There was a day that I explored buildings that were old and worn. I studied Richmond Gaol in Tasmania, a little town that is one of the oldest I’ve ever visited. The gaol is one of the best preserved and oldest standing convict gaol’s in Australia. I discovered the section marked “Men’s Solitary”. People were wandering through other parts of the gaol, I could hear their voices carried by the wind. I stood in one of the solitary cells, studying the worn wood, the floor that heads would have lain on and the lock that held them in. I stood almost alone in these empty walls and yet they felt full. They hold memories within their enclosed walls that is beyond my comprehension.
In the walls of that cell, a man would have known hunger.
There has always been food on my plate.
Men would have known pain.
I have never known violence.
Men would have known fear.
I have always been safe.
The men that were locked here were rejected, criminilised and treated like animals for crimes. Some meagre.
I have always known love.
It was the lock that fascinated me. Simple, crude, strong. Men inside this solitary cell would have sat dreaming of the world beyond the lock. Dreaming of a life beyond the walls of their prison. As I studied the cell, snapping details of wood and locks, I wondered. Questions filled my mind from the simple to the deep.
How did they sleep on nothing but a wooden floor?
Did they have a bucket to do their business?
Did they talk to each other through the walls? (I guess not – it was solitary confinement after all).
What were their crimes? Stealing bread to survive? Violence amongst the other prisoners? Bushrangers? Murders? Rapes?
Did they come from the UK?
Were they born from other convicts born here a generation before?
What did they think about in the long hours (Weeks? Months? Years?) alone?
Did some give up and die on the inside?
Did others fight until the end?
In the darkness did they pray?
Alone in the darkness did they know the light of God?
Whatever the answers to all of my questions, I know one thing. Our land of Australia was built on the backs of these prisoners. Blood, sweat, tears, pain, years of labour to build and reap harvests. The life I know now is greatly due to the men and woman beyond this time and deep in our past. I can not comprehend much about the prisoners of Richmond Gaol, but I deeply honour and respect them all.