It’s not often that you get a sea of hands from parents wanting to help out on a school excursion. But last year when my son’s year one class was asking for help to take the kids to Perth’s popular tourist destination and historical icon Fremantle Prison, there were a frenzy of hands going up.
So what was all the fuss about visiting an old gaol like Fremantle Prison?
Originally known as the Convict Establishment it was built by the convicts that were sent to Western Australia in the 1850’s to help build infrastructure for the Swan River Colony.
In 1886 the Convict Establishment was transferred over to the local government to use as a gaol for local felons. Fremantle Prison remained a maximum security prison until it was decommissioned in 1991.
Fremantle Prison Excursion
We line up at the Gate House and wait to be escorted inside the 15 hectares of prison land.
First we are shown around the outside of the main cell block that was built from the pale yellow limestone quarried from the prison site. You may think it odd to build a prison housing up to 1100 prisoners out of such a soft stone that you can pick away at it with your finger nail. But when you put a prison in one of the most isolated and harshest locations there’s not far you can go; west to the ocean or east to the desert.
Once we step into the main cell block we can see the tiny basic cells. Whilst we are “lined up for roll call” our guide shares with us how tough life was for the prisoners. As this prison was built in the 1850’s there was no indoor plumbing.
The prisoners were given a bucket for toileting, the class children are all cringing and squealing at the thought of having to share a room with someone else and their poop.
Their squeals grow louder as our guide shares how the prisoners had cockroaches running about in their rooms and only got to shower every Tuesday and Friday. She adds it took 2 and half years for the stench to clear after the prison was closed.
We get to explore more of the main cell block.
Some of the cells are set up in different configurations to show the changes to the cells during the prison’s 136 year life span. Other cells are as they were left by the last occupant with beautiful artwork etched across the walls.
We leave the cell block to learn more about life as a prisoner.
Some prisoners got to work and earn a little money to pay for luxuries like cigarettes. They cleaned the buckets for $11/week (this was the worst job) or worked in the kitchen making the porridge, soup, steak, and deep-fried food for $37/ week (this was considered the best job).
For a little fresh air they were taken and left in the exercise yard for up to 8 hours a day. Life would have been pretty bleak out here if you didn’t have friends. Worse yet if you didn’t behave yourself you would be flogged.
Then on Sunday you could repent it all in chapel.
As we make our way back to the gatehouse our guide shows us where a couple of prison escapes occurred. One of the most famous being Moondyne Joe.
In a nut shell – as he had previously escaped from jail he was placed in a specially built escape proof cell, Governor Hampton was so confident he could not escape that he was heard to have said, “if you get out again, I’ll forgive you.” Moondyne Joe was then put to work quarrying limestone near a perimeter limestone fence. As the pile of stone was not removed often it grew to such a point that the guards view of him was obscured and so he dug through the fence. Two years later he was recaptured and returned to prison. However the new Governor eventually heard of Hampton’s promise so issued him a ticket of leave.
It is all these lively tales that make a visit to Fremantle Prison enlightening and fun; which is why we parents wanted to join our kids on a school excursion.
Have you been on an excursion that you really enjoyed?
Tell me about it in the comments.
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