Old Alice Springs Gaol

HM Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs

View from Bill Goat Hill, 1956

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.  In this exhibition, we attempt to humanize the history of the Old Alice Springs Gaol, to give a sense of the people of the Old Gaol and of their relationships, triggering empathy, forging the familiar and allowing visitors to relate to people despite differences in place, time and social acceptance. W e have interpreted this theme through audio/visual installations. 

We have used four interpretive approaches in the Relationships exhibition.

1. The Story Wall in the women’s cell block, beautifully designed by Elliat Rich, shows 23 objects with relationships to the Old Gaol. A spotlight synced to the recordings picks out which object in the display the audio story is referring to. 

2. The two Story People, again in the women’s cell block, created by soft sculpture artist Sia Cox. David Nixon ( a local projectionist and filmmaker) crafted a powerful and moving audio and projection on and around one of these story people, telling how the people with mental health troubles were sent to the gaol for their safety and the safety of the community in the days before there was a dedicated mental health facility at the Alice Springs hospital.

3. There are eight stories playing in the men’s cell blocks, again edited by Dave Nixon. Learn how the Old Alice Springs Gaol changed people for good and bad, affecting prisoners, their families, the guards and others living in Alice Springs. Listen to 

. 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 old gaol kitchen, Dave has produced a documentary on the fight to save the gaol from being demolished. 

After some discussions with the historian to the project, Megg Kelham, we settled on the following themes and have tried to explore these through the interview material and exhibition displays.

.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…


Hands”, Graphite drawing on paper, 2014

Artist: Seraphina Cavanagh