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Stuart Town Gaol facts for kids

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Stuart Town Gaol in Alice Springs (formerly Stuart), Northern Territory, Australia, was constructed in 1907 and held its first prisoner in 1909. It is one of the earliest permanent buildings constructed in the town and the first government building. The gaol follows a simple design and was built, using local materials, by stonemason Jack Williams.


Before the construction of this gaol, from 1863 to 1910, when the Northern Territory was under South Australian administration, prisoners were taken to Port Augusta, where they were tried and gaoled. The prisoners, the majority of whom were Aboriginal, were forced to walk in chains, the 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) distance. The harshness of this treatment of the prisoners seems to have been of little or no concern to the authorities; rather, the time taken in waiting and then walking the prisoners in chains was considered cumbersome and a serious drain on limited manpower.

The new gaol consisted of a very small prison cell (used for white prisoners) and a large cell (used for Aboriginal prisoners), with an uncovered exercise yard at the rear. In the larger cell there are iron rings are cemented into the floor; supposedly for restraining difficult prisoners. The first Keeper of the Gaol, John Dow, recalled in 1929:

The jail filled all requirements at that time, and was a credit to the Government. It was intended for a police lock-up, and persons not summarily dealt with were sent either to Darwin or Port Augusta. But the Commonwealth authorities evidently turned it into a jail for prisoners with sentences up to five years. It was not intended for this purpose by South Australia. ... there was an exercise yard at the southern end of the jail which was not covered, and a dividing wall between the white and the black quarters.

For many of the Aboriginal prisoners, their time in the gaol was their first contact with Europeans. Most were arrested for stealing cattle, rations and other goods, and gaol records show a direct correlation between periods of drought and spikes in these supposed crimes.

The Stuart Town Gaol was used until 1938, by which time it was overcrowded, and, a more important consideration at the time, its position now in the very centre of the town was no longer thought appropriate.

In the 1970s the building was threatened with demolition but was saved by the National Trust of Australia, with a campaign led by Doreen Braitling.

In 1985, the former gaol was listed on the now-defunct Register of the National Estate. In 1994, it was listed on the Northern Territory Heritage Register.

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