During the course of research for this column it has become evident that many of the officers at Maitland Gaol adhered strictly to the “what happens at work stays at work” policy.
Chief Officer, Alphonsus Bede Mayers was no exception. Phonsus’ daughter, Kerry, explains that “dad didn’t talk to us about work. Mum would sometimes find out things weeks later from other officers’ wives. Things like suicides and escape attempts, even the riot”. She understands her father was simply trying to protect his family from the often disturbing events that took place at the site. He took this role very seriously, even refusing to have a telephone at home so as to negate the potential for inmates or their associates to contact the household.
Therefore, it was with much surprise that in April 1974 Kerry opened the door to a journalist wishing to speak to her father about the impending presentation of a bravery award for his intervention in a violent escape attempt by four dangerous inmates. Phonsus explained at the time, “a lifer got me around the neck with one arm” before attacking him with a Braille machine. He then grappled with the inmate until other officers arrived to assist. Phonsus continued, “Smithy ran for the door and tried to lock it. One of the men got a wooden chair leg and kept hitting him with it. Smithy copped the lot”.
Kerry recalls the great sense of pride she felt as her father and fellow officer, Boston Smith, were awarded the Queen’s Commendation For Brave Conduct by then NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler, during a ceremony at Government House. Since its inception in 1939, only 405 Australians have received the prestigious award.
Any family members former officers or inmates of Maitland Gaol are encouraged to contact gaol staff with their recollections on (02) 4936 6482 or firstname.lastname@example.org