“To see something beautiful come out of a place that’s quite dark in its history is truly remarkable.”
Visual artist Janine Della Bosca was spellbound by historic Fremantle Prison, long before she began working there as a tour guide. “In the nineties, I did a painting class in the old women’s prison here,” she says, “and I became fascinated – not just by the 1850s building but also by the stories that permeate the place.”
The convict-built prison, now a World Heritage site, represents the end of convict transportation to Australia during the 18th and 19th centuries and was operational for 136 years, before being decommissioned in 1991.
Today, Janine leads visitors on a variety of tours through the prison, including the night-time Torchlight Tour.
But it’s the Prison Art and Behind the Scenes experience that she most looks forward to. “There is some brilliant artwork in the cells, particularly by Aboriginal inmates, who were historically over-represented among the prison population,” she says. The work includes etchings, Aboriginal landscapes, dot paintings and a range of graffiti and tattoo art, some of which dates back to the 1800s. Janine says, “Viewing art in a maximum security prison changes the whole meaning of the artwork. You’re not in a nice gallery: you’re in this really locked-down circumstance.”
Janine says the intimate nature of the Prison Art experience – it’s for groups no larger than six – encourages participants to share their thoughts on the work. “Quite often, at the end of the morning, there’s a sense of euphoria,” she says. “People are exhilarated, and I think that’s because we talk about individuals on this tour. These are real people.” She adds, “When you talk about individuals and how they ended up here, it reminds everyone that we’re very close to perhaps making a bad decision ourselves and ending up somewhere like this.”
Cultural Attractions of Australia is pleased to present this series of the stories behind the storytellers who have enriched the experiences of countless visitors to our iconic attractions whilst their doors are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Start daydreaming, learn more about Fremantle Prison’s range of experiences from here.