My Week in Freo Prison:
When I got back from the road trip South, I was fortunate enough to have some really lovely people in my room and we all got on brilliantly. After a really funny week in Perth most of the guys had move on and there were two of us left.
We decided to head down to Fremantle (Freo) for a few days, which is a beach suburb of Perth about half an hours train journey from the CBD, (a little bit like St.Kilda for those of you that have been to Melbourne), it’s a beach suburb and has a real holiday vibe to it, there are people milling about everywhere and buskers. Emily and I basically spent our week mooching around, from the beach to a little cafe back to the hostel. Life was very hard in Freo.
The main reason Fremantle is famous though is the fact that it’s home to a former maximum security prison. It only closed down in 1991, after a riot in 1988 and the public became aware of how bad conditions were there they had buckets for toilets right up until it closed.
Being me and embracing my love of history I did 3 tours of the Prison one giving you a bit of back ground about the prison. On this you see the gallows where they hung people, there’s still a noose hanging up and everything! Not that many people were sentenced to death at Freo and only one woman, Martha Rendell whose story is notorious.
She was accused of killing 2 of her 5 step children by brushing their throats with poison, many people thought she was innocent and kept claiming her innocence right up until her death. Once she was sent to the gallows a ghostly apparition appeared in one of the windows of the chapel of her face but you can only see it at a certain angle. There is definitely the outline of a face looking out the window and on other tours I looked for it from other angles you really can’t see it. Not sure what I make of that, the prison is very creepy and does have an air of something about it, the only thing I can compare it too is Alcatraz and I found it definitely has more of an eeriness about it than Alcatraz.
I did that tour and the next one about escapes back to back, the escape one wasn’t nearly as good, our guide wasn’t as enthusiastic as Ben our previous guide and kept rolling his eyes. There were a few interesting stories about attempted escapes, no one who tried to escape ever evaded recaptured. My favourite story was about a guy who was transferred down to Perth from a country prison where he kept managing to escape by making holes in the wattle walls… So when he transferred to Freo they lined his solid lime stone cell with wooden panels, metal spikes and chained him to the cell at the ankles and neck, he last three days in the cell before a doctor came round and had a look at him he wasn’t doing so well in his current conditions, so he got moved to a maximum security cell and was given a job in the chain gang of breaking up lime stone and he had a pile of lime stone that was getting higher and higher each day until eventually the guards couldn’t see him but they could hear him chipping away… Until one day they couldn’t hear him any more he’d chipped his way out through the prisons outer wall! What I found quite funny was there were a fair few stories of people escaping only to be caught again in the local pub, it’s so very Australian they went to all the trouble to escape just so they could have a pint!
The final tour I did was a torch light tour, having found the prison creepie enough during the day not sure why I decided the torch light tour would be a good idea. It actually turned out to be my favourite tour of them all, when you arrive you get told to pick out the smallest and least powerful torch from a bucket that shines a tiny amount of light just you make you even more nervous. Our tour guide was brilliant and you could see despite the fact he did this day after day he absolutely loved what he did and peoples reactions, he told us at the start that if we felt anything brush against us and there was no one there to take a selfie because sometimes things show up on camera that the naked eye can’t see. We went through some of the parts I’d been to before and some new bits, but in the main cell blocks there are three levels with a net going across the second level to stop people committing suicide or other prisoners throwing them over the balcony. When our guide was telling us about this a dummy got chucked over and landed on the netting scaring the life out of us all as we weren’t expecting it. After the main cell block we got taken over to the solitary confinement block, as our guide Simon was explaining that there are two door made of very thick tough wood and there was no getting through there at this point he banged on the door and out jumped a ‘prisoner’ again scaring the life out of us and making us jump, the guy started explaining about how being in solitary he got time alone with his thoughts he came right up and spoke right in your face and you’re just stood there half laughing half trying to back away.
From solitary we were taken to the gallows again, as each prisoner who was sentenced to death was held in cell one of solitary for the two hours before they were due to go to the gallows. The gallows were a lot creepier at night than they were in the day. The walls around the gallows are painted sky blue to help keep the prisoners calm although they were blindfolded on the way to the gallows so wouldn’t have been able to see the walls anyway… Maybe it was to keep the guards calm as well?
After the creepiness of the gallows we got taken down to where the morgue was, but before we got there Simon stopped us to tell us about another escape story one I hadn’t heard before, when suddenly out of nowhere this other ‘prisoner’ appears and carries on telling his escape story this one had the creepy leery scariness of a prisoner down pat he came right up to me first as I happened to be in front of him and my reaction was to take a step back from him, I was actually pretty freaked out! After that we were taken to the morgue which did have a very weird feeling to it. It was the last stop on the tour as well, just to add to the scariness.
The hostel we stayed in in Freo was the YHA which was once the Womens block of the prison, and you can stay in cells there. We weren’t in a cell just a dorm, there are watch towers still around the place especially in the prison yard where they now have hammocks you can see into one of the guard towers, which still has it wheelie chair in making it seem like someone is in there watching you.
I really enjoyed my time in Freo and would recommend a trip to the prison as a must for anyone who visits, they also have amazing weekend markets in Freo full of locally grown fruit and veg also worth a visit.