I am your Guide to the Deadhouse. Some believe me to be the spirit of the building itself. If you have previously experienced our true crime tales, you will have seen me in other guises – a warden, a detective, a serial killer’s fantasy. In all cases, my purpose is to escort you through the Sydney of the past, providing you with a context for the action and introducing important players. However, Peg Fisher is different. Peg Fisher was real.
Australia’s first policewoman was Special Sergeant Lillian Armfield, recruited in 1915. Armfield herself passed away in 1971, but for his book Razor, published in 2001, Larry Writer interviewed a retired policewoman who was recruited after World War II and worked with Armfield for many years. Her colourful memories of Kate and Tilly were incorporated into Razor. However, “Maggie Baker” was a pseudonym – she preferred to remain anonymous. However, when she passed away shortly afterwards, Writer felt it appropriate to use her real name in some later pieces. Razor is one of the sources we drew upon for this play, and after some discussion we decided to name “Peg” as a tribute to her achievement. However, in keeping with her original wish, we have dug no deeper into her life.
“Peg” is therefore still something of a cipher. But she is intended to represent all those pioneering women in the force, described by Writer as “…no nonsense, tough, dedicated and unmarried” (Razor, p.289). This is how I have created her. There is also an element in the performance of a veteran speaking much as she did to Writer, sharing her memories with someone who did not witness these crucial events, that shaped the police force and Sydney itself for decades to come.
Policewomen in New South Wales have worn uniforms since 1948, but we decided to dress our Peg in a twenties-style frock that has elements of a uniform, together with a cloche resembling a “bobbies” helmet. It seemed fitting for someone obliged to patrol the lampless streets of Darlinghurst, with no other weapon than a deftly wielded handbag!
Peg is not someone to be trifled with. She knows which side she’s on. She has a strict moral code that has survived her experience of the world and is not afraid to pass judgment, with all the benefit of hindsight. She will hector and boss you around, but rest assured, she will keep you safe.