I have longed argued that Boggo Road should become a community and cultural hub. I also suspect this was the intention of the developers from the get-go, and their recently-released vision for the place would certainly make the idea a reality. This notion of a ‘community hub’ is all very well in theory, but what might one actually look like in practice?
As it is now, Boggo Road is not a community space. It is effectively ‘dead’ space; empty, unused and locked away from public view except for tours - a few hours per day at the most. What is being proposed by the developers is the transformation of this physical space into a public thoroughfare that will be alive with people for the majority of the time. And what will those people actually be doing in there? Let’s imagine a day in the not-too-distant future…
(Scene shimmers away to Boggo Road on a fine Sunday morning in July 2016).
The winter day begins as earlybirds stroll through the old prison on a morning walk, maybe taking in a coffee shop or breakfast in one of the restaurants inside or near the former prison buildings. As the morning moves on, lots more people arrive on the Busway or rail stations right next door. Foodies swarm the new ‘Eat Street’ and shoppers wander through the new markets. No same-old same-old franchises here.
|The 'Circle', as it might look in future (Leightons).|
There’s plenty to see inside the buildings too, with prison museum displays in some rooms, and art or photography exhibitions in others. The museum shop has plenty of local history work for sale.
The six or seven exercise yards are also a hive of activity. There are tours, with visitors hearing the stories of Boggo from those who were actually there when it was open as a prison. There’s nothing like a Primary Source when it comes to history. Sometimes there are reenactments. Each yard has its own attraction or use this morning, and those attached to the dining facilities provide a unique setting for a bite to eat.
|Eat Street Markets, Hamilton, Brisbane.|
Around lunchtime people settle down in the Circle to watch a live jazz band, or perhaps one of the several brass bands currently playing concerts in public venues around Brisbane. Boggo Road would be a perfect addition to their circuit. There is more live music in the green space by the markets, with each week giving the public the chance to hear local artists.
Elsewhere onsite, someone from the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society or the Brisbane Southside History Network is giving a free public History talk. Other historians are helping members of the public with their enquiries as the tours continue.
As the afternoon moves on a crowd gathers in an exercise yard (or the Circle) to watch a ‘Half-Hour Hamlet’ or another short piece from the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.
The tours wind up for the day and the displays are closed when evening sets in and more diners arrive. The wine bar and coffee shops are as busy as always. There is another acoustic set somewhere inside the prison (inside a yard, the Circle, or one of the buildings or open spaces). The professional lighting of the cellblocks and perimeter walls makes this a spectacular and atmospheric setting that draws in late-night people week after week. Off to the side, in the shadows, a night tour winds through the yards. If not a tour, maybe some intimate theatre or a film screening.
|(Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)|
Visitor numbers are - much like some of the 1980s prisoners - through the roof. More people than ever before engage with the history of the old prison. The increased revenue creates more jobs and allows quality historical interpretative projects. The creative output of a number of dynamic community groups is better than ever before. Local artists, musicians, historians and actors have a new and regular platform with which to reach the public. Nearby residents have new shopping options outside the usual franchised suspects. Dutton Park is on the map and Brisbane has a new cultural attraction that isn’t a bloody casino.
All in all, a pretty good Sunday really. Of course, all the above might not happen, but it could and if it does it would certainly represent a better future for Boggo Road.
(You can provide your feedback on the Boggo Road project here).