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.alicespringsnews.co…