Andrew Cowen

ADELAIDE  1966-1999

This project began when a friend was appointed director of the Fringe Festival of the Arts in Adelaide. She encouraged everyone she knew to contribute work from their chosen field, which got me thinking about doing a project specifically for this festival. It seemed logical that the project would be about Adelaide, the place where I was born and raised.

Adelaide is generally known as a quiet, conservative city where little happens. But behind this peaceful façade there is a darker reputation; of a macabre place where strange crimes routinely occur. When Salmon Rushdie visited for the Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1984 he caught a sense of this, prompting him to write on his return to London, “Adelaide is the perfect setting for a Steven King novel or a horror film. You know why those films are always set in sleepy, conservative towns. Because sleepy, conservative towns are where those things happen”.

There is a palpable sense of danger on Adelaide’s empty suburban streets. This has been the dominant enduring feeling about the city and seems to lurk, not just in the back of my mind but in the minds of a generation of people who grew up in Adelaide at the same time as me. It was this quality that I most wanted to express in this project.

A number of horrific crimes have occurred in Adelaide over the years and although not represented in it’s crime rate the city seems to have had more than it’s fair share of strange abductions and grim murders. Growing up in Adelaide in the seventies I had a vague awareness of this. The name Beaumont was well known in relation to the unsolved abduction of three children in the sixties. These children were abducted from a public place, in broad daylight and never seen again. This event occurred over forty years ago, before I was born, yet it still attracts plenty of media coverage as it remains one of the countries most mysterious unsolved crimes and has been written into Australian folklore.  The fact the abduction happened on Australia Day, means there is extra media attention on this day every year.

It was the abduction of two young girls from a football game at Adelaide Oval in 1973 that fascinated me as a child. As I became old enough to read a newspaper I could read this for myself. But it was the identikit picture that really stayed with me. The face in that picture lurked in every shadow and was essentially the face of evil for me as a young boy.

These abductions were followed in the late seventies by the “Truro” murders, a case involving the abduction and murder of seven young women and, at the end of the seventies into the beginning of the eighties, the “Family” murders which involved the abduction and murder of five young men. The family murders held particular interest because I knew the last victim – Richard Kelvin went to my high school; he was a couple of years older than me and a friend of my sister. His abduction and death confirmed that Adelaide was indeed a dangerous place and that horrible crimes didn’t just occur to people unknown to me.

Over a decade has passed since I permanently relocated to Sydney. This amount of time has enabled me to look at the past events as a whole and reflect on them from a distance. This distance has, if anything, confirmed my feelings about Adelaide. Discussing this project with friends and family from Adelaide, has further confirmed this. Being such a small place everyone has a story relating to one of the murders or abductions or of potentially dangerous situations which people have found themselves in on the street.

When I tell people I’m from Adelaide, more often than not they ask, “Isn’t that where the bodies in the barrels were found?” They are referring to the “Snowtown” murders – the worst serial murders in Australia’s history, with twelve victims in total. These murders occurred throughout the nineties and ended in 1999 with the discovery of barrels containing the remains of eight people in a disused bank in Snowtown, north of Adelaide. Though I was not living in Adelaide during this period, the Snowtown case was so gruesome and received so much media coverage both nationally and internationally, everyone knew about it. The presentation of evidence at the trial was so traumatic for the jury that they were all stood down and replaced. The case confirmed everyone’s sense of Adelaide being a weird place.

I began thinking about these abductions and murders in Adelaide and I realised how little I really knew about them. Even though the names of the cases, or of specific individuals were well known to me, the details were sketchy. So I began researching the details and a project began to form. The more I researched the more compelling the subject became. I began to realize that the events I was researching had directly contributed to my feelings about Adelaide. I gathered information about the places relating to the cities most infamous abductions and murders and went to these places and made photographs.

The photographs were made in and around Adelaide and, while providing a record of specific places, the also record in a general way what Adelaide and South Australia look like. Some of the locations were extremely beautiful and some were banal suburban scenes but all conveyed a melancholy, which is peculiar to Australian urban and natural environments. When I have discussed this project people often ask if these places were spooky which, mostly they were not. Having my burly father with me, some of the time, probably helped make it less scary.

The project covers a period of time commencing with the abduction of the Beaumont children in 1966 through to the discovery of barrels containing bodies in a bank vault in Snowtown in 1999. This project was undertaken with neither the knowledge nor the consent of the families and friends of the victims named in this project. It is not meant to sensationalise but rather record a set of important events that have enormously influenced the psychological atmosphere of Adelaide.

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ANDREW COWEN‘s love of photography is evident from the moment you meet him. Rarely without a camera in his hand, he shoots every day documenting the intricate details of his environment and the people around him. Cowen’s work explores Australian culture through intimate portraiture and landscape studies. His photographs depict the beauty in ordinary moments, each with their own story. His series on the crime sites of Adelaide captures the dark heart of his hometown. In contrast, his family photographs touch on the simplicity of a single moment and bring a smile to your face.

Born in Adelaide, Cowen studied Fine Art majoring in photography at the North Adelaide School of Art. He has also completed a Bachelor of Design from the University of South Australia. Based in Sydney since the early 1990s, his commercial work contrasts with his personal series’, typically exquisite still life and portraiture for both editorial and advertising clients.

More of Andrew’s work can be viewed at his website and on his blog.