It was worse than being sentenced to solitary confinement. Having to line up and be exposed to the blandest of electro-chart-pop while the hum of food truck generators sound-tracked puffer jacket patents queuing up for coffee.
It was billed as Pentridge Open day, which sounded appealing, as the place is an imposing pile of bluestone horror that subjected a hundred and forty years worth of dire and draconian incarceration to Victoria’s worst criminals. Now it’s the property developers inflicting the crimes. Half the buildings have been torn down, the rest being absorbed into bland apartments. There was a local action group handing out flyers at the gate, and a display suite, so you could see your potential new mix tap sink , water efficient toilet and marble benchtops in amidst the slightly sinister, but historical surrounds of an old prison laundry.
There was inexplicably a petting zoo next to B Division; lots of excitable toddlers fenced in doing time with the goats and rabbits.
In amidst the local families, there were a few hard looking blokes curious for a gander. One guy with a creased, chiselled face and a stare of steel poised and glared hard at the line and moved on. I saw him walk past twenty minutes later with a loop of razor wire he’d obtained from somewhere. I don’t think anyone was going to stop him.
The tour itself, after an hour or so of lining up subject to the blaring music tastes of the bearded bakers, was brief – this wing is the original bit, the other wings were added later, there’s a chapel upstairs and underground cells are on the left. Then self guided. Which was fine by me! There were three levels of barred barbarity to explore, mums were taking photos of their kids in the cells making hollow threats of this is where they’d end up if they don’t behave! Ha. Well it was a bit funnier when one of the helpers warned don’t close the doors some of them we can’t open again.
Some of the scrawled graffiti and notes on the wall were pretty potent and made you realise there was an actual living person in these crumbling dark concrete cells, and as recently as 1997.
HMS Pentridge was first built in December 1850, crime was up in Melbourne due to the gold rush and the gaol in town was getting full. Prisoners labours were utilised breaking up bluestone rocks to pave Sydney Road. The prison was expanded from crude huts to large structures based on the infamous Pentoville Prison in England, with new theories on prisoner isolation seeing large wings with large separate individual cells. The remains of the panopticon designed exercise yard were unearthed during site clearing for the proposed development. Some famous an infamous tenants of the goal include Ronald Ryan (no relation) the last person hung in Australia, early gangster Squizzy Taylor, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read – the ghost of whom is apparently still haunting his old cell – yelling to a law week ghost tour in 2014 – “Get the F-ck Out!”. The grave of Ned Kelly is also within the grounds of the prison. How’s this for one a story of how it was discovered:
“However, Ned Kelly’s grave along with 33 others was located on the left hand side of D division. This grave was found after a construction worker on the site was killed on the exact same spot as the mass grave. Heavy machinery which fell on top of the deceased worker was dug out and the remains were found. Ironically, the surname of the deceased worker was Kelly. There is now an apartment block being built over the grave site. F Division is being renovated into office blocks and in the basement of F Division remains of a 10 year old boy were located in a cell, forgotten for over a 100 years. Also bags of human bones were located in F division. No-one knows the identity of these remains and when or how they perished.” If you thought YouTube comments section could get out of hand, check out the too and fro from a couple of ex-inmates on here