As you drive through Gladstone, South Australia, on your way to or from Jamestown, large stone walls capture your attention. These walls are the perimeter fence of the Old Gladstone Gaol, a little-known tourist attraction in the State's Mid North.
Gladstone Gaol entry
The Gladstone Gaol opened to the public in 1978, almost one hundred years after the first prisoner was incarcerated, and today offers visitors the opportunity for an interesting and unusual day out, a unique venue for parties, weddings and other functions, or, for the more adventurous, overnight accommodation in the cells, and ghost tours.
Just 2 1/2 hours from Adelaide, and 30 minutes from Port Pirie, the Gladstone Gaol has had an interesting history. Initially taking both male and female prisoners, the gaol closed as a correctional facility in 1939, (sometime between August 16 and September 15), to become an internment camp during World War II.
Women's cell block
In November 1940 the gaol was being considered as a munition site, but sometime between then and January 1941 it had re-opened, (and closed again), as a detention facility for males aged 18 to 22. During 1941 there were numerous articles in the local newspapers about the empty Gladstone Gaol, and some sectors urged the Government to use the facility for military purposes. After years of disuse, the gaol re-opened in September 1952 with the aim of reforming young offenders by providing them with education, vocational training, and other useful skills such as gardening. In 1975 the gaol closed once more, this time due to out-dated facilities.
Memorabilia from the movie Stir
In 1979, the gaol was used as a location during the filming of the Australian movie Stir, starring Bryan Brown, and a range of memorabilia has been retained in one of the gaol's cells.
Today, information on the gaol's history can be found on the walls as you walk through the gaol. Newspaper articles, stories about inmates, information on the daily routine, and so much more, has been retrieved from the archives and made available to the public through the intensive efforts of the committee of volunteers that help preserve and manage this incredible facility.
The walls can talk - historical information is located throughout the gaol
Tony Holland, the current manager, worked in South Australian prisons for more than 20 years, and he, along with his wife Fe and other volunteers, readily shares stories, anecdotes, and experiences within the gaol with visitors. A guided tour with anyone involved with the gaol is highly recommended to get the most out of your visit, but a self-guided tour will still provide plenty of information about the gaol's history.
Willie, Tony, Fe, Rose & Debbie
As with many historic sites, stories abound about spirits haunting the Gladstone Gaol. According to the volunteers, many arrive as sceptics and leave with a change of heart - either way, taking a camera with you when you visit is recommended, as you never know what may turn up in your photos. If ghosts and spirits interest you, the opportunity for a ghost tour should not be missed - just call 0886622200 to make a booking.
Is this one of Gladstone Gaol's spirits?
Overnight accommodation is available and ranges from backpacker-style, where you supply your own bedding (linen, pillows, etc), through to the 'executive' rooms which have a double bed and their own tea and coffee making facilities.
Basic cell accommodation
With or without taking advantage of the accommodation, the Gladstone Gaol is a unique venue for birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, and a variety of other functions, and has a well-equipped kitchen and dining hall for hire. Tony and the volunteers are more than happy to assist you with any enquiries regarding functions and/or accommodation.
Gladstone Gaol tower
The Gladstone Gaol is also perfect for a family day out. Bring a picnic, or have morning tea at the cafe, and stroll through the cells and surrounds at your leisure. Children are most welcome, and are sure to have a great time exploring the gaol.
I suspect the tours of the Gladstone Gaol during the week are by prior booking only. The sign on the outside of the gaol states it is open to the general public on Saturdays. We drove past it in June last year. Friends also checked it via google.
The Manager has just confirmed that the current opening hours are 10am to 4 pm, 7 days a week, except over Christmas. Overnight stays are by making a booking beforehand. I have sent a request to have the hours updated on the article.