Women’s Prisons, Then & Now

On Louisa’s Walk we take our audiences right through Louisa’s Story from arrest,sentencing & conviction. Yes, we keep parts of the transportation deliberately lighthearted at times (rowing across the “road” into Degraves Street is always good for a few laughs as the “frigates”, “cutters” and “whaling ships” (cars & trucks!) whizz by). Or then there’s the “Odd One” that Louisa always puts on the tiller! Remember, we are story-tellers and we know the necessity for highs and lows, light and shade. BUT, as soon as we cross those grim gates at the Female Factory (Women’s Prison) the mood becomes sombre. This is intentional. To pretend that life within those walls was anything other than a miserable hell-on-earth would be doing those fifteen thousand poor souls who passed through those awful gates a grave disservice.

The change of mood is palpable; as Louisa is curtly told she may not keep the treasured quilt she has counted on to bring her solace and luck, the audience become stilled – you can hear a pin drop. We have become used to the looks of disbelief and horror as we tell of daily life in the “Shadow of Death Valley”. Tears in the Nursery Yard are not uncommon.

Therefore, it was with great interest that we took a large group of women out on Louisa’s Walk recently, who had all come to Hobart for the Women in Corrective Services Convention. They had spent the morning visiting the Facility for Women at Risdon Prison – the modern version of the Female Factory. They were fascinated by the nineteenth century prison model: tales of solitary confinement in Dark Cells and Iron Collars worn for minor infringements could hardly compare with the relative “luxury” of today’s prison. Questions flew thick and fast at the end and Chris was kept on his toes answering them. It was fulfilling and satisfying for us to have an audience with such a background in, and knowledge of, women’s corrective services.

These women came from all sorts of backgrounds: some had been in prison themselves, others worked in corrective or social services. It would have been fascinating to have a discussion with them at length to see how they saw the differences that two hundred years have brought to prison reform. Is it better? Hopefully! Does it reform? Hopefully! Is the deprivation of freedom ever the answer ………………..?

All these questions are way too big for this forum but if you have an opinion why not reply to this blog? Better still why not visit Louisa’s Walk next time you are in Hobart & discuss it with us afterwards?

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One Comment

  1. Sue Beutum
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    In May 2012 I had the most wonderful experience in exploring the terrible past and fate of female convicts at the Cascades Female Factory, brought alive by living theatre performance. Transported back in time by these two amazing actors, we walked form the Brewery to the Cascades Female Factory on a suitably dull drizzly day to hear of the trials and tribulations of Louisa, a convict transported for trying to keep her family fed.
    This is probably one of the best tours I have taken in Australia , thanks to the imagination and creativity of the owners of the business. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who is in Tasmania for a holiday. Take your children, so they can be transported back in time and learn in a fun , memorable way.

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