Old Dubbo Gaol is still revealing its hand, reckons Chris Anemaat, Visitor Experience Officer.
In fact, an overhaul of the visitor amenities revealed a surprise parcel just five years before.
“Workmen found contraband within the ceiling,” Chris explains, “two butter knives and some hand-made playing cards.”
It’s closure was hasty closure in 1966 and many of its records dispersed Australia-wide.
“We are still piecing the history of the place.
“It’s like the Gaol is still talking to us.”
Tourism NSW, Old Dubbo Gaol entrance.
OLD DUBBO GAOL’S COURTROOM DISCOVERY
One of its biggest rediscoveries occurred a few years after it opened in 1977, beneath the Court House.
“Someone was poking around the basement and found the gallows.
“There’s a trap door leading there and when the jail closed, things were buried underground.”
Eight prisoners had lost their lives on the demountable structure and it hadn’t been used for a quite a while.
LEAVES OUT OF THE HISTORY BOOKS
Core to its history are the lives of the prisoners.
Like that of John Lawrence Barton, an artist-cum-forger incarcerated in the 1890s who travelled with no less than 10 pseudonyms.
“He was the only inmate [that we are aware of] to ever smuggle gold from Dubbo Gaol,” says Chris.
The accomplished artist and musician landed a plumb roll in the gaol’s reputable bookbinding department.
And on his release, Barton presented senior officials two exquisitely-bound books, requesting to keep a third he’d made as a memento for the time he’d served. Chuffed, they foolishly agreed.
“What he’d done was bound all the gold leaf for lettering into that third book.”
A slave to the drink, Barton celebrated his freedom at the local using his ill-gotten proceeds when his coin ran out.
“He was actually ripping out the leaves he’d hidden within the book’s spine,” says Chris.
Astonishingly, the establishment accepted it as legal tender.
UNCOVERING THE STORIES
Unpicking these stories ties Chris passionately to his role; he’s worked in the museum for 12 years. And he’s been busy and trawling through archives, like the Trove, to flesh out some of the stories of those impacted by the gaol.
“We’re in a Golden Age of history,” says Chris, who points to resources like the National Gallery’s Trove.
“I can flip through the pages [of an archived newspaper] and find out what the community was worried about.
“I’d not only find a story about a prisoner escaping the jail but I’d also read a radical cure for earache,” says Chris.
And in the coming year, Old Dubbo Gaol will use his findings to showcase some of the personal journeys of some of its inmates.
“We’re developing some new exhibitions. We are doing a redevelopment project, trying to find different ways to tell the story.
“We use a lot of animatronics in our current exhibits … but soon we’ll use individual stories to reveal particular moments in time.”
Watch this space
Old Dubbo Gaol, image courtesy of Tourism NSW
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See you on the other side!