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A Time Traveller’s Baggage

Time and Memory publication
Time and Memory, published October 2018. Photo by MAAS


Author Samuel Wagan Watson on memory pathways and time travel in Time and Memory.

Supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, Time and Memory is the second book in the MAAS collection series.  It explores the many ways in which the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences collection reflects upon the concepts of time and memory, featuring essays from authors Samuel Wagan Watson and Vanessa Berry.

Sam visited the Powerhouse Museum and Sydney Observatory, which provided the opportunity to observe and interact with particular objects. His resulting piece presents a unique perspective on the Museum’s collection and poetic interpretations of its objects, while tracing Indigenous culture and history through them. Here is an extract.




Until I undertook this commission relating to ‘time and memory’ I’d been dabbling in paranormal investigation, and my various connections with museums and keeping places brought me into contact with many persons of interest in the fields of alternative innovation.

I met a man whose brother knew a guy whose partner worked with a woman whose boyfriend’s cousin was part of a classified think tank who had once employed a rogue Dr [We can’t use his name for legal reasons] who specialised in testing weird inventions seized by government agencies.

And as it turns out this doctor lives in a street that runs parallel to my own . . .

He explained to me that many ghost sightings and what witnesses have assumed was the appearance of poltergeists or activities spectral are simply the result of ‘irregular time-displacement transfers’ from an age of technology when molecular organics cannot travel intact but only transfer as a negative image of a person moving between planes in the space–time continuum.

Dr [We can’t use his name for legal reasons] invited me over to his place one Friday night to check out a contraption he’d fabricated in his garage. I agreed to be there and I’d spring for the pizza and drinks.

The ‘good’ doctor works by day as an algorithm analyst for a ‘transport’ department while surreptitiously boosting nearby transformers on the grid of the south-east highway to power a homemade particle accelerator that federal officers had recovered in a bust. Basically the machine is rigged up within a labyrinth of nearby tunnels built during the city’s infrastructure upgrade right below Brisbane’s bedrock, which is suitable for projecting particle beams of light and energy in forward and backward fluctuations to create a temporary wormhole. Because of the instability of the technology, Dr [We can’t use his name for legal reasons] is currently unable to acclimatise the time-transferral beam to where it should temporarily appear, either into the past or into the future…

The obvious contentious issue with time travel, it being a practice untested by and inexact of sciences, is the NO REFUND policy pertaining to the immediate health and wellbeing of the traveller and their belongings. There is every chance that I could be walking straight into an unlicensed fusion-blender with the capacity to turn me into a stain of low-irradiated goo. Or I could, least-worst-case scenario, pass in and out of a portal that is going to give me a syndrome of PTTD — Post-Time Travel Dementia, which would aggressively affect my brain. Items I am working with, courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, are of vintages that should still allow them to operate through waves of ionisation in the tunnel or sudden violent electromagnetic pulses in the transfer process. I first chose the devices from the collection at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences on photo specifics, primarily for what I considered aesthetic beauty. Originally I figured that I’d simply place the subjects I am writing about in a form of chronology: oldest to latest model as best can be presumed. Only later did I realise the therapeutic value each would yield . . .


Portable sundial
Portable sundial, brass, silver, glass, made by Johann Schretteger, Germany, 1770-1840, MAAS Collection. Purchased 1940. Photo by Ryan Hernandez, MAAS



So, what to take with me on an unforeseen journey: I chose light, practical devices and contraptions . . . time-proven equipment . . . and independent of ‘Edison’s’ General Electric; industrial 20th-century cravings . . . my inventory consists of mechanisms with pendulum, springs, cogs, winding-upwinding-down wheels, sun-driven dials of minute maintenance . . . terracotta tablets carrying the acoustic resonance from the banter of marketplaces that have all but disappeared into hourglass sands of ageless deserts . . .

I am both an adolescent and ancient mariner . . .


The MAAS collection series is supported by a grant from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

Purchase Time and Memory online or from MAAS Store and selected bookstores.

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