Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crafty Artists?

Maitland Mercury, 22 February, 2010

As mentioned in a previous “Unlocked” article, from its earliest days, Maitland Gaol operated as an “industrial prison” offering a multitude of opportunities to “keep idle hands and minds busy in employment”. From unskilled labour to trades-work such as carpentry, painting, blacksmithing, stonecutting, book binding and tailoring, inmates were employed in almost every aspect of the day to day running of the prison.

As well as these aforementioned “jobs” around the gaol, in the later years of operation, inmates could engage themselves in pursuit of hobbies, including music, painting, wood carving, model construction and other hand crafts.

A further initiative was implemented when inmates were permitted to proffer their creations for sale to the general public. While a small percentage of the proceeds were used by the institution to cover administrative costs, most revenue earned from the sale of items was deposited into the inmates’ commissary accounts where it could be used for “buy-ups”, the process by which inmates could purchase everyday consumables like tobacco, soap, coffee etc. or more luxurious items like televisions and “ghetto-blasters”.

The items pictured have been generously donated to the Maitland Gaol Collection by local residents. The hobby horse was purchased by John and Eileen Wilson for their youngest granddaughter in 1985.

The arrow-printed shirt is part of a full prisoners’ costume purchased by Mrs Olive Adams for her daughter to wear at a school function in 1984. Both these items were acquired from the Lindsay Street Barracks which at the time was operating as the Gaol Museum and Gift Shop. The Darcy Dugan signed landscape, on loan from Mrs Joan Newton, was obtained by Mr Des Newton at a Rotary Art Auction held in the old Scout Hall on the corner of Grant Street and the New England Highway.

Readers with prison-made arts and crafts interested in loaning them to the gaol for a proposed future exhibition are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482 or email

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