What was life like in Australia's most notorious prison?
"I don't want to sound too doom and gloom," ex prison officer Marty says, "but this was really a terrible* place to work sometimes."
If the old Boggo Road Gaol was a terrible place to work, one can only imagine what it was like for the hundreds of convicted criminals who called the place home over its 103 years. Fortunately, visitors can see for themselves without having to commit a crime by undertaking the Ex-Inmate/Ex-Officer tour of the historic, decommissioned gaol.
Taking place on the first Sunday of the month, the tours are led by a former Boggo Road Gaol guard and concluded by a former inmate. Guests are free to ask the former inmate any questions they like, with the caveat that 'what happens on the tour stays on the tour'.
Boggo Road Gaol was named for the road on which it was built, and even today, in its slightly ramshackle state, it's an imposing building against the otherwise gentrified Dutton Park. In fact, in direct contrast to its seedy past, farmers, organic food vendors and flower salespeople fill its grounds every Sunday for the Boggo Road Markets.
It's not hard to see how Boggo Road gained its notorious reputation. The facility is Spartan – the tiny rooms, which housed three prisoners each, are without toilets or showers. Each prisoner received a bucket that was washed and disinfected daily. Although the buildings were scrubbed daily, Marty explains, the smell, especially in summer, was terrible.
Marty's stories about the prisoners (like Whiskey Au Go Go bomber John Andrew Stuart who, Marty claims, was an absolute mongrel) and guard life bring the history of the building to life, while ex-inmate Wayne's stories from the other side drive home just how miserable the gaol was. The tour leads visitors through the cell blocks (I found some very interesting graffiti in some of the rooms, none of which is fit to publish in this review), throughout the yards and shower area, and finishing at the visitors contact area. While the guides provide a bounty of stories and information, both officer and inmate are open to questions throughout the tour.
It's not your typical light-hearted Sunday morning activity, but the Ex-Inmate/Ex-Officer tour of the Boggo Road Gaol is a fascinating journey that is a must-do for anyone with even a passing interest in Brisbane history. Due to its adult, at times gruesome, content, the tour is rated MA15 and not suitable for persons under the age of 15.