Saturday, February 28, 2009

Incarcerated at Wentworth Gaol

As My One True Love said, the old Wentworth Gaol wasn't as spooky as we hoped it'd be.

Oh, it had its fair share of shackles and stocks and whipping posts. There was an ancient dry gum tree trunk with chains hanging from it, the links as thick as my thumbs. There were single cells where 14 women at a time were squeezed inside, with a lidless tin bucket for a toilet and a tiny window high up in the thick brick wall, which hardly let in a breath of wind.

The exercise yard was bare and dry and dusty. One lone peppercorn tree stood in the middle of the square, its leaves hanging down limply in the sun. But it wasn't planted until the gaol was decommissioned, and became the local school in 1935. So convicts of the time wouldn't have had a single inch of shade to stand in.

The large granite block in the courtyard had a chain attached to it, and that's where punishment took place. Like a carcass on a spit, prisoners were left to roast in the burning sun. They'd have slowly succumbed, and wilted ... in both their body and their resolve. Blistered, they were returned meekly to their cells, and left to toss and turn in fever and infection.

Guard towers marked the four points of the compass, and there was nowhere to hide from their gaze. There was never a single escape from the Wentworth Gaol. The walls of the male cells were 22 inches thick, of rendered brick, and the cell doors were solid boilerplate with enormous sliding bolts and locks. Food went in through the tiny slot in the door.

Imagine spending seven years hard labour there, as one man did when convicted of horse robbery. Seven years in a space the size of my bathroom - even smaller, perhaps.

Interestingly, one inmate had a sentence of five years recorded, but reduced to 12 months hard labour, "on account of the questionable reputation of the woman involved" when he assaulted her. Isn't it tragic that these days, over a hundred years later than that conviction, the same standard still seems to apply?

It's said that there are eerie goings on at the gaol, and a paranormal investigation company once recorded strange shadows and electromagnetic indications. Black shadows ran up and down the wall, and the video cameras stopped recording, even though they were fully powered and batteries in working order.

My One True Love stood at the doorway to the cell block, and his frame cast a shadow on the floor, and the light played against the thick metal plates, and the sound of pigeons fluttered through the building as the sun beat down hard upon the roof.

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