Now this might sound strange but I had a very nervous moment last week when I met my ‘character’ for the first time. I’ve been researching the story of Rodney Spencer for a few months now and I feel like I know a lot about him and let’s just say he’s not a very nice person!
There are no photographic records of Rodney Spencer in the Northern Territory so I wrote to the South Australian Archives to see if they could help me trace a photograph of him, considering he lived in the late 1800’s I didn’t hold out much hope of finding one. Then to my absolute surprise I received an email from the SA Archives asking me if I’d like to purchase a copy of his (two!) photographs. Hell yes, I was very excited!
This might sound strange but a few weeks later, when I saw the file attachment sitting in my inbox, I actually felt nervous! I didn’t open it straight away. A part of me didn’t want to look into his eyes or ‘meet’ him in anyway. It felt safer having him as just a story, albeit a true story. In some ways perhaps it felt better to have the past at a safe distance. Facing the truth about Northern Territory frontier history has been a very confronting experience. Stories of massacres and revenge killings, coverups and government policies of the early white colonialists has often brought me to tears but somehow reading about these things on paper seems that little bit further away than seeing the people who committed the crimes. Meeting Rodney would make him and the past, real.
Selfishly, I was also worried that he wouldn’t look evil enough to be my dastardly character, maybe he’d just look like an average person. With butterflies and a sort of sick feeling in my stomach I opened the attachment and looked into his face. At first, there was a level of disappointment. He’s not evil enough, he looks ‘normal’. I guess this is the point. Many of the horrible crimes committed in our early colonial days were committed by ‘normal’, average new Australians.
Here he is, meet Rodney Spencer.
And here he is in Fannie Bay Gaol.