Old Alice Springs Gaol

HM Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs view from Bil­ly Goat Hill, 1956

Image cour­tesy North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Library, Howard Tru­ran Col­lec­tion, PH0406/0327

The Old Gaol Rela­tion­ships exhi­bi­tion opened on Thurs­day April 27th, 2017, as part of Alice Springs Her­itage Week. 

The exhi­bi­tion spans the remain­ing two build­ings in wom­en’s and men’s cell blocks and cov­ers the peri­od from 1932 — 1996 when the gaol was in oper­a­tion, and the fol­low­ing decade which saw suc­cess­ful local agi­ta­tion for sav­ing the site from demolition.

The exhi­bi­tion is an attempt to human­ize the his­to­ry of the Old Alice Springs Gaol through audio/​visual instal­la­tions. Each pro­vides a sense of rela­tion­ships, encour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to relate to peo­ple despite dif­fer­ences in place, time and social acceptance. 

There are four com­po­nents to the Rela­tion­ships exhibition:

1. The Sto­ry Wall in the Wom­en’s Cell Block shows 23 objects with rela­tion­ships to the Old Gaol. A spot­light synced to voice record­ings picks out which object in the dis­play the audio sto­ry is refer­ring to. 

2. The two Sto­ry Peo­ple in the Wom­en’s Cell Block were cre­at­ed by soft sculp­ture artist Sia Cox and local pro­jec­tion­ist and film­mak­er David Nixon. The instal­la­tion is a pow­er­ful and mov­ing expe­ri­ence about peo­ple with men­tal health trou­bles sent to the gaol for their safe­ty and the safe­ty of the com­mu­ni­ty before there was a ded­i­cat­ed men­tal health facil­i­ty at the Alice Springs Hospital.

3. Eight audio sto­ries play­ing in the men’s cell blocks, edit­ed by Dave Nixon enable vis­i­tors to learn how the Old Alice Springs Gaol changed peo­ple for bet­ter and for worse. The affects on pris­on­ers, their fam­i­lies, guards and mem­bers of the local com­mu­ni­ties are explained by those who lived the expe­ri­ence. These include:

. Des Rogers who served time here as a 19 year old in 1969.

. Tony Bohn­ing who start­ed work­ing here as a prison offi­cer in 1971 and left in 1995 as Chief Superintendent. 

. Grant Bal­lan­tine who worked here from 1991 and then moved to the new gaol when it opened in 1996.

. Craig San Roque, a psy­chol­o­gist who worked here in the 1990’s.

. June Noble, an offi­cial vis­i­tor to the gaol from 1992.

. Lin­da Wells who reg­u­lar­ly cane to vis­it a dear friend in the 1990’s and

. Megg Kel­ham his­to­ri­an for the Rela­tion­ships exhibition. 

4. In the Wom­en’s Cell Block, you can watch a short doc­u­men­tary on the fight to save the gaol from being demolished. 

These exhibits seek to explore:

.What is the rela­tion­ship between prison and pun­ish­ment? Is prison always puni­tive? And should it be?

. Who is doing the pun­ish­ing? Are prison offi­cers also punished?

. Is humane pun­ish­ment possible?

. How did we end-up with a form of pun­ish­ment that is so obvi­ous­ly inad­e­quate to the task of pun­ish­ing tra­di­tion­al Abo­rig­i­nal people?

ABC pro­duc­er Emma Sleath was very sup­port­ive of the work we did on the exhi­bi­tion and pro­duced a radio series which aired on local 783ABC through­out Her­itage Week, as well as an online sto­ry about the Old Gaol. Local jour­nal­ist and arts review­er Kier­an Finnane has since reviewed the exhi­bi­tion, a copy of which can be found at http://​www​.alice​springsnews​.co…