“Hey, did you guys take the Experience tour yet?”
“The what?” we responded. Doug was intense with excitement. He was one of our new cruise ship buddies who happened to be visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail), too.
“You have to do it. It runs every half hour, but they only take 20 people,” he added. “There’re lining up right now in front of the building.”
“Okay, thanks.” We nodded and scurried out of the somber building.
But my stomach was feeling a little queasy; I was not sure if I was up for more of this gaol’s brand of “experiences.” I had already spent an hour inside the Old Melbourne Gaol; the death masks, the whipping frame, and the horrific correctional devices employed by the gaol in its early history were not for the faint-of-heart. And mine was feeling very faint.
So, it was with a fair level of trepidation that I followed Doug’s advice and joined the queue for the Melbourne Gaol’s “Watch House Experience.”
I began to regret my decision when I met the gaol’s intimidating desk sergeant…
A number of us, adults and children, stood expectantly just out front of a huge door. A young lady counted us, cut off the line, and then gave us our first “lesson.”
“Make sure you answer properly when the sergeant talks to you,” she said. “It’s, ‘Yes, Sergeant’ and ‘No, Sergeant’. And don’t speak UNLESS you are spoken to.”
We all nodded, and giggled. Sergeant T. Blank soon put an end to that.
A large uniformed man met us at the door; he demanded we form lines and march QUIETLY into the gaol. Any deviance from his instructions was met with instant derision, and loud ridicule. The giggles still came, but they were much more guarded. Was this guy serious? No sense in ticking him off. We did as we were told.
He directed us into single lines, and gave each of us a “booking card.” On it we found a fictitious name, a crime, an arresting officer, and a birth date. We were to read our cards, and KNOW them. The tension in the group rose; the giggling had turned into nervous laughter.
Sergeant Blank “booked” the lot of us, not missing an opportunity to ridicule us during this processing. He turned to me at one point, and asked a question necessitating a “Yes, Sergeant” answer. I made the mistake of also nodding my head up and down.
“Don’t shake your head when you answer, lady,” he warned. “I don’t want to hear the rocks rolling around inside it.” More nervous laughter — this time at my expense.
From the booking room we went to the search room, a long narrow room. Luckily, although it was threatened, there was no strip search. But we did have to open our mouths, and spread our fingers wide, to ensure we weren’t hiding any contraband.
Once searched, we were called out in groups according to the arresting officer written on our booking cards. As groups, we were thrown into stone cells, filthy with age, and scarred with written mementoes by real prisoners who had once called this horrific place, home.
We heard the locks clang shut. And then we were cast into darkness. We could hear the pitiful cries, and the maniacal calls from unidentified others somewhere in the gaol. But, unlike the gaol’s real prisoners from years ago, we were soon released. Sergeant T. Blank gave us all a parting insult and then turned us back to a young female guide.
She gave us the chance to browse the gaol area including the “padded” cell, the exercise yards (I suspect they are called yards because they can be measured with a yardstick), the woman’s prison area, the shower room, and the rest of the prison cells.
We were then directed to the EXIT which led us past a cell with large numbered cards and a backboard with heights. Here we could take our own mug shots.
The Old Melbourne Gaol is a must-see experience when visiting Melbourne, Australia. And the “Watch House Experience” is well worth the wait. It is not only fun and informative, but it is a welcome contrast to the miserable realities and atrocities presented inside the Old Melbourne Gaol (but that’s for another blog entry.)
(Thanks to our new friends, Kathy and Doug, for the heads-up on this tour.)
The Old Melbourne Gaol is located on Russell Street (between La Trobe and Victoria Streets). You can take one of the tourist trolleys or shuttles; the gaol is only a short walk away from one of the major stops. Ask the shuttle driver — they are very helpful.
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