Australia’s old gaols are brimming with yarns from the incredible to the almost unbelievable. We’ve unlocked the best of them.
By Peter Burchell, BIG4 Holiday Parks of Australia
If only the walls could talk. Well, it turns out they just about do. Australia is dotted with historical gaols and similar sites that explode with captivating stories of a time gone by. From the spine-tingling to the fascinating, these yarns make for a memorable visit to an old lockup. Break free from the standard and enter the gates of a heritage Australian gaol on your next escape.
Adelaide Gaol, South Australia
Having been in operation for almost 150 years, Adelaide Gaol possesses more stories than your average library. The best way to take it all in is on a guided tour, which extensively retraces the gaol’s long history. For a hair-raising experience, sign up for a ghost tour and hear spooky yarns about this haunted site.
Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania
Arguably the most well-known prison in Australia, the Port Arthur Historic Site bursts with tales from its rich convict past. The admission fee includes an introductory tour where yarns both educate and entertain, before the iconic grounds are yours to explore at your own leisure. Or grab a ticket to one of the themed activities, which enhance a visit to this World Heritage attraction and include riveting ghost tours.
Richmond Gaol, Tasmania
Almost two centuries’ worth of history is jammed into the walls of Richmond Gaol, which can be gleaned on a self-guided tour. View a series of spaces that highlight the harsh conditions that prisoners were subject to: convict-holding rooms, a flogging yard, and solitary confinement cells among others. The gaol belies the charm of this beautiful English-style village, reached with ease from Hobart.
Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Tasmania
Little more than ruins exist at this World Heritage site but visitors can still leave with a vivid picture of how this facility once was. This is achieved through a dramatic theatre-style tour, Her Story, which cleverly and powerfully details what it would’ve been like for those convict women condemned to life here. It’s not to be missed when at this leading Hobart attraction.
Fremantle Prison, Western Australia
This imposing limestone creation was built by convicts during the 1850s, and its past is as engrossing as its façade. Join a fascinating guided tour to learn about the many roles of this World Heritage property, including as a place for executions as well as an internment camp during two World Wars. A superb selection of enthralling tours is on offer, with themes that include great escapes. Or explore the various tunnels that snake underneath this must-visit complex.
Albany Convict Gaol, Western Australia
Take yourself for a stroll around the Albany Convict Gaol to retrace the extensive past of this enchanting heritage site. Built in 1852, this facility had many uses, and these are thoroughly detailed through various displays and old photographs that are placed throughout this top attraction.
Maitland Gaol, New South Wales
These confines hold a wealth of history, which is shared via a self-guided audio tour or through a top-notch selection of themed tours. These include the gripping Crimes of Passion tour as well as those dedicated to great escapes and ghosts. A visit to this Hunter Valley attraction is not to be missed.
Old Wentworth Gaol, New South Wales
More than 135 years of history are tucked into the walls of Old Wentworth Gaol, a striking, well-preserved brick building. Its great condition enables you to easily slide into the shoes of a prisoner to imagine life as it once were, soaking up a riveting past on a self-guided tour.
Old Dubbo Gaol, New South Wales
Delve into the absorbing history of Old Dubbo Gaol, which operated for close to 120 years. Self-guided and guided tours combine with theatrical experiences, or join a thoroughly entertaining night tour. Head to the watchtower for a great view of this complex, check out the hangman’s kit and gallows, or increase the chill factor by stepping into a pitch-black solitary confinement cell.
Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, New South Wales
Although this site has been reduced to ruins, guided tours bring its many stories to life in fascinating fashion. Learn about the gaol’s rich past, including failed projects and its role as an internment camp during World War I. However, one of the biggest drawcards has as much to do with the present as the past: the coastal views from this attraction are breathtaking, particularly from the sentry’s lookout.
Fannie Bay Gaol, Darwin, Northern Territory
Retrace the footprints of a diverse selection of prisoner groups with a self-guided tour around this compelling site. In use for more than a century, the gaol has retained the gallows that were used for the last execution in the Northern Territory, which took place in 1952. Please note: the gaol has limited opening times during the wet season (November-April).
Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria
Infamous as the setting for the hanging of bushranger Ned Kelly and home to various other ‘celebrity’ prisoners, Old Melbourne Gaol is brimming with stories from a time gone by. By day, self-guided tours lift the lid on the gaol’s extensive history and provide access to the police watch house. By night, ghost and hangman tours at selected times are among the experiences that enhance the chills and thrills of a visit to this leading Melbourne attraction.
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