Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 17):

In early September, we had another excursion trip. This time, we visit Fremantle prison. Unlike the previous tour, on this occasion students are required to go to Fremantle on their own, using public transport, and then we will gather in one point near Fremantle railway station before heading to the prison museum.

After breakfast, I bid farewell to Siraj and took the bus from nearby bus stop, and I later disembark on the top of Horseshoe Bridge, and descending into the platform where I catch the Fremantle bound train. The first part of the journey was uneventful. The train was rather empty because it ran on opposite direction from commuter traffic.

Somewhere along the way, either in Daglish or Shenton Park station, I suddenly saw Heinz embarking the train. I called him, and he waved back and then sat next to me. We chatted along the journey, although I can’t recall what the topic of our conversation was. All I can recall was how I marveled Heinz’s deep blue eyes.

Our train finally arrived at Fremantle station. The platform was quite packed with workers in business attire, ready to go to their workplace in the city, and also some school kids in their smart student uniform. Once the passengers from Perth disembarked, those Perth bound commuters flocked the train.

The Fremantle station yard, photographed from an overpass bridge nearby.    

Me and Heinz walked to the meeting point in Fremantle (if I’m not mistaken, it was in front of Fremantle market). Once we were there we met Georgina*, and another teacher named Greg*, plus some Japanese students.

While waiting for other students, we got acquainted with each other especially with new students. Heinz is s very sociable man and can adapt well with other students from Asian countries.  His Swiss sense of humor can truly entertain anyone. I remember how he poked fun his first name similarity to one of the famous tomato ketchup brand.

Once the remainder of the students arrive, we began our trip to Fremantle prison.

The prison is located in one corner of the city. It was once the most important and largest prison in West Australia. But in 1991 it was closed down, and all of its inmates were relocated to other prisons. There are plenty of histories of the prison that we will learn on today’s tour.

After several minutes of walking, we eventually arrive at the prison’s entrance. Its big limestone fortress-alike entrance truly gave menacing look.

Our class students gathered in front of Fremantle prison entrance. Woo Jae Kim can be seen wearing black jacket on the left of the group, while Reiko Matsui is on the right, with her thick wool jacket.

Yet, despite of that, there were plenty of tourists who came to visit. After paying the entrance fee, we entered the prison compound. Once inside the prison yard, I was really surprised by the sheer size of the area and on how well preserved the prison compound is.

It felt as if we’re entering an active prison (although without any inmates to be seen).

Our guide is a man in his mid or late 30s. If I’m not mistaken he was a former prison warden who served from 1980s until its closure in 1991. He did have a brief stint working in other prisons before taking early retirement and working in his former workplace as a guide.

My class students, as well as some other tourist gather in the front yard after entering prison compound. Note this was taken on my second visit in summer.

(The photo above and the remainder of the prison photos were taken on my second visit to this place, hence different guide and participants).

We first entered the reception area which was the very first place a new inmate will visit upon arriving. Our guide pointed a box shaped marker on the floor, where the newly arriving prisoner were ordered to stand on that spot, stripped naked and checked by wardens to see if there are anything suspicious, or if they hide something on their body cavity. Once cleared, the convict would be given his uniform and taken to their cell.

A newly arriving prisoner would be received in this area where they will undergo strip search and settling the necessary paperwork.

From the reception area, we head into the main prison hall. It was the first time I’ve been inside a prison. The prison cell building interior consists of wide open hall, with the cells on its side. Each floors are equipped with net. Our guide said that the net is designed to prevent prisoners from committing suicide by jumping.

The main hall inside the male prison building, complete with the net.

He also shows some unique prison cells. One cell have additional wooden layer on its wall designed for a prisoner named “Moondyne Joe” who was a well-known “bushranger” and notoriously known as expert in escaping.

Moondyne Joe prison cell, with its distinctive wooden layering. You can see how narrow the cell is.

There is also one prison which features a very artistic painting on its wall. The guide said that the painting was discovered by accident: when the paint layer on the wall partly peeled, they found artistic works underneath it.

A more modern cell with colorful painting. The painting was found by accident when the prison underwent renovation into a museum.

The cell didn’t have toilet. It means that inmates had to urinate or poo on a metal bucket with lid. Every morning the bucket will be collected by some inmates who were assigned to collect them. The duty was considered unpleasant and obviously disgusting. And it will be even worse if they accidentally spill its content.

Every day inmates were given time to have a shower. Their shower place was open and lacking with privacy, so the wardens would have no difficulties in monitoring their activities.

Prison shower area.

We later visit a block of special cells. Unlike ordinary ones, those in this section have double layers of entrance door. The cells are called “solitary confinement”.

Solitary confinement cell. Note two layer of entrance doors.

It was used to held inmates who caused trouble in prison and had to be isolated from the rest of the inmates. At certain period of the day, they were required to do roll call by mentioning the number of their cells. Interestingly, some numbers were omitted. Those were 6 and 9, because their shape resemble gallows noose.

I remember, our guide playing prank with some students who went inside the solitary confinement cell by suddenly closing the door and shouting “What do you want? Bread or water?” The frightened students shouted and banging the door, before the guide opened the door to let those hapless participants out and puffing their breath. Those who were not fall victim to the prank, giggled upon seeing the dazed survivors.

In front of the cell block, our guide pointed to a spot with partly buried marker. This was a place where any trouble makers would be given corporal punishment. The flogging device named “cat-o-nine tails” which was notoriously known for its ability to inflict serious injury after several whippings. This type of punishment was abolished during Second World War.

Corporal punishment area is marked with the crack on the asphalt. Back in 1997, the wooden structure did not exist.         

We later came to the most sinister part of the prison: the death row section. In one corner of the solitary confinement block, there is one cell which was reserved for inmates who were about to be executed. Unlike the other solitary confinement cells, or even regular cell, this one looks much more humane. The guide said that a day or week (I can’t recall which one) prior to execution, the inmate would be transferred to here. The condemned prisoner would be given some liberty such as access to luxurious food (any food that they requested), liquors, cigarettes, and also unhindered access to visiting family member.

When the execution time came, the prisoner would be taken to an execution chamber just a few meters from there, while accompanied by priest, in the main building. In that room, there is a gallows. The condemned prisoner neck would be tied on tight noose. Any condemned prisoners who were too ill or nervous to stand up may sit on a chair provided in here.

Fremantle prison execution chamber.

Once the execution order is given, the executor would push the lever which will opened the floor, and the condemned would hang on the noose until died. Once the body shows no sign of life, it would be lowered into the coffin below. A doctor will check the body, to ensure the condemned has died, before they closed the coffin. And then the body would be buried in unmarked grave in cemetery behind the prison compound.

Our guide said that many prisoners have been executed in here including some women. The last time the execution took place was back in 1964. It was the second last execution ever took place in Australia (the last one was in Melbourne in 1967).

Capital punishment is now outlawed in Australia. The movement started when Queensland abolished death penalty in 1920s, and other states followed several years later. West Australia is the very last state to abolish the death penalty, doing so in 1984 or about 20 years after the last time they executed a prisoner. That 20 years period was an anxious moment for those who were at risk of receiving death penalty.

Interestingly, a few months prior to abolition, there was one female prisoner named Brenda Hodge that was actually due to be executed. She was already placed in death row cell when the news about the abolition broke out. As a result, she was transferred back to regular cell as her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She never served full prison term: after being relocated to other prison, she was pardoned and released in 1990s. She later wrote a book about her ordeal of surviving the death sentence.

The book “Walk On” written by Brenda Hodge, the last person to be condemned to death, but never served the sentence due to abolition of death penalty.

From the execution chamber, we moved downstairs to see some cells that look quite luxurious. Unlike regular prison cell, the room is akin to an old budget hotel room where the wall is painted in white and it feature large spring bed. It was used for male prisoners to vent their sexual desire with the opposite of sex, if they were granted permission by prison management. For married ones, they can do that with their wife, while unmarried inmates were allowed to do that with prostitutes (normally an attractive looking blonde girl).

A colorful room in the prison area. If I’m not mistaken this was not a prisoner cell, and the painting was added after the prison was converted into museum.

We then moved to the chapel which is located in the middle of prison building. The chapel is perhaps the most luxurious part of the prison. Unlike gloomy looking cell area, the chapel looks neat, tidy, and bright. It has bright colored wall with red carpet, and several benches. It was in here where prisoners would attend mass. Just like the prison itself, the chapel has never been used for religious purpose since the closure.

Fremantle Prison main chapel.

If I’m not mistaken, there were two of them. One for Anglican while the other for Catholic.

Fremantle Prison Catholic chapel.

After we explore the chapel, we head to recreation and dining area. This place was where the prisoners would get their meal. Next to it was a recreational place where prisoners can play some games or watched the TV.

An open area near the former prisoner workshop and recreational area.

Just underneath the TV, an old VHS video player can be seen. Our guide added that the TV remote was normally conquered by the strongest and most feared inmates there. No one dare to challenge his channel selection.

Aside of watching TV, prisoner would also play basketball in small court nearby.

Our guide giving explanation in a basketball court. Note painting murals on the wall.

There is also a workshop area where prisoners learned their trade so when their sentence ended, they could return back to normal society without too many troubles.

Just nearby there is a scenic garden which amazingly feature banana trees. It was the first time I see these tropical plants in Perth, and it was quite surprising that they could survive Perth’s harsh climate.

Banana trees can be seen in the background. This is the backyard area. The blonde lady on the right is Anouchka which was my classmate during my last weeks in St. Mark’s International College.

Behind this area is a former female prison annex. We didn’t paid visit to that area because for some reason it was closed for public.

A souvenir shop near Female prison annex.

Our guide said the facility is generally the same as for male prisoners, unless that the complex is smaller. Naturally, male and female prisoners had to be separated. The only time female prisoner would be taken to male area is when one had to undergo execution……

Our visit to recreation area concludes our visit to Fremantle prison, and we return back to the city to relax for the remainder of the day. It was quite an interesting experience to be able to see a menacing prison can be converted into a tourist destination.

An information center inside the prison area.



About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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