Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Western Australia Part 4: Doing Time in Fremantle Prison

“No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet." - Patrick Rothfuss.

It was not just about remembering the mistakes done by the people before us, but rather, it was a journey to learn not to repeat the same mistakes again. 

This is the story of the Fremantle Prison: Doing Time.

Fremantle Prison: Doing Time Tour (Tour Fee of AUD 19)
While the rest of the family members decided to enjoy the earlier parts of the day at home, my lovely wife and I decided to spend half of the day at the Fremantle Prison, which was first building in Western Australia listed in the World Heritage List. Being among the first buildings constructed by the convicts, Fremantle prison must have its own stories to tell. Moreover, since the day the first block of Fremantle Prison was laid on the ground, it had been standing still until the day the authority decided to close the prison which was in 1991, and later on converted the prison into a tourist attraction.

This reminded me of our own Pudu Prison in Kuala Lumpur.

Greeted by the Prison Guard
We were greeted by an old man upon entrance. He explained that there were four tours available to suit our choice - Doing Time, Great Escapes, Tunnels Tour and Torchlight Tour. Given the limited time that we had, we chose the Doing Time, which started at 10 am in the morning. 

And we were informed later that he was actually the ex-Prison Guard of Fremantle Prison!

The Cell Tango Began
There were only four of us in our group. My wife and I and another two couple from Ireland. A tour guide by the name of Matthew greeted us and deliver his welcoming remarks. Throughout the tour we found that Matthew was indeed a very informative guide, who managed to retain a mild sense of humor to entertain us. I could still remember, the first question he asked, what kind of crime do you think these people were convicted for? 

Logically speaking, it would take gruesome atrocities that warrant these people to be exiled from the British land, like murder, highway robbery or adultery.  

Contrary to the popular belief, we were informed that initially, people would be sent here, even for smallest crime of stealing a loaf of bread. Just imagined, being shipped all the way from British land, for stealing a loaf of bread. Was it worth it?

Sorry, I am in Prison, Will be Out in 5 Years Time
We began the tour from a room with a counter where the prison guards would be receiving the convicts. There were also special small cubicle to temporarily hold dangerous convicts. This was where the convicts were required to surrender all their belongings and most importantly, to surrender their freedom. Standardised personal items (e.g. toothbrush etc) and uniform will be handed over to the convicts and the day as a prisoner had officially began. 

After the short briefing at the receiving room, we headed to the shower rooms nearby, made for the prisoners. I was not sure as to whether refinement was made from time to time, but the shower rooms were kept neat and tidy. It looked like some high school shower rooms after soccer instead of shower rooms for prisoners. I think the shower rooms could accommodate ten prisoners at a time, but it was actually a walking distance from their cells. 

Not yet an interesting discovery. We shall move on.

The Emptiness of the Yard
Upon exiting the shower rooms, we stepped our foot at the yard surrounding the prison's building. There were nothing but silence and emptiness, until Matthew started to speak. I believed it was the way it has been for the past decades, where the entrance to the prison greeted the convicts with nothing but a gesture of loneliness. 

After some brief history of the arrival of the convicts in Fremantle, Matthew led us to the prisons. 

Inside the Cells
As I stepped my foot inside the building, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of rooms, divided into 4 divisions. The prisoners were subjected to strict schedules, as displayed on the wall. Few mock up prisons were made to give some illustration on the evolution of the prisons throughout the decades. Yeah, I could see the changing of the beds, the tables and the facilities from time to time. 

Being prisoners cell, comfort was not the centre of focus. When summer came, the temperature of the room rose high. When winter dropped by, the temperature also dropped down. The prisoners became at the mercy of the nature. 

Shit in a Bucket
The most disturbing story would be the fact that all prisoners had to shit in a bucket and got it cleaned up the next day. Imagine the humiliation if one had to shit in front of another prisoner sharing the same prison? Moreover, this condition lasted until 1991! Well, to me the inmates in Hotel K of Bali faced worst conditions in their cell tikus.

Leonardo Da Vinci in da House
We were led to few prison rooms, where there were paintings on the wall. These paintings were done by some of the prisoners who were granted permission to do so for therapy reasons. As I could see, these are more than just scribbling on the wall. They were expressions of longing for freedom. The ships at the sea, the land, the tress etc.  

The Prison Riot
Somewhere in 1988, there was a riot in Fremantle Prison. It was so delicately organised. Initiated by pouring hot water onto the guards on duty, almost seventy prisoners rushed through the unguarded gates, overpowering the prison guards. The prisoners started to throw things like tables, chairs onto the ground. They started a fire, which later became bigger and in the end became the reason why the whole planned escape was unsuccessful.

There are special session to deal with the stories on successful and unsuccessful attempt to escape from the prison. Either version, it is understandable why these prisoners attempted for freedom, by looking at the condition of the Fremantle Prison.

The Exercising Yard
There were times when the inmates were allowed to roam in the yard. We were shown few other paintings on the wall, where some of them were quite disturbing. But to me, the yard is still a prison, at a larger scale. The only thing inmates would be able to see is the blue sky and the prison guards guarding from the towers up above.

The Execution Place
We were brought to a place where the inmates were flogged with Cats O Nine Tail (a tool to flog prisoners). Made from nine cotton cords, the "Cats" were intended to inflict intense pain on the skin. It is interesting to note that this "cat" is often associated with the phrase "Cat got your tongue" (it was so painful you could not speak), "letting the cat out of the bag", "look what the cat dragged in" etc. 

As for the hanging area, it did cast eerie and gloomy ambiance throughout the place. We were informed that more ghostly stories about the area are covered in the night tour. 

Well, that's about the Fremantle Prison. The entrance fee might be costly to some, so I shared some insights for you to enjoy.

Till we meet again. 

Hairi Tahir

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1 Nukilan:

tenku butang said...

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sudilah kiranya follow me back yea..
he2.. salam kenal.. keep in touch yea..=)

dan my 2nd blog

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