Just back from WA where I visited Fremantle Gaol, now officially Fremantle Prison. Dunno why. It is also a World Heritage site due to its significance as a 19th century convict site. Saw the cell blocks, reception where the prisoners were deloused, outdoor rec area (which turned into a bloodbath in the 1970’s when the powers that be decided there didn’t need to be any supervision there at the weekends…really??!), the massive kitchen (hate to think what went into those giant bubbling vats), the infamous wall along Fothergill Street where in the 1970’s tennis balls hollowed out to smuggle heroin were lobbed over onto the prison tennis courts (or so they say…), and the room with the gallows where 44 people were hanged.
Fremantle operated from 1855 to 1991 and was one of the most inhumane and debasing places you could imagine. Believe it or not, up until it closed it never had security cameras. Or toilets in cells: just slop buckets. Lots of people I have written about have associations with this place including Martha Rendell (the one and only woman hanged there); Moondyne Joe, Brenden [sic] Abbott and Owen Hooper.
It is a cold and sobering place. But you know the most bizarre thing? There were portaloos and tarps all over the place because they were setting up for a Tina Arena concert…kind of spoiled the ambience. And ruined quite a few photo opportunities. No offence, Tina, but the idea of getting all dressed up to go out to a lovely evening of musical entertainment at such a miserable, infamous place is weird to me. I noticed a similar disjunction in Geraldton where the Old Jail is open to the public – fair enough – but there are artists and weavers and knitters set up with little shops in all the cells. I couldn’t bear to go in. Just seemed wrong. And weird. Maybe it’s a WA thing?
More reading: Jailbreak (an oldie but a goodie!)