Best Break Ever Part 3: Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.Posted: May 1, 2011
I went to jail over break.
Or at least that’s what I tell people, so I can enjoy their reactions.
Then I tell them the truth: I went to a tourist attraction formerly known as a jail.
But it still sounds cool, right? Right???
Visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol was one of my favourite parts of the trip. It’s definitely a tourist attraction, but it’s a dang good (i.e. not tacky) one. The gaol–if I may use the Australian spelling–has a long and storied history. I won’t bore you with details, but you can read about here. Most significantly, it’s the place where famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was hanged.
Much of the original gaol complex has been repurposed or demolished since it was first built in 1842, but one of the main wings still stands and has been either very well-preserved or meticulously restored (probably the latter) to resemble its original appearance.
Most of the cells had exhibits and information in them, but a few were empty except for a thin mattress and flat pillow on the floor. I went in one of the empty ones, closed the heavy metal door, and settled into a corner of the floor. Nothing like shutting yourself into an old, dark, dirty jail cell to bring on a serious case of goosebumps. It only took about thirty seconds of that to make me very glad this is not the 1840s and I am not an Australian criminal.
Upstairs on the second floor of the corridor, things got even creepier. There was a big exhibit on Ned Kelly and a gallows in the exact spot where he was hanged. Only parts of the gallows were authentic, but it was certainly close enough to send chills down my spine.
Adjacent to the gaol, and included in the admission price, is the City Watch House, where criminals were held between their arrest and trial. For this part of the tour, we were all given cards with the name and suspected crime of an actual prisoner. I was a twenty-something woman arrested for arsen. Once we had adopted our convict identities, a frighteningly convincing charge sergeant led us into the holding area, seperated us by gender, and informed us we were all under arrest. She sternly told us not to touch anything, including the walls. We were forced to take off our jewelry, put down our purses, and shake our hair to ensure nothing was hidden in it. The seargent checked the webs of our fingers, the soles of our shoes, and underneath our toungues to ensure we had no illicit substances. Thankfully, this seargent decided to forego the cavity search.
We were then shown around the facilities under the watchful eye of the sergeant. We explored the holding cells, including the padded cell for people who were in danger of hurting themselves or others. Then the sergeant showed us to our rooms for the night: all the women in one, all the men in another. The rooms were cold and concrete, furnished only by hard benches lining the walls. The guard locked the door, shut off the lights, and told us to go to sleep. Thankfully, she came back and set us free a few moments later.
Then we moved on to the holding cells where “drunk and disorderly” people were kept until they got themselves sober. Apparently most of the people who came through this facility were arrested for drunkeness, and released with a warning after they had sobered up. As for the rest of us, we would be detained in the facility for a few hours or days until our trials could be arranged. We had a small, concrete-walled exercise yard, shielded from the rain by a dirty tarp. Once again, I was incredibly grateful I wasn’t arrested in Melbourne in the 1840s.
Or in 1994.
Yes, that’s right. Near the end of our tour, the guard told us something I found incredible–these facilities (just the watch house, not the gaol) were used to detain criminals until 1994. I can’t even imagine how dirty, miserable, and overcrowded that place must’ve been.
Actually, maybe I can. Because the criminals held in this area were still in their street clothes, they had plenty of resources at their disposal for leaving their mark. The walls of the women’s exercise yard were etched with graffiti: names, dates, vows of love, nonsensical rants, and of course plenty of curse words aimed at the police, the government, and the world in general.
Seeing this graffiti, much of which had been created in my lifetime, made an already realistic experience even more gut-wrenching.
Let me just say I’m glad I paid attention in Comm Law, because I hope the Old Melbourne Gaol tour will be the last–and only–time I’m ever sent to jail. What an an arresting experience.