Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Experimental Gaol: Stories From The Gladstone Gaol - Part 3

Experimental Gaol:

 Stories From The Gladstone Gaol - Part 3

In late 1953 the Gladstone Gaol was re-opened for a period as a Medium Level corrective training facility for 18 – 25 year old offenders.
In 1955 Gladstone Gaol saw its first new extension, what is now known a “C” block, or the experimental wards. The complex increased to 125 cells.  In 1969 130 prisoners were housed with up to 20 transfers each day..
Looking at the central guard tower - Gladstone Gaol
© Karen Tiller

The term “experimental” is misleading, I have read many outrageous stories that have abounded because of misinterpretation of this word. The Gaol was never “experimental” with its prisoners, there were NEVER pre-frontal lobotomies, or other medical procedures done to prisoners, in fact, what the “experimental” refers to is the style of the cells themselves.
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954),
 Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 5

At the time, no other prison in the world had cells like the new ones being built at Gladstone Gaol. These Cells had no windows at all, and contained a concrete ledge at the end of the cell, which was the prisoner bunk. It also had its own internal air circulation vents, which were made in such a manner they could not be escaped through. The cell block is also raised from the ground (as can be seen from the outside when one walks around the cell block), allowing air to circulate underneath the cells, therefore keeping them much cooler in the hot Gladstone summers, where the temperature can easily reach 46C in summer.

In all its years of operation as a gaol there were only 26 escapes in the gaol’s 100 year history and only one of them, an Italian man who had fashioned a “Master Key” from a piece of wire, was never caught and returned to the facility.
Looking over the Laundry area from the tower
© Karen Tiller

The Gaol eventually closed in December 1975 due to the Governments concern that its facilities were “outdated”. Recently a former prison worker who was there for the last five years of the Gaols service, has publicly pushed for the facility to be reinstated as a Gaol and used by lower level criminals.

In 1979 The gaol saw some new prisoners enter, but these were all just actors there to film the Bryan Brown movie “Stir”, a disturbing and graphic movie about life in an Australian Prison. Many of the props from the movie, including the “daily activities” lists on the back of cell doors still exist to this day, as a well as a tiny museum dedicated to the movie in the “C” Block. Many signs, including one saying “Maximum Security” within the gaol, are leftover props from the movie.
Movie Prop from the movie "Stir"
©Allen Tiller

Mr Rob Williams was quoted in the local regional newspaper “The Flinders News” as saying
“It was a very sad, depressing and unnecessary day when the prison closed, It was a ridiculous decision, one that was totally political.
Now, the whole criminal justice is soft. There is too much emphasis today on the comfort of the offender than there is on the welfare and safety of the victim.
Gladstone Gaol is unique in all ways possible, with its high tapered walls and self-sufficient arrangement, Instead of closing places such as Gladstone and Adelaide Gaol, both should have been kept operational.”

Currently the Gaol is a Bed and Breakfast and Museum under the care of Tony Holland, it features its own coffee and gift shop and allows for people to stay over night to experience prison life first hand.

The Flinders News