bars on cars; her voracious appetite for reading and spending time in State Library of NSW, until she was banned; and her frequent refusal to pay for taxi fares - once ripping the door off a taxi in a disagreement over the cost of a trip. Drivers were either completely terrified of her, or endeared - for undoubtedly, she was an unchangeable fixture of Sydney's urban imaginary.
On hearing Bea's voice through the archives - in a YouTube video of a recording taken later in her life when she was living in a Catholic care-home - I noticed that she had a familiar vocal timbre: one of a voice without teeth. My father has false teeth - and his voice would become more fragile at night when he took his teeth out; there was a child-like vulnerability when he spoke and he also, sometimes, became aware of the humorous way it affected his tone.
The voice and the multi-register mechanisms that manifest it, also, in turn, produce the phenomena of the subject, and how we read them materially, politically, and culturally. This voice of Bea in the recording is disarmingly sincere - as if the absence of teeth present another degree of removal from the façade of performative hyper-socialisation.
How we hear through the archives should matter. If we permit clock-time logics to dictate the speed at which we move through, a rigidly incomplete subject is formed. In other words, when we fill in the gaps far too readily, we fail in our responsibilities to ghosts. I reckon we ought to leave the gaps open - softly - while we are forming our understandings - in a similar way to Bea's teethless mouth.
To listen through the archives is to actively seek those uncomfortable voices and ensoundings, that call our ethics and desires to attention - because given the opportunity, they will demand to be listened to (even on their own terms).
In the MP3 below, I created a psycho-geographic recording that combines:
a recording of Sonya, Tim and myself talking and joking around, as we re-enacted a speculative taxi-ride with Bea. In the recording, we also hear Bea's operatically delivered maxims on mateship, joy, institutionalisation and hypocrisy .
Head Miles (Act 1)
James Hazel (2020)
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