At last … a use for the Olde Gaol

By Andrew McKenna

For years the old Castlemaine Gaol has hung like a millstone around the neck of this shire. A ball chained to the suppurating leg of a prison inmate may be a better metaphor.

What to do with it? Spend $80,000 on fly-in fly-out consultants from Sydney to advise us to put in ‘micro-breweries’ there? (Yes.)┬áPut any of their recommendations into action? No.

Pour money into the governor’s residence? Yes. Wasn’t the Governor a bastard? Who’d want to live in that bastard’s place? Or buy chutney and jam with little lace doilies on the lids from his former bedroom? Icckkk.

Job creation schemes for the unemployed? Yes.

Weird murder games downstairs for bored burghers? Yes.

Thousands of Commonwealth dollars on signage, which included the names of all those hanged printed on the tabletops in the cafe? Yes. (How kooky is that? If you wanted something to put you off your latte, look no further.)

The odd theatre show in the dungeons? Yes.

Tourist accommodation in the former cells? Come on, really! Yes! Hear the ghosts of the damned screaming at night! Touch the buggery in the cells! Feel the ice-cold air on your bum cheeks!

Finally Council has decided to sell it.

That has to be the best idea Council has come up with so far

Apart from dynamiting that vile monument to cruelty, ignorance, capital punishment and the class system, that is (although I don’t think Council came up with that idea. CI did.)

Sell it. Bulldoze those fucking horrible walls and that miserable tower and that bastard of a governor’s residence and melt that razor wire down into nails to hold building timbers together.

Convert the lot into rubble.

Excavate the corpses buried standing up, give their dry old bones some peace at last, and build houses so people can live and raise their families there.

Gold heritage?

Gold shmold. The Aborigines could tell us more about that site than our depraved 150 years of messing with it.

And maybe the new residents won’t even hear the ghosts of the damned.


Posted in Arts, Economics, Environment, Ethical Investment, Farewells, Featured slide, Live in Castlemaine, Local Government, Local news, Social Justice, The Main Featured Story

18 Responses

  1. Simon Disler

    Perhaps the value of the buildings and their troubling symbolism is up for grabs… but what about the importance of this site as a potential community resource? Publicly owned land should be so carefully considered before palmed-off. As a community-based place this significant site could contribute to a livelier Castlemaine.

  2. I have a dream

    Spose you could bulldoze it and chuck a couple of Massive Wind Turbines up there with some pokie machines inside the structures then have a few musos busking outside then we would all be blown away!!Hang on a minute..forgot the coffee shop!

  3. gloria meltzer

    Although I have only lived in this area for 6 or 7 years, I have often visited here and over the years have seen the Old Gaol be used for many things, including all sorts of community resources. For some reason none of them worked. So now it sits idle and has done so for a long time. Why not try something different, like low-cost affordable housing for many. Smaller one-storey designed units would have wider appeal to more people than the 2 and 3 storeys that are currently being considered.
    Simon, if it’s more community-based space the town could benefit from, there’s an old railway shed near the station that would make a wonderful community venue!

  4. Hans Paas

    Great idea, but leave out the pokies. I’ve often walked there and the site gets a good breeze. It would certainly confirm that we care about renewable energy in this shire- much better than Ted’s new coal fired power stations. As for the musos, many of them would probably be keen to sing about windpower-happy to join in but doubt anyone would want to hear me sing.

  5. Rob

    Pokies with a view!

    You could easily fit 500 Pokie machines and provide respite accommodation to the people that have lost their shirts on the machines. Win- Win

  6. I have a dream

    Now, I have been thinking on this..seriously! What are gaols about and why should they be entitled to heritage status? Great brick work and turrets,examples of great architectural significance and botanical class gardens established by the internees or what?
    Not even a Berlin type wall up there on the hill.I love History and preservation of significant great artifacts however Castlemaine Gaol just doesn’t do it for me even if i took the time to read up on why it just might be of some importance…I would remain un-influenced (is that a real word?)
    OK,Bulldoze it and turn the land it occupies into a place of remarkable beauty for all to enjoy.
    How’s your Vision?

  7. Eliza Tree

    This is an amazing Building and precinct, albeit with a cruel and troubled history. In the past 20 years since it was decomissioned as a gaol, there have been many attempts at various uses. Some quite successful, others not so- either too soon, or planned by Consultants.
    Our Community is finally ready to take on this site, to give it new Life: a vibrant Community, Heritage, Arts and Sustainability Precinct. We have Vision, Enthusiasm, Skills and Ability, to transform this space and place.
    Perhaps the editor of C Independent could talk to us about it. Eliza

  8. Doug Falconer

    Seems we’re all agreed about one thing – selling the Gaol to private developers for multi-storey townhouses is not the right solution. What IS the right solution can be decided by genuine public intercourse in time. Not the style of intercourse the Council seems to have in mind for its own citizenry.

  9. vaughan greenberg

    Have to agree with Gloria Meltzer.
    Let’s look seriously at affordable accommodation, not trendy townhouses.
    We could give secure housing tenure to young people in need at low rental that could contribute to eventual ownership, thus giving them a stake in looking after the place appropriately.
    In a town that is following the usual trend of becoming too expensive this could be a means of looking after our own.

  10. Jude

    Having not lived in Castlemaine for long – though I do have a good view of the Gaol from my house – how about having an ‘open for inspection’ for the community one weekend so that those interested can walk through and get a feel of the interior? I don’t have an opinion yet, one way or another, but I may have a view when I’ve seen the inside, as well.

  11. Golden Girl

    Perhaps we should ask the many people living in this district who have spent time ‘inside’ the old gaol and also some of the ‘screws’ what they would like done with the old gaol.
    If it were demolished, the stone could be sold and the money used to set up affordable housing administered either by a local housing co-op (there used to be one in Castlemaine) or CADARG. Sadly this being a prime site this is not likely to happen as low income types will not be wanted up on the hill that’s why they are banished to the ‘Bronx’ at Norwood Hill. Though this is changing a bit.
    I heartily support the concept of wind turbines there as it is an ideal location with little transmission loss in the lines to local households as this is a big issue with wind power.
    The only problem I see is the Council. I understand they charge a $3000 permit fee to put up a domestic wind generater. This fee being non-refundable if one objection is received. Not very supportive of renewables is it!

  12. Alan

    Sell it!, i agree with Andrew.This is a cruel place, a monument to those days when poor people were treated like animals, it wasn’t just the aborignal people they were treated like vermin.Go up to the goal, lock yourself in a cell and imagine being there for years on end.If somewone can make something that works out of it and spend millions on its maintainance and restoration…good luck to them…they are going to need it.

  13. Golden Girl

    I was talking to friend about the old gaol debate and he thinks the farmers and artists markets should be moved up there because the traffic they create in town totally clogs up the parking. Makes it very hard for those of us who want to do some ordinary shopping. He like me avoids coming into town on market days.

  14. serious?

    Old Gaol for the market?….and where on earth are 1000 people gonna park up near the old gaol? Residential areas?They aint going to park at the bottom of the hill and walk are they? What’s better for the centre of town than a market? Can anyone serously argue there is a parking problem in Castlemaine on Sundays, unless you expect to be able to get a spot right outside the shop you are going to.Best thing for the old gaol is to let it be developed with appropriate sensitivity to the heritage and urban landscape values. I for one do not wish to continue propping up the maintenance costs for the ideological cause of keeping it in public ownership. It’s served it’s purpose, has no public function and needs to be moved on to it’s next epoch.

  15. angelica

    This is a misguided and strange article to say the least. There is a vacant block of land right next door for sale for less than the gaol. why not just develop on that? why “bulldoze” a significant piece of castlemaine history. Those “affordable” houses will probably not be so affordable, and if they were would most likely not be built to last! instead of looking at a beautiful historical monument you will be looking at: box shaped, concrete rendered walls, they will probably be beige (and maybe a fluro green) with aluminum window frames, and will have cracks and stain streaks running down the walls in 2 years. What is the point of having a “historical” town if we are just going to bull doze our heritage?

  16. Angelica

    Oh OK, and while your at it, why not bulldoze the WHOLE town and rebuild it in tightly packed, boxy “modern” townhouses… move out to a housing estate if that’s the kind of thing you want to see! you’re in the wrong town!

    and… the argument about “aborigines” is the most illogical by far, and sliiiightly racist…… Have you even bothered to ask the original owners what they would want before writing this article? Do you really think they would prefer tightly packed townhouses rather than a goal?

  17. Golden Girl

    While we are talking about sustainability, please note that the proposed development is in line with “National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development” (ESD)

    This was heralded by the recent announcement of new planning provisions by the Baillieu govt allowing and encouraging higher density housing within existing towns and cities. This is why the concept of community gardens is important as higher density housing will not have the same access to backyard gardens as now.

    Placing higher density housing closer to public transport is also part of the plan thus reducing the need to use cars.

    ESD is a holistic approach addressing things such as limiting city fringe sprawl, potable water catchment management (see recent item in the Mail), renewable energy, waste management, conservation of natural resources, etc, etc.

    The guidelines are based on the “UN Agenda for the 21st Century”

    Transitions Towns is part of this as well=learning to be frugal with resources, etc

  18. Editor

    Angelica, yours are misguided and strange comments. How do you know what sort of housing will be built there? Much less the colour?
    If part of our heritage is damnation, misery, capital punishment and hell on earth, demolish it. They hardly kept the Berlin Wall up for sentimental reasons.
    CI has nothing against Castlemaine. We don’t want to bulldoze the whole town as you suggest. Just because something is ‘old’ doesn’t automatically make it ‘good’. The medieval rack is old, does that make it good? Do you want it in your loungeroom? The guillotine is old, and so is the noose, which was used at the Gaol. Are they good?
    Don’t accuse us of illogicality and racism when you’re describing townhouses that haven’t been built yet.
    The aboriginal comment refers to the fact that: we think this little piece of history is worth preserving because we’ve incarcerated and tortured people here for 150 years so that makes it special. Surely the indigenous inhabitants could tell us what makes this land special, rather than our 150 years of misery and torture? If you think that’s racist, we don’t get it.