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Some of the on duty staff at the entrance to the Grafton Gaol which is now called the Grafton Intake and Transient Centre.

Inside our historic Gaol

Lynne Mowbray |

Last Thursday September 6, The Independent was invited to go behind the walls of the historic Grafton Gaol, in a lead up to the prisons 125th birthday on Saturday September 8.

It was an incredible experience to go inside the prison walls, meet the staff and see firsthand what inmate life is like.

The facility, now called the Grafton Intake and Transient Centre, houses about 260 male minimum to maximum-security inmates and 20 minimum-security female inmates, in the June Baker Centre.

The two hour tour was very informative and provided a glimpse into the gaols history, including the gallows where the first and only execution at the gaol took place. John Raymond Brown was hanged on 11 December 1906, for three murders.

This rare visit also provided a valuable insight into the current workings inside the prison today and the effort that is being made by staff to help rehabilitate inmates, through programs and training.

Corrective Service Industries (CSI) facilitates offender participation in work programs which aim to provide a work readiness capability for offenders, to enhance their opportunity to gain and retain employment upon release.

It was amazing to see the large scale of both the timber and agricultural industries within the gaol. The quality of both the timber furniture and agricultural produce being turned out was an eye opener.

The insight into life behind our historic prison’s walls was an amazing experience and left me with mixed emotions and feelings and the greatest respect for the men and women who work there. They are a credit to their industry and a blessing to our community.

Senior Correctional Officer Andrew Morris has worked at the Grafton Gaol for the last 23 years (28 years in the Department of Corrective Services).

Last Thursday Mr Morris headed up a rare tour inside the walls of the historic gaol for the media, in the lead up to the 125th anniversary celebrations at the gaol.
“On Saturday (September 8), the gaol turns 125; it’s always been a part of Grafton,” Mr Morris said.
“I think that the people of Grafton love it and that showed in 2012 when they (the community) surrounded the gaol and put up a protest, when we had a bit of a downsizing and upheaval (at the gaol), at the time.
“(Unfortunately) we’re not in a position for the general public to be able to tour inside the gaol; we’re a working a gaol, so that scenario can’t happen,” he said.
Mr Morris said that over the years he has seen a lot of changes and had too many close calls.
“I’m proud to be an officer at Grafton; I’ve had a wonderful time here and hope to continue that on into the future,” Mr Morris said.
With his years experience working at the Grafton Gaol, Mr Morris has retained quite a lot of knowledge regarding the gaols history.
“The gaol frontage and ‘One Wing’ (the older part of the gaol) was built in 1893,” Mr Morris said.
“I think they started out with 27 inmates and we currently house over 60 inmates in ‘One Wing’ and another 60 odd in ‘Two Wing’ which is a more modern wing and was built in 1990.
“Our minimum security section was built in 1989, which is more of a dormitory style gaol – so we’re not just an old gaol, we’re a combination of old and new.
“We’ve got modern technology here; we’ve got industries and we’ve got a female section. It’s a fairly big industry as you’ve seen today on the tour. I’m sure it’s opened your eyes,” he said.
Mr Morris touched briefly on some of the notorious inmates throughout the gaols history:
“John Raymond Brown was our only inmate who was executed here at Grafton Gaol in 1906, for a triple murder,” Mr Morris said.
“It is rumoured that he’s buried within the walls of the gaol and maybe his ghost still roams the grounds.
“We had Darcy Dugan who was a notorious escape artist and criminal in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. He attempted an escape here in the 50’s on a Sunday after chapel service. He and another 11 inmates tried to take the keys from officers to assist them in an escape from the gaol and the officers won out that battle and prevented the escape.
“We’ve had Lenny Lawson who was one of the longest serving prisoners in NSW; he spent nearly all of his incarceration, here in Grafton.
“There’ve been numerous other inmates that we’ve had over time, but now our main maximum security section is a remand centre. So the inmates are only here for their court proceedings, so we don’t have those people that are going to be here for 15 or 20 years; other gaols have that capacity and once inmates are finished their court at Grafton, they’re transported to those gaols. So we have a fair turnover of inmates,” he said.

An artist’s impression of the early days of Grafton Gaol – Image: courtesy of Schaeffer House Museum.
L-R Prison Officer Adam Thompson, Probationary Correctional Officer Pauline Linnett, Governor Michelle Paynter, Senior Correctional Officer Andrew Morris and Prison Officer Mark Hay.
A look through the peep hole into one of the original cells.
Looking towards the gallows where the first and only execution at the facility took place on December 11 1906, when John Raymond Brown was hanged for three murders at German Creek, Ballina.
Inside the original wing of the gaol ‘1 wing’ built in 1893.
Senior Correctional Officer Andrew Morris points to numerous bullet holes in the brick wall, which was used by officers as target practise of the years.
A pallet of firewood which has been packaged by the inmates and distributed to retailers such as Bunnings.
Senior Overseer Wayne Ringland with the extensive cauliflower and broccoli garden.
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The Independent would like to thank Schaeffer House Museum (Clarence River Historical Society) for their assistance with some of the history regarding the Grafton Gaol.
Schaeffer House Museum have a number of historical items on exhibit, relating to the history of the Grafton Gaol, so get along and check them out.
Schaeffer House Museum, 190 Fitzroy Street, GRAFTON. Phone: 6642 5212

This hat and ribbon belonged to Mr C Piggott, a former Prison Warden at the Grafton Gaol. This hat is on exhibit at Schaeffer House Museum. Image: Marta Fergusson
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FACT SHEET: Grafton Correctional Centre

• Grafton Gaol was built in 1893 on higher land in the city to replace an existing prison that was considered too small, flood-prone and unhygienic. The first correctional facilities were established in Grafton in 1862.
• The gaol’s design was the result of a public competition in 1891 won by Sydney architect Henry Austin Wilshire, who beat 41 other entrants for the £105 prize.
• Made primarily of brick, sandstone and terracotta tiles, the gaol was built by leading English construction company, Holloway Bros, at a cost of £17,000 and was gazetted on 8 September 1893. The first inmates moved into the facility two months later.
• The prison’s imposing and elaborate gatehouse soon became a Grafton landmark, with its mediaeval architectural motifs such as mock ‘machiolations’ – the small openings in castle walls designed to throw missiles through.
• The facility contained 18 male cells, seven female cells and two dark cells across a two-storey wing, as well as a trial yard, labour yard and an exercise yard. The design also included a Governor’s House, which sits outside the prison perimeter.
• The first and only execution at the facility was on 11 December 1906 when John Raymond Brown was hanged for three murders at German Creek, Ballina.
• The Glenn Innes Examiner newspaper published a story in July 1941 about inmates at the centre growing three tonnes of carrots, four tonnes of turnips and half a tonne of sweet potatoes to donate to Grafton District Hospital and other patriotic organisations.
• In the 1940s, Grafton Gaol developed its reputation as the toughest prison in the state, when increasing tensions in NSW prisons led Deputy Comptroller General of Prisons Leslie Nott to designate the centre to house the state’s ‘intractable prisoners’.
• In June 1953 notorious prison escapee Darcy Dugan and 11 other inmates made a failed bid for freedom from the centre when returning from the prison chapel. Four prison officers were injured in the struggle.
• The facility, now called the Grafton Intake and Transient Centre, houses about 260 male minimum- to maximum-security inmates and 20 minimum-security female inmates in the June Baker Centre.
• Inmates work in food, laundry, timber and agricultural industries and undertake education, vocational training and therapeutic programs to prepare them for a life outside prison.
Sources: NSW Heritage Branch, Trove, With Just but Relentless Discipline, by John Ramsland (1996, Kangaroo Press).