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Top Gaols to Visit in Sydney and New South Wales

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by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published March 20th 2015
Don't worry, there are no prisoners here anymore
The operational gaols in Sydney and New South Wales probably aren't the kind of places you want to go for a casual visit, but there are a few historic gaols around that are worth checking out instead. All of them provide an insight into our country's past, from the convict period to quite recently.

Old Dubbo Gaol
Usually people head to Dubbo for Taronga Western Plains Zoo, a place that's so big you need to get on a bike to see everything. However, the gaol is another attraction in this Hunter Valley town that's worth visiting.

Dubbo Gaol began as a courthouse lock-up in 1847, but was quickly converted into a real gaol and continued to be used for this purpose until 1966. At one point it was used for executions, and the harsh conditions made escape attempts (sometimes successful) common.

While the buildings may be old, the gaol has embraced the latest technology in order to convey the prison life to today's visitors, including animatronics and holographic displays. Other parts of the experience include people dressed as wardens and prisoners, and the chance to experience a pitch-black solitary confinement cell.

You can explore the gaol on your own or with a guide (tours run during the day as well as at night).

Hours: 9.00am to 4.00pm, every day but Christmas Day
Cost: $15.00 for a self-guided tour (adult price)
Address: 90 Macquarie Street, Dubbo NSW 2830

Photo by Ruth Ellison, Used under Flickr Creative Commons policy

Trial Bay Gaol
Trial Bay Gaol is located in South West Rocks on the state's Mid North Coast. It has had an interesting and varied history, beginning in 1876 with its use as a Public Works Gaol where inmates were required building a nearby breakwall. However the breakwall proved too problematic and work was abandoned, meaning the gaol too closed, until it was used in WWI as an internment camp.

After the war, the gaol was stripped bare and the ruin that was left is what you can explore today, either by yourself or on a guided tour. There is also a museum on the site and camping is available nearby, within Arakoon National Park.

Hours: 9.00am to 4.30pm, every day but Christmas Day
Cost: $10.00 for adults, $7.00 for concessions and $27.00 for families
Address: Cardwell Street, South West Rocks NSW 2431

Image courtesy of Cgoodwin / Wikimedia Commons

Maitland Gaol
Maitland Gaol, near Newcastle, has over a century and a half of history, including use as a prison until 1998. Different tours will teach you about different sides of the gaol, and there are a lot to choose from.

To begin with, there are three different self-guided audio tours; a general tour, a child-oriented one, and one all about escape attempts. There are even more guided tours, and because the gaol closed so recently, many are led by people who experienced the gaol first-hand. That means tours led by ex-wardens and even ex-inmates. There's also a psychic tour, another tour about escapes and a history tour. Sometimes they are held at night.

Other experiences on offer here include having dinner before your tour (provided numbers are met) and sleeping over!

Hours: 7 days a week, 9.00am to 4.00pm (excepting night tours)
Cost: Audio tours are $20.00 and guided tours are $30.00 (these are adults prices)
Address: 6-18 John Street, East Maitland NSW 2323

Cockatoo Island
One of Sydney's Islands, this place was used as an imperial prison during the 1840s-1870s, until prisoners were moved to Darlinghurst Gaol. The stone prison barracks are still standing and are UNESCO World Heritage listed. Both guided and self-guided tours are available (information can be picked up from the Visitors Centre).

Hours: Open every day
Cost: Free
Address: Sydney Harbour, at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers

Image courtesy of Carmazina / Wikimedia Commons

Old Wentworth Gaol
If you're willing to travel, Old Wentworth Gaol in the state's west is a well-preserved piece of Australia's history. Built in 1879-1881, it was used for almost 50 years and considered less harsh than gaols built previously. It was also the first gaol to be designed in Australia (by James Barnett, who also designed Customs House in Sydney).

Today at the gaol you can see for yourself where the warden and gaoler lived, where the male and female inmates lived and worked, the kitchen, the hospital and more. This gaol is considered to be in better condition that any other old gaol in Australia.

Hours: 9.00am to 5.00pm weekdays and 10.00am to 4.00pm Saturday
Cost: $8.00 for adults, $6.00 for Seniors, $4.00 for children and $20.50 for families
Address: 112-115 Beverley Street, Wentworth NSW 2648

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Why? There are some fascinating stories to discover at each location
When: See above for opening hours
Where: Around Sydney and New South Wales
Cost: Varies
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