Monday, 22 December 2014

An Afternoon Behind Bars! - The Trial Bay Gaol.

Kim & I spent 5 days up in Port Macquarie recently.  Whilst there we took off up north for a look around at Crescent Head and the South West Rocks area.  South West Rocks is located on Trial Bay and I had forgotten that there was an old gaol there that is open to the public.  We had our dog Barney with us but, because the gaol is situated in a National Park he was not allowed out of the car.  Kim took him to a dog beach nearby for a run and swim whilst I explored the old gaol.  

Trial Bay in New South Wales is more or less halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on the east coast of Australia.  The bay faces north and subsequently offers shelter from the southerly winds and swells.  

It is named after the Brig Trial, hijacked by 13 convicts in Port Jackson in 1816.  They sailed the ship north only to be wrecked in the bay.  The survivors constructed a new boat out of the ships' remains but, according to the local Dunghutti Aboriginal Tribe, the boat sank and all 13 convicts drowned.  The convicts abandoned the Ships' Master William Bennet, crew and passengers including a woman and child.  It is believed that the survivors attempted to return south to Sydney but they were never heard from again.  On the 14th of January 1817, the ship Lady Nelson found the wreckage of the Trial.  In the years after the wreck was found, a story about a white woman living with an Aboriginal Tribe was circulating.  It was not until 1831 that this woman was found; Emily Bardon, the Captains' wife from the Trial.  She was re-united with relatives but 14 years of what would have been a wretched life for her, living wild, left her with dementia and she died shortly after.

The east coast of NSW must have been treacherous for shipping.  In the period 1863-66, approximately 90 ships were lost along with 243 lives.  This prompted the Government to act and in 1870 they approved the building of a deep water harbour and breakwater at Trial Bay to provide for a safe harbour for shipping.

In 1876, the Trial Bay Gaol was established as a 'Public Works Gaol' where the 'good conduct' prisoners were used to build the breakwater.  It must have been back breaking work!  The Gaol was closed in 1903 due to the difficulty of building the breakwater; severe storms ruined the construction work and constantly washed away the large hewn rocks! This, plus the fact that the cost of the work was rising also.  Only 300 metres of the planned 1500 metre breakwater had been completed.  Of that 300 metres, only about 50 metres of the breakwater remains today at the Laggers Point headland.

In 1904, the external buildings were sold off and the Gaol sat empty.

In 1914, the outbreak of fighting in Europe brought Australia into the Great War.  German subjects in Australia were ordered to report to the Government.  In 1915 the Government declared that all persons of German descent were enemy aliens.  The Government could not intern all people of German descent so they targeted the leaders within the German community, pastors from the Lutheran Church, businessmen, consuls etc.  Some were interned simply because they were dobbed in by their neighbours or they had come under the notice of Police.  In 1915, the Trial Bay Gaol was resurrected as an internment camp for these Germans.  The internees stayed there until July 1918 when they were transported to Holsworthy, an inland internment camp.

After the departure of the internees, the Gaol was stripped and in 1922 was sold off.  

The Gaol sat languishing for many years.  Gone were the rooftops and the steel walkways and stairs leaving just the stone walls.  It wasn't until after World War 2 that this part of Australian history began to be recognised.  A local heritage group working in conjunction with the Kempsey Shire Council began the clean up and to restore the prison.  In 1991 the site was declared on the National Register and opened once more, this time as a Museum.

It was a little eerie walking around the shell of the Gaol.  It was very hot and humid when I visited and I wondered how the prisoners and internees survived what must have been an incredible heat, generated by walls of black granite rock baking in the summer sun!  At its' peak, during WW1 the Gaol held 580 internees.  

As I wandered around the ruins, I paid particular attention to the light.  In many instances, the bright light shining off the rock walls underexposed the wall detail in the shadows and also in the doorways of the cells.  I made the decision to take 3 photos of each subject, bracketed at -/+ 2 EV.  Using NIK HDR Efex Pro2, I was able to merge the 3 different exposures thereby bringing out a lot of detail that otherwise would have been lost.

So much more in that area to explore but for now it's back to work!


Cell Block - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

The Freedom Window - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

Prisoners Walk - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

The Hard Cell - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

The Outer Wall from the Sentrys' Lookout - Trial Bay Gaol,
Arakoon, Australia.

From the Sentrys' Lookout - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

The Triangle, complete with whip - Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon, Australia.

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