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Grafton’s Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council has received freehold title on the western part of the old Grafton Gaol including the market garden and warehouse, after council voted not to purchase the historical section of the gaol. Image: file photo

Grafton Gaol sale – Freehold title for Ngerrie Land Council

Rodney Stevens


The Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council is set to take over about half of the historic Grafton Gaol site after a landmark agreement with the NSW Government.

The historic gaol, which housed some of Australia’s most notorious criminals and had a reputation of being one of the nation’s toughest prisons, was built in 1893 and operated until the new Clarence Correctional Centre opened in July 2020.

After Clarence Valley Council approved the subdivision of the jail into four sections, in August 2021 the NSW Government began negotiations with the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) about transferring the former market garden and industrial building to the LALC to support better outcomes for the indigenous community and successfully resolve a LALC land claim.

The November 2023 Clarence Valley Council CVC meeting business papers stated the two western sections of the site were subject to a land claim by the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council, and NSW Health will receive one quarter of the property, with the Heritage Listed portion to be sold.

At the November 2023 CVC meeting, Cr Debrah Novak put forward a motion that involved council possibly purchasing the historic portion of the building, which was unanimously supported by councillors.

It was suggested by well-known local, Graham Mackie to all councillors that the historic section of the gaol would make an ideal site for the Clarence Valley Cultural Centre and Museum, incorporating the Tourist Information Centre.

At the December 2023 CVC meeting councillors voted unanimously to go into a confidential session to discuss the Grafton Gaol, in accordance with Local Government Act 10A (2) (d(i), as a report about the potential purchase contained commercial confidential information.

“As per the December Council meeting confidential item 08.23.010, Council resolved to not submit an Expression of Interest to purchase the Grafton Gaol, after considering confidential information forthcoming from Property NSW,” a council spokesperson said.

The resolution was unanimously supported by councillors, who also unanimously voted to make the confidential resolution for item 08.23.010 public.

When NSW Minister for Lands and Property, Steve Kamper made the announcement last Friday, Grafton Ngerrie LALC Chairperson Roslyn Kennedy said she was delighted with the outcome.

“It is fantastic to have reached this important outcome,” she said.

“This site will be used to serve the wider community and provide much-needed job and training opportunities for local Aboriginal people and the broader Clarence Valley community.”

The CV Independent contacted the Grafton Ngerrie LALC asking about specific details of the activities and programs that will benefit the local community but did not receive a response before deadline.

Minister Kamper said he was delighted to have reached this important moment with the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council, who will be wonderful custodians of this significant site in Grafton.

 “This is a great example of how our Government is repurposing old and unused government buildings that both protects important heritage while they continue to serve local and regional communities,” he said.

The CV Independent sent several questions to the NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure including whether the LALC will receive half of the site, if NSW Health will still receive a quarter of the site, and where and when will the sale of the historical portion of the site happen.

A spokesperson advised the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council has received freehold title of the western part of the site, which includes the old market garden and warehouse. 

“The subdivision of the former gaol will enable Property and Development NSW to potentially transfer one part of the site to a NSW government agency,” the spokesperson said.

“These discussions are ongoing, and updates will be made in due course. 

“The south-eastern portion of the site, which remains heritage-listed, is being set aside for future adaptive reuse.”

The spokesperson said council had advised government of its intention not to purchase the historical section of the gaol, and no other party had expressed interest in purchasing that section.

“The Government will launch an Expressions of Interest campaign in the coming months, which will invite parties that are interested to submit their proposals to repurpose this portion of the site for adaptive reuse in a manner that is consistent with its heritage significance,” the spokesperson said.