Saturday, 2 August 2014

When a Voice Behind Me Whispered Low, “That Fellow's Got to Swing” - Australian Friend Visits Beechworth Gaol

Sometimes the suffocating angst of existence gets too much, and one has to remind oneself that it could, actually, be worse. Personally we like to perform this philosophical exercise while banging our head on the table and/or consuming alcohol, but other methods reportedly work just as well. If one happens not to be in jail, for instance, one may meditate on the joys of comparative freedom. Likewise, if one has access to plumbing, that is one mega reason for being grateful. Truth be told, if you are blessed with adequate sanitation, you're pretty damn lucky.

Australian Friend visited Beechworth Gaol some time ago, and kindly sent us pictures, along with this rousing description:
A selection of toilets from Beechworth Gaol! Toilets were only installed at the prison in 1993. Prior to that, there was no plumbing whatsoever, and prisoners had a bucket for a toilet, a bucket for washing, and a bucket for drinking (per prisoner). It was pitch black at night, and cells were overcrowded. You can imagine the state of the buckets. 
Now, this gaol was one of the toughest prisons in Victoria, and was colloquially known as the Beechworth Breaker (prisoners were often sent here to have their spirits broken). It was the site of eight hangings (one of whom sounded like an innocent man). Our beloved Ned Kelly was imprisoned here, as was his mother (they were an Irish Catholic working class family bullied by the English Protestant police force, after one of the coppers tried to rape Ned's 13 year-old sister and his mother tried to protect her daughter by hitting the cop with a cast iron frying pan... it's a long story). 
Ok so the OTHER thing you will like to hear is that our beloved Chopper Read spent time in the Beechworth Breaker, and his best friend was the prisoner in charge of the gaol kitchen. There have been ghost sightings and hearings (seems to be an 1800s prison guard who never clocked off) but sadly I didn't manage to capture anything paranormal in my photos. 
 The toilet that is a hole in the ground is the one from solitary confinement.

This would have been an excellent opportunity for the zealous 19th-century prison guard to appear in the mirror. Alas.
Australian Friend says: "This was the nicest, most spacious bathroom in the prison."

Does one's eye spy a dual flush? 

One notes the toilet roll holder with approval

Australian Friend: "Solitary confinement: at least you get your own toilet!"

Australian Friend: "A typical cell and its accoutrements"
Privy Counsellor: "MIXER TAP."

Let us feast our eyes on the prison mixer tap.
Actually, these toilets seem pretty damn adequate in terms of being functional. Since Beechworth Gaol is now a museum, one has of course no inkling of any smells which may have once haunted the place along with the various ghosts, but at least each cell has its own crapper. If you've seen Orange is the New Black, you will know that having one's own toilet is a luxury, and further that hygienic conditions at Riverhead correctional facility in Suffolk County, New York, are appalling.

However, let us stay with Beechworth Gaol a bit longer. This is where we once again stray into the territory of the epistolary novel (see previous epistolary posts here and here): below is an extract from a communicative online exchange between us and Australian Friend. (Please not that it has been heavily censored and edited and may therefore come across as more incoherent even than it was to begin with.)

Privy Counsellor: [Australian Friend] my gal, you are a true friend. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Australian Friend: I risked attack by ghost!
it was so sad we saw the gallows
and this prisoner (he was quite handsome) chose his last words to be "As god is my witness I am an innocent man". I wanted to send him a supernatural hug. 
Ned Kelly didn't say that! 
he said "Such is life" 
they were such arseholes to Ned 
he died over a hundred years ago 
and someone stole his head from the Old Melbourne Gaol, and nobody knows who's got it.
[...] oh my gosh! I'm looking at a paranormal website and they're talking about how a lot of people have been fainting on the tours through Beechworth Gaol, and it's been at the gallows 
"We have had a spate of people fainting or near fainting at or near the gallows where 8 were hanged. I thought initially it was the heat, but the gaol was only about 25 degrees inside. Today inside the gaol just 16 degrees and yet another went down.  Just a few steps from the gallows and a girl about 20 went out like a light, with no warning whatsoever. This makes 9 people since Sunday. Is this just a pure coincidence, or is something going on here. Your thoughts please."
 *just registering with paranormal chat room so I can comment*

[...] I stumbled through the town, as one might stumble through the Australian landscape, when one's untied horse has absconded 
and at one point found myself in a B-grade museum, where I saw many badly taxidermied animals. 
many of which were endangered and/or extinct species 
*fuck you, English colonists*
On that rebellious note of anti-colonial sentiment, let's finish with a festive video.

You knew what was coming, didn't you?

Festive video: Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock

Related Reading

All previous posts in which we mention Chopper Read or the mantra Harden the Fuck Up:
A Festive Update
HTFU, Melbourne City Council!
Pushing for Cultural Diversity (Australian Friend was instrumental in creating this post - thank you, Australian Friend!)
HTFU - Wipe for Wildlife
Toilet Paper - It's Time to HTFU

Random rad stuff from Australia:
Why Today Is a Toiletally Important Day
Happy Birthday, Australian Friend!

Another instance of our lackadaisical quotation from dead English poets:
Ah! well-a-day!

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