Old Alice Springs Gaol

HM Gaol and Labour Prison Alice Springs

View from Bill Goat Hill, 1956

Northern Territory Library, Howard Truran Collection, PH0406/0327

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame moved to the Old Alice Springs Gaol in 2007 and we now research and promote the history of the Old Alice Springs Gaol.

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame tells the stories of the Old Alice Springs Gaol. We have available to us, for example, paper documents, audio archives and the possibility of oral history research. However, there are also huge silences, gaps and challenges. How do you tell the stories of a gaol, especially one which has only been closed for not yet twenty years? Prisoner voices are few, former employees sometimes respond with silence or requests for anonymity and there are confidentiality considerations relating to use of the archives. There are obvious sensitivities. Gaols are difficult places, coming into contact with complex matters, such as the town’s development, social inclusion and issues around grog and crime. These are not easy stories to tell.

We’ve started with what we’ve been able to easily access: archival photos of the various gaols of Stuart/Alice Springs, articles from the local newspaper, material provided by former senior staff. This includes an interview with the former Officer-in-Charge of the female section of the Gaol. This interview forms part of an exhibition of women’s experiences in the Gaol’s female cell block, as told by a former inmate and former Officer-in-Charge. We have also added a small photographic exhibition, People and Places and the Old Alice Springs Gaol: A Beginning as a starting point in respectfully exploring the many and varied histories of the Old Alice Springs Gaol.

The NPWHF Board has recognised that greater work needs to be done on the interpretation of the history of the Old Gaol and has identified this as a priority in its 2014-17 Strategic Plan.  In October 2015, the NPWHF Board endorsed a conceptual framework designed by Elliat Rich for the overall interpretation of the Old Alice Springs Gaol.  The aim of this conceptual framework, Framing Site, Revealing Stories or Lot 1018 of 5 acres 3 roods and 34 perches is to “aid the curatorial direction and development of integrated collateral to tell the stories and reveal the historic and contemporary relevance of the Old Alice Springs Gaol site”.  

We have been successful in receiving grant monies from the Northern Territory Government to develop a new exhibition on the Old Gaol, around the theme of “Relationships”.  The interpretation of this theme through audio/video installations will give a sense of the people of the Old Alice Springs Gaol and their relationships. This will bring out the numerous people stories, as well as interaction between people, giving an insight into the life of the Old Gaol, whilst humanizing the past and the people, triggering empathy, forging the familiar and allowing visitors to relate to people despite differences in place, time and social acceptance.  We are currently hard at work on this exhibition, which will open to visitors early in 2017.  We would dearly like to hear from anyone who  has any connection to the Old Gaol, to hear your story and add it to the rich, multi-faceted history of this Old Gaol.

Hands”, Graphite drawing on paper, 2014

Artist: Seraphina Cavanagh