Bendigo is a good place to start.
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.