The Old Gaol
Her Majesty’s Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs was 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. It was a male and female gaol until the mid-1980’s then a male only facility when due to overcrowding the decision was made to send female prisoners to Darwin.
In 1996, the prisoners were moved to the new gaol south of the town. 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. On 8 March 2007 the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at the Old Alice Springs Gaol was officially opened.
The Gaol holds an important place in our local and national history and continues to have relevance to contemporary issues and the cross cultural landscape in which it sits. We have much work to do.
1933 Alice Springs had a non-Indigenous population of 526 and this was increasing quite rapidly due to the railway providing access when it was completed in 1929.
1937 On 24 September construction commenced on the new prison.
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.
1939-1945 World War II. One section of the gaol was set aside for alien prisoners (German and Italian) 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.
1993 The Gaol was added to the Northern Territory Heritage Register, forming part of the Alice Springs Heritage Precinct.
1996 The Gaol was closed and the prisoners moved to the new prison about 20kms 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 (visit the “Saving the Gaol” exhibition on the shop verandah).
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 Warden’s residence, adjacent to the front car park was sold to private owners.
2006 Restoration work commenced on the complex.
2007 on 8 March the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at the Old Alice Springs Gaol was officially opened.
2013 on 8 March the permanent 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 Twentienth anniversary of the Gaol being decommissioned. National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame receives grant monies from the Northern Territory Government to work on an extensive exhibition drawing on the theme of “Relationships”. This exhibition will be launched in early 2017