Australia's female criminals uncovered

Media release: Friday, 11 June 2010

The latest exhibition at the National Archives in Canberra, Femme Fatale: The female criminal, contrasts the true stories of some of Australia's most infamous women with the way female criminals are portrayed within popular culture.

Mug shots for the touring exhibition were uncovered at Sydney's Justice & Police Museum which houses more than 130,000 forensic negatives – originally created by police between 1912 and 1964.

The exhibition depicts female criminals at Long Bay between 1915 and 1930 and reveals the stories of many of Australia's wildest women including Kate Leigh, Iris Webber and Eugenia Falleni.

The exhibition curator Nerida Campbell, from the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, says the photographs offer a rare insight into female criminality and provide a stark contrast to the glamorised femmes fatales we see in films and other popular culture.

'Women who commit crimes have always intrigued society. The seductress we see in films is attractive, independent and intelligent, and uses her sexuality against men who are unable to resist her.

'The reality for most female criminals turns out to be a hard, dysfunctional and violent life – brutalised and degraded further by stints in prison. Their lives were punctuated by extreme violence and many of them were cold blooded killers.

'Surrounded by male gangsters, the women of Sydney's Razor Gang era were as tough as any of the men they mixed with. Women like Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine were career criminals who used intimidation, bribery and violence to maintain their influence.'

Not for the faint-hearted, the exhibition explores criminology, the justice system, religion and myth, popular culture and case studies of some of Australia's most notorious female criminals.

Femme Fatale: The female criminal is a travelling exhibition from the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. It opens at the National Archives on 12 June.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
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