One of the first things I did upon arriving in Oz was to ask my friends on Facebook what I should do now I’m in Perth. Lots of different suggestions came in, go to Little Creatures – check, make sure I see Australia Day – check, the zoo/aquarium – check check, go to the beach (obvs) – check check and check, but one that really stood out for me was a suggestion by my friend Greg to go on a torchlight tour of Fremantle Prison. Being the scaredy-cat that I am, this appealed to me in a typical ‘I’m going to scare myself silly’ kind of way whilst also indulged the geeky side of me that loves a bit of history. So after work last Wednesday I booked us in for the 7.30pm tour and we cycled down to see what all the fuss was about.
Unknowingly picking a night of the full moon, the Prison looked a tad creepy perched at the top of its little hill. Being the first convict prison in WA and a maximum security prison right up until 1991, it was also the first building in WA to be recognised by UNESCO for its heritage status, making it a pretty interesting building as a whole. Inside the gates sat a cute little café, gift shop (complete with convict pyjamas!) and two visitor centres designed to introduce you to the prison’s past before lining up to tour round the rest of the prison.
One of the most interesting aspects to the visitor centres had to be the database available inside– listing all of the convict inmates’ history. You can search by name or by the ship they came in on, leading me to find at least three convicts by the name of ‘Cooley’ sent to Fremantle during the convict era! This wouldn’t be so exciting were Cooley a bit more common as a last name (I know there’s a few of us but I’m yet to meet anyone else face to face) but as we all pretty much come from a place called Cooley in Ireland, it’s quite likely that somewhere waaaaay back one of these poor sods is a distant relative. There was even a Thomas Cooley sent straight from Liverpool. Even if you can’t make it to Freo Prison in person, you can search for your own surname on their database online.
Anyway, back to the tour! I’m glad it was recommended to me, as it really was fantastic. With lots of spooks and scares around every corner – I may or may not have screamed at points, I won’t give away any of the surprises – it managed to strike just the right balance between being informing and entertaining too. As with anything in history, the female inmates seemed to have gotten an especially rough deal, with the tour taking in all aspects of the prison, from the exercise yards, kitchen and living spaces right up to the isolation quarters, gallows and mausoleum. Part of the prison even worked as a timeline, showing the original convict cells without a bed expand in size to the familiar bunk beds featured in many a crime drama or film today. With some of the prisoners being allowed to paint their cells before being transferred elsewhere in 1991 too, it demonstrated how truly talented some of these characters really were. One can’t help but wonder how such artistic individuals ended up in a maximum security prison…
Over and out Amigos,
Torchlight Tours of Fremantle Prison must be pre-booked and pre-paid, they cost $25 per person and are available on Wednesday and Friday evenings from 6.30pm onwards.
The Tunnel Tours also look awesome but I don’t have 60 smackerooneys to spare, somebody check it out for me? 🙂