Recently, we took a “Doing Time” tour to Fremantle Prison to see what lay behind the massive perimeter walls. The convict-built prison is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and their tours give you an insight into what conditions were like in the not so distant past. The prison only closed its doors to criminals in 1991! Crikey.
Each visit to the former maximum security prison begins just as the prisoner’s would have. The entry is via the big limestone Gatehouse, where you choose a tour and pay.
You might have a few minutes to wait until the next tour, generally, they begin every 30 minutes or so. In the courtyard, you’ll find a gift shop, interesting convict exhibitions and a café. There are toilets here too.
The Prison now offers seven tours of the prison cellblocks, perimeter walls and tunnels. Some of these tours are new for 2018, so there is always something different to discover at the prison. As this was my first trip to prison, we chose the most popular tour with first-time visitors, “Doing Time”. The tour lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes and begins at regular intervals.
The tour guide rang the bell, and we gathered with our group at the meeting point. We were then off to the processing block. Here the guide gave an interesting chat on how the prisoners were strip-searched, given their prison uniforms and then we’re taken through the shower block to the huge main cell block.
Our tour guide was enthusiastic, humorous, knowledgeable and engaging. He had lots of very interesting tales about how the prison was built, violent riots and general prison life up his sleeve.
We viewed cells that showed what they would be like in the 1800s, early 1900s and more modern times. The first cells were so small and contained just a hammock and bucket for their toilet. We couldn’t believe real metal framed beds didn’t arrive till the 1950s. Conditions at the prison were pretty grim.
The Exercise yards are tiny for the number of prisoners that must have been kept there. Again, shelter from the harsh WA sun wasn’t added for many years.
Just before the prison closed its doors, some talented prisoners were allowed to paint murals on their cell walls, resulting in some beautiful artwork.
Wheelchairs are welcome, though can’t access all areas, as the prison is laid out over a few floors. Other areas we were taken through were the prison kitchen and the chapel – where people still get married!
Capital punishment varied over the years. On the tour you’ll see where prisoners were flogged and where they were sent to be in solitary confinement. Lastly, there’s an eerie trip to the gallows. The last person to be hanged at Fremantle was serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, executed in 1964. If this isn’t your cup of tea, you can skip this bit.
If you choose to go on another tour the same day, there’s a heavily discounted fee for your second tour. We liked the sound of the “Great Escapes” tour which tells tales about famous escapees like bushranger Moondyne Joe. There’s a new “True Crime” tour that tells real life stories of the prison’s most notorious inmates and how their crimes gripped the WA community.
For the more adventurous there’s a spooky torchlight tour on some evenings. For adults and children 12 years and older there’s the underground tunnel tour on boats, which is not for the claustrophobic!
There’s so much history in Fremantle and the prison really embodies that. A trip to Fremantle Prison to uncover its rich 136 year history of convicts, bushrangers, thieves, murderers, bank robbers and escape artists is a must.
Address: 1 The Terrace, Fremantle.
Phone: 9336 9200
Disabled Access Yes. Toilets, parking and information guides are given for the areas not able to be accessed by wheelchairs (upstairs etc).
Car Parking area: There’s a paid parking area at the entrance.
Grandchild Friendly: Yes, as long as they’re not easily scared.
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