29th July 2012
Feeling refreshed from my jetlag induced flight from Brisbane to Perth, thanks to Laura my great mate from my uni days who kindly set me up at her new home in Perth where she has emigrated to, we were pretty enthused to explore Freemantle, south of the Swan River where Perth resided on.
Taking the TransPerth Line, we arrived in the quaint town and it’s just the kind of place you would want to have an easy day out.
There’s a delicious food market full of European Cuisine to sample and delight your tastebuds, plenty of street cafes to people watch, lots of annoying street entertainers who seem to be at it all day long and plenty of antique shops to browse. There’s also a splendid port full of old style majestic ships that blow their horns plenty.
But Laura and I weren’t going to do them in Freemantle. There’s one other place we wanted to go…Freemantle Prison!
Sorry guys, I haven’t been arrested for public indecency…(yet)…and I was not actually bound in chains and frogmarched to court. No I’m here to find out more about the most isolated prison in the world that suddenly burst onto world news in 1991 showing full scale riots that burnt the roof down. It closed not soon long after.
After paying the fee, we were summoned to the tour guide with a ringing of a school bell by an over enthusiastic customer services manager. Laura and I couldn’t stop laughing much to the bell ringing man’s confusion.
First off, we were shown the entrance room where newly called prisoners were sent here to be registered and processed in the prison system. So all their belongings were taken off them, they had to cleanse themselves of everything including showers and best of all, as the tour guide picked me out for a demonstration, become naked and have your cavities searched. Why me? I cried out. He said I looked far too happy! Unfortunately, he told me that his rubber glove was far too small for his hand and he didn’t have any lubricant on him so today..li wouldn’t have my cavities searched. Dang.
We were shown all sorts of aspects of prison life. Courtyards, kitchens, and more importantly their cells. The cells didn’t really improve much when the prison was first established. Heck, even in some cells, there was only a bucket for the prisoner to pee into even into the 1980s! This brought in a debate between the group. Was this fair on the prisoners to have such appalling living conditions? Of course, I believed it was fair. They committed a crime and as they committed it, they forgo their civil rights. Yes it’s right, I believed, that their rooms were far too small leaving just room for a bed and a bucket down the side. If such conditions in Britain were to exist now and made aware in the public eye, I’m sure potential criminals would stop and think about it if they do really want to end up in such a system.
However, unfortunately, in 1991, a full scale riot erupted, started by a throwing of scalding hot water from tea cisterns onto prison guards and ending with the roof burning down and the prisoners holding guards hostage. This came onto the world scene and Perth was the centre of the news. Why were the prisoners rioting…well they thought their living conditions were appalling and wanted improvements immediately.
As the prison was burnt down, many prisoners were transferred to the new prison build anyway and the old prison, left to rot…until it became a heritage centre. It took 2 years to reestablish as that as it took that long to get the smell of urine out of the place and accessible for the public.
The tour guide gave a scintillating tour ending with the gallows. Many prisoners were sentenced to death, first off, thrown into the cells where you could scream but no one could hear you as the walls were thick with metres of concrete and wooden doors. After given your last rites, as many prisoners were Irish Catholics, and your last meal, a hood was placed over your head, your hands and legs shackled and you were forced to shuffle along to the gallows.
Now, by then, the prisoner would wish that he had been a nice prisoner. If he hasn’t, a gruesome death awaited…because the prison guards would take their revenge by ensuring the hanging took forever and your gurgled to a slow and grisly death rather than a bell placed on the rope that would immediately snap your neck, killing you instantly.
As we peered in the floor in the red glare, we were very silent as the tour guide explained the procedure thus ending the tour.
I really do recommend this tour as it gave you an insight not the lives and criminal records of prisoners and especially how they were treat. But remember, if you just stand silently in the old quarters, you may just hear the wails leading all the way to the gallows…remember…it could have been you….