Doing… Spending Time in Melbourne’s Old Gaol!

Howdy all. On Thursday I will be premiering my latest ‘Melbourne Revealed’ Vlog on my YouTube Channel (12pm AESST) and will be featuring the vlog on this blog on Friday. What will that vlog feature? Well you’re about to get a sneak peak in the form of this blog post because I think I cover different aspects and appeal to different people via the old blog.

Had to do it

I can’t have the experience of discovering Melbourne as an outsider, but if I did and I was looking to find interesting places to visit in this destination of destinations, I would want to go to the Old Melbourne Gaol. I think. I certainly know I would recommend it to people coming here as something to see and do.

The Gaol – or ‘jail’ as some people these days call it (they think they’re ‘hip’ no doubt) is a very well preserved historic building in the centre of town, not too far from RMIT University and a couple of minutes’ walk from Melbourne Central (under which is the station). There are also trams that run past it as well. It’s on the corner of La Trobe street and Russel Street.

The main historic part hasn’t functioned as a jail really since the Second World War, but it closed down as a jail some twenty or so years earlier and was only used in the Second World War to house Prisoners of War. It’s this part that is the most interesting and the main part of the jail. Since the 1970s it’s been open to the public as a sort of museum.

The pricing is a little steep – around $32AUD for an adult entry, but there are concession and family tickets as well. The staff there were really friendly and helpful. The guy behind the counter even answered a couple of questions on camera for me so I was pretty happy with that.

The main pull for the jail is, well, down to one inmate who had a brief stay at the gaol. Before he was hanged, Perhaps you’ve heard of Australia’s most famous bush ranger? Ned Kelly that is, of course! Ned Kelly’s last days were spent in the Old Melbourne Gaol as he was tried and found guilty for the murder of a policeman (amongst other things). He was hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880.

He was famous because, well I guess Australians tend to like people who defy authority, but he also wore metal armour and a somewhat amusing helmet to protect himself from bullets. Today his memory is still strong. In Glenrowan, a town in northern Victoria, you will find a giant statue to him, because this is where he was finally captured. There’s no doubt he’s a drawcard and probably the single biggest reason the Gaol was able to open for tourists and visitors. He’s a big drawcard – and the gift shop is full of Ned Kelly-themed items as you might imagine.

The main part of the gaol that’s open to the public is the amazing east wing. It’s three levels of corridors and cells. The cells are mostly filled with information about the jail, it’s history and some of the people who have inhabited the cells you are in. It’s pretty cool. They also do some sort of ‘Cluedo’ live game on some evenings which could be a lot of fun.

One cell that is really interesting is the one that deals with escapes, another talks about how the prison functioned during the Second World War. It’s interesting that for the first few decades the prison – in fact the east wing had both male and female prisoners. Now might be a good time to mention that the gaol was opened in 1845, ten years after the founding of Melbourne.

When I went there they had timed entries, and so a little under 90 minutes after the allotted arrival time anyone with said time was taken across the year, now resplendent with astroturf, to the watch house. There were piled up chairs in the yard space, much of the prison is available for event hire which if you have the money would be a lot of fun one would imagine.

The watchhouse was built I think in 1909. It was built as a holding section for those who had not gone to trail yet. It was a more modern building and in fact was in use until 1994. It housed women and men. The cells looked very basic and could house up to 8 I think at a pinch, with only benches to sleep on, and I guess the floor because the benches wouldn’t hold eight people.

There was also a fully padded cell which I joked was perfect for me. The ‘guards’ were paid actors who told stories – and said no cameras were allowed. All in all it was a cool end to the day. All in all I think it’s a great experience, shouldn’t take more than two hours of your time. Highly recommended! Thanks for reading – and May the Journey Never End!

16 thoughts on “Doing… Spending Time in Melbourne’s Old Gaol!

  1. Interesting place! It’s such a shame that we (as in people in general) like to glorify bad men around the world. Jamaica has that same practice, and we like to glorify the pirates who terrorized Port Royal centuries ago to appeal to tourists. Crazy stuff

  2. I like the ambiguity of the title of the post, not that I imagine you could actually be imprisoned. Australia’s history is actually built on gaols, isn’t it?

  3. I’ve only been to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin over five years ago; I had no idea that similar prisons existed in other parts of the world. I appreciate you sharing this with us, Andy!

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