About

History of H.M. Gaol Alice Springs

Explore the his­to­ry of HM Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs and dis­cov­er its rel­e­vance to con­tem­po­rary issues about men­tal health, crime, pun­ish­ment and rehabilitation.

Peek inside the cells and lis­ten to sto­ries about the peo­ple who once lived, worked and vis­it­ed here.

HIS­TO­RY ATGLANCE

Her Majesty’s Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs opened in 1938 and oper­at­ed until 1996. Addi­tion­al cells and facil­i­ties were added over the years, espe­cial­ly in the late 1960’s and 1970’s as the pop­u­la­tion grew.

It was gen­der seg­re­gat­ed until the mid-1980’s before becom­ing male only due to over­crowd­ing. Female pris­on­ers were sent to Darwin.

In 1996, the pris­on­ers were moved to the new gaol south of Alice Springs.

After lengthy nego­ti­a­tions, the site was offered to the Nation­al Pio­neer Women’s Hall of Fame for dual use; a women’s muse­um in the for­mer kitchen and clin­ic areas and the preser­va­tion of sto­ries and build­ings of H.M. Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs.

The Gaol holds an impor­tant place in our local and nation­al his­to­ry and con­tin­ues to have rel­e­vance to con­tem­po­rary issues through sen­si­tive sto­ry telling.

Many of the inscrip­tions, col­lages and paint­ings made by inmates can still be seen.

TIME­LINE

1933 Alice Springs expe­ri­enced a rapid increase in non-Indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of due to the rail­way line which was com­plet­ed in 1929 and a new Gaol was pro­posed to replace the small stone gaol in Par­son­’s Street. The pop­u­la­tion of Alice Springs was 526.

1937 Con­struc­tion com­menced on the new prison on 24 September.

1938 Con­struc­tion was com­plet­ed on 31 Octo­ber at a cost of $13,950. Pris­on­ers were trans­ferred from the Old Stu­art Town Gaol in Par­sons St. The new prison was planned to be seg­re­gat­ed Aboriginal/​European and male/​female but we under­stand that in prac­tice the women were nev­er seg­re­gat­ed on the base of race. 

1939 – 1945 World War II. One sec­tion of the gaol was set aside for alien (Ger­man and Ital­ian) pris­on­ers for a few months. They were then trans­ferred to a pris­on­er of war camp in Vic­to­ria. By 1944 the town’s non-Indige­nous pop­u­la­tion was 597, with a fur­ther 7,395 Armed Forces. 

1956 Tel­ka Williams start­ed work in the female sec­tion, work­ing with Mrs Sey­mour and Mrs Muldoon. 

1960 Sew­er­age sys­tem installed. Pri­or to this, pris­on­ers had to make do with buckets. 

1964 Abo­rig­ines giv­en full cit­i­zen­ship in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry and the prison was offi­cial­ly racial­ly desegregated.

1966 Pop­u­la­tion of Alice Springs was 6,390, with Abo­rig­ines count­ed for the first time. 1967 Com­mon­wealth ref­er­en­dum gives Abo­rig­ines through­out Aus­tralia full citizenship.

1970s Female prison offi­cers become the first pub­lic ser­vants in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry to get equal pay with their male counterparts.

1984 Tel­ka Williams retires. Female pris­on­ers trans­ferred to Dar­win. The Gaol becomes an all male prison. 

1988 On the 50th anniver­sary of the open­ing of the Gaol, the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment announced plans to build a new Alice Springs prison.

1994 The Stu­art Town Gaol was added to the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Her­itage Register.

1996 The Gaol was closed and the pris­on­ers moved to the new prison about 20 km south of the town. By this time the town’s pop­u­la­tion had increased to 27,000.

1997 Word was spread­ing that the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment of the day intend­ed to clear the Gaol site and sell the land and that the bull­doz­ers were about to move in. A Her­itage Tent Embassy” was set up in the Gaol grounds and a peti­tion of more than 200 sig­na­tures was gath­ered. In Novem­ber 1997 the Nation­al Trust was forced to go to court to get an injunc­tion to pre­vent the Gov­ern­ment from car­ry­ing out any works on the Gaol.

1998 The North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment demol­ished all the non-her­itage list­ed build­ings on the site. After lengthy nego­ti­a­tions, the site was offered to the Nation­al Pio­neer Women’s Hall of Fame for dual use; a women’s muse­um and the preser­va­tion of the sto­ries and build­ings of the Alice Springs Gaol and Labour Prison. The Super­in­ten­den­t’s res­i­dence, adja­cent to the front car park was sold to pri­vate owners.

2006 Restora­tion work com­menced on the complex.

2007 Nation­al Pio­neer Women’s Hall of Fame at the Old Alice Springs Gaol was offi­cial­ly opened on MArch 8, coin­cid­ing with Inter­na­tion­al Wom­en’s Day.

2013 8 March the audio visu­al exhi­bi­tion look­ing at life in the female cell block through the eyes of Tel­ka Williams (Matron 1956 – 1984) and Janie Whis­tle (who spent time here) was launched

2015 Nation­al Pio­neer Wom­en’s Hall of Fame com­mis­sioned from local design­er Elli­at Rich a con­cep­tu­al frame­work for the over­all inter­pre­ta­tion of the Old Alice Springs Gaol. The aim of this con­cep­tu­al frame­work, Fram­ing Site, Reveal­ing Sto­ries or Lot 1018 of 5 acres 3 roods and 34 perch­es is to aid the cura­to­r­i­al direc­tion and devel­op­ment of inte­grat­ed col­lat­er­al to tell the sto­ries and reveal the his­toric and con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance of the Old Alice Springs Gaol site”

2016 Twen­ti­eth anniver­sary of the Gaol being decom­mis­sioned. Nation­al Pio­neer Wom­en’s Hall of Fame received grant monies from the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment to work on an exten­sive exhi­bi­tion draw­ing on the theme of Rela­tion­ships”. 

2017 Rela­tion­ships exhi­bi­tion launched in men;‘s and wom­en’s cell blocks

2019 The Nation­al Pio­neer Wom­en’s Hall of Fame changed its name to Wom­en’t Muse­um of Australia.