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Taking the kids to Gaol
Melbourne’s Old Melbourne Gaol is a step into the sad past of life in Victoria for many, over a hundred years ago. History exudes out of every cold cell, each one telling the story of people who were often incarcerated for such minor reasons. Being vagrant with no address, not even a tent to call home or having no obvious means of support. Women treated the same as men in this regard.
Our daughters enjoyed trying on Ned Kelly’s armour and having a mock shootout, though the reality of how life must have been for people at the time did seep in as they read story after story of grief, poverty and crime. The London Dungeons was the last time they experienced anything like this, though that experience had a lot of theatre attached. The Old Melbourne Gaol is more sobering, I think.
Building began in 1842 when most of the area consisted of scrubland. Prior to the first cell block being opened in 1845, prisoners were retained in lock-ups where escape was often a successful activity.
Within 5 years of opening, the new goal was already overcrowded and a new block was completed in 1858 – this is the cell block remaining today as a museum managed by the National Trust.
Walking through the complex, it is possible to imagine the grim reality of life inside the gaol, prisoners were punished based on two methods – silence and separation. Solitary confinement was considered an essential reform method.
One aspect of life that many modern day children may possibly condone, though – weekly bathing!
Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous outlaw, was hanged here in 1880. Ned remains an Australian legend for many.
Born in 1854, the son of an Irish convict. Ned’s childhood was one that revolved around his father’s constant brush with the law. A sash Ned was awarded as a youngster for bravery after saving another lad from drowning, is on display, it was his most treasured possession.
The hanging gallows are there as a stark reminder of this era in our history, something every Australian ought to see or learn about.
Woman and children were also incarcerated here, initially being kept in the same cell block as the men until the new section was built. Some locked away for the ‘crime’ having no fixed address or visible means of income…
Police Watch House
Next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol is the Police Watch House. In use up until 1994, it is now part of the National Trust Museum. A 30 minute guided tour involves being charged, spending time in a cell with the other ‘prisoners’ and experiencing the exercise yard.
Visit the Old Melbourne Gaol
Whether you are a local or a visitor, the Old Melbourne Gaol and Watch House are a historical experience that would be worthy of inclusion. Read more about the history here. Ghost tours are also available, for those inclined!
WEBSITE: Old Melbourne Gaol
Old Melbourne Gaol
377 Russell Street
The Gaol is a two-minute walk from Melbourne Central Station.
Catch the free City Circle tram no.35 to stop 7 on the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets.
Paid parking areas are close by. Most parking is free on Sundays, though please read signs carefully to be sure.