Not so photogenic jails

Hello Beechworth


HM Prison Beechworth opened in 1860 and closed in 2004.


Not looking so good these days. But a little further down good old Ford Street is Beechworth lock-up which makes up for it in bucket loads. This lock-up is so bright and shiny it’s hard to believe it was built in 1867.* IMG_5408beechworth lock-upMaybe it’s been sand-blasted recently. There’s room for everyone: ladies on the right, gents on the left.

See that far door ?

Here it is again in close-up thanks to the wonders of modern technology. The iconic & infamous Ned Kelly stepped inside – or was more likely dragged inside – to enjoy the gracious, spacious, sun-filled interiors for a short time in 1871. So they say.

Ned’s mother Ellen Kelly also spent time in the adjoining cell in 1878. They both also had stints in the old jail.  Ellen Kelly was remanded at HM Beechworth in 1878 on the charge of the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. Ned got bed and breakfast there during his committal hearing over the murders of Constable Lonigan and Constable Scanlon which was held at Beechworth Courthouse in 1880.**

But my book is about jailbreaks not Ned Kelly. I’ve been looking into bushranger types like Moondyne Joe, WA’s most famous bushranger who escaped from Newcastle (now Toodyay) and Fremantle in the 1860’s; Martin Cash, Lawrence Kavanagh & George Jones known as Cash & Co who menaced Tasmania in the early 1840’s (Cash managed to make two extremely daring escapes from the wretched Port Arthur); the fiddle-playing William Graham, Thomas Scott & George Morris who roamed WA in the 1860’s; William Henry Hayes and his mates James Newchurch and Arthur Harrison who high-tailed it from Yatala in South Australia, all escapees from an earlier era with great stories to tell. But this Ned Kelly? Never escaped from a prison, so what good is he? ***

* Was it really???
** He also did two earlier stints at HM Beechworth in the 1870’s.
*** Only joking. Love the Ned-ster.




More jails that begin with B

We’ve had a look at Boggo Road and Bendigo. How about Ballarat?

Ballarat is an old gold rush town about 90 minutes drive west of Melbourne. The old jail was built c1860 and closed in 1965. You can see what’s become of it if you walk down to the end of Lydiard Street South in central Ballarat. These days assorted original, restored and not-so-original remains have been integrated into the SMB campus of Federation University Australia.




Jails that begin with B

Bendigo is a good place to start.IMG_6768

Bendigo is a town in central Victoria, less than 2 hours drive from Melbourne. The old jail  – known as Sandhurst Gaol – opened its doors in 1863. During WWII it was used as a detention centre for military peoples who went AWOL and such-like. It closed for renovations of sorts then re-opened in 1954 as HM Bendigo Training Prison.

Visually there’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. First up there’s a big alienating brick wall:

But then you enter another world…


I call it photogenic. But then I like sandstone.

Ronald Ryan, the last man hanged in Australia, had his first taste of jail here from 1961 to 1963. He kept busy, completing his Leaving Certificate as well as being part of a prison drama group that became the first group to perform outside the jail. They appeared at Bendigo Eisteddfod 1962 and didn’t do too badly at all. In fact, they won first prize, outperforming Kew Repertory Players by half a point. Go boys! Sadly, Ryan ended up in Pentridge, escaped in 1965, and well, the rest is history. If you know Ryan’s story, you will find this chilling: the play the prisoners performed was The Valiant, about a prisoner awaiting execution and Ryan played the part of the warder who leads the condemned man to his death…

Jump forward to 2006 for another strange theatrical co-incidence. The jail closes its doors and – bing! – re-emerges in 2015 as the fabulous Ulumbarra Theatre. Dramatic.

Absolutely nothing to do with jails, but when I was in Bendigo overnight there was an evacuation at the hotel. At first I thought it was a joke when the Barp Barp Barp Emergency Emergency announcement started. I opened the door of my room, poked my head out and saw an unlit corridor and nobody at all. I closed my door and thought: hmmm. I waited. After all, the Australian Open was on and I wanted to keep watching. But the Barp Barp Barp Emergency Emergency Evacuate the Floor Evacuate the Floor kept coming…


All my life it’s been drilled into my head: Don’t use the lift in a fire. Don’t use the lift in a fire. Don’t use the lift in a fire.

And what did I do?

Followed the silent people pouring out of their rooms on my floor down the corridor. Stepped into the lift. Went down in the lift. Streamed out of the lift. Stood on the grass as fire engines arrived, sirens blaring. And  fire fighters in gas masks stormed in. Only then did I think: You’re not supposed to use the lift in a fire.

One thing I learnt: in unknown situations sometimes your brain switches to overdrive and you respond calmly and fearlessly to the situation at hand. At other times your brain switches off and you follow the crowd like a trusting sheep or goat. Or cow. Especially during the Australian Open.

Turned out to be a problem with a hammer in the sprinkler system. Seems they had a similar evacuation the week before at 3am. Ours was at the slightly more civilised hour of 11pm. If you like fire alarms (or really nice lifts) you could think about staying there. And if you like jails, well, the rooms are definitely not cell-like but they are quite cell-sized.

Thank you, Bendigo.








More photogenic jails

IMG_6736Old Castlemaine Gaol.

Fabulous setting up on a hill. Expansive views over town.



What a nice spot. Of course you don’t see this if you’re behind the walls. Only if you’re standing outside on a glorious sunny day. Or sitting.

Castlemaine is an old gold rush town between Ballarat and Bendigo in central Victoria. Castlemaine Gaol was built between 1857 and 1861.

Here’s some glimpses:

Castlemaine Gaol was going strong until 1990 when Loddon Prison opened nearby. These days, there’s a cafe, a community radio station and ghost tours at the old gaol.

Speaking of Castlemaine, 16 year old Maxwell Skinner, serial escapee, escaped from Castlemaine Reformatory in 1944. But that’s a prison farm for naughty youths further down the road at Muckleford. All that’s left these days is Prison Farm Road.