17 April 2014

Know Your Colonial Gaol History #12: The First Townsville Gaol, 1878-96


The prison at Stuart Creek, Townsville was one of Queensland’s major carceral facilities for much of the 20th century and could be regarded as ‘the Boggo Road of the North’, being quite similar in design and, to a certain extent, reputation. That prison opened in 1891 but it was actually preceded by another Townsville gaol built in 1878. 

Queensland’s colonial prison system spread in the wake of the colony’s expanding frontiers, and Townsville followed Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton and Roma in having its own prison. Townsville had been proclaimed a municipality in 1865 with a tiny population of about 100 people, but by 1870 it had become a major port in North Queensland. The discovery of gold in the surrounding area saw the town grow steadily, and the influx of miners and prospectors led to increased criminal activity such as drunkenness, violence and vagrancy. The capacity of the small timber police lock-up was soon exceeded and plans for a new gaol were prepared by the renowned colonial architect, FDG Stanley.


Flinders Street East, Townsville, early 1880s. Castle Hill is in the backgound.
(Peter Lawson, Townsville: A Early History, 1977)

HM Townsville Gaol was proclaimed in September 1878 on what is now Warburton Street, which was part of the Botanical Gardens site occupied by the cricket club at the foot of Castle Hill.

The prison had the ‘radial’ design popular at the time and featured:
  • One prison ward two storeys in height for 140 male prisoners, with 40 in single cells
  • Prison ward for 60 female prisoners. Twenty per block
  • Prisoners' kitchen with store attached
  • Quarters for Gaoler with offices
  • Quarters for Turnkeys on each side of entrance court and having check gate at the inner side
  • Underground water tanks
  • A brick boundary wall about 5 metres high, with 3-metre-high brick walls in the yards. The outer boundary, about 7 metres out from the brick perimeter, had a strong open stockade fence.
  • Earth closets in the yards

Plan of Townsville Gaol ('Inquiry into Gaol Management', 1887).

The buildings were constructed by contractor J Rooney, and the walls and cells were completed for occupation by October 1878, and fully completed to include the gatehouse and gaoler's accommodation in 1880.  


Townsville Gaol (centre), 1885 (State Library of Queensland)

The aim was to provide a large enough prison to meet the needs of northern Queensland for about a decade, and this was just about achieved although the gaol became overcrowded almost as soon as it was completed.

No executions were ever held in Townsville, although a number of capital cases were tried there. Guilty prisoners from those cases, such as Ellen Thomson and John Harrison in 1887, were transferred to Brisbane to be hanged.

A new prison was erected at Stewarts Creek (now Stuart Creek), Townsville, in 1891 and all male prisoners were transferred there. The old prison was proclaimed to be a Police Gaol for a few months in 1893 before overcrowding necessitated it being reproclaimed a prison again. It was used to hold only female prisoners until 1896 before reverting back to police ownership. The buildings remained until 1955, when the Central State School was relocated to the site.


09 April 2014

Quick Guide to the First Half of the 'Know Your Colonial Gaol History' Series

Think back to some of the truly classic documentary series'. Clark's Civilisation; Bronowski's Ascent of Man; Attenborough's Life on Earth; Sagan's Cosmos; and Burns' The Civil War. Can we now add Dawson's Know Your Colonial Gaol History to that list? No we can't.

Since 2012 I have posted the occasional article about the 19th-century Queensland penal system. Together these articles are forming the Know Your Colonial Gaol History series and attracting a readership stretching into high single figures. Such is life on a niche blog. Having recently reached the halfway point with #11 (yes, there's going to be at least 22 of these), now would be a good time to collate all the articles so far posted into a one-stop shop. And here it is.

The penal settlement that formed the basis of Brisbane was established in the 1820s. Home to convicts who had reoffended since their arrival in the Australian colonies, discipline was a pressing issue and imprisonment was not always an option. The first purpose-built incarceration facilities opened in 1828.

Brisbane's first official prison opened in 1850 on the site of what is now the General Post Office, Queen Street. This had previously been the former 'Female Factory', used to confine female convicts in the penal settlement days. Already falling apart when it first opened, the Queen Street gaol was a 'gingerbread structure' that did not last long.
 
Queensland became a separate colony from New South Wales in 1859, and the first new public building to open was a prison on Petrie Terrace. Although a big improvement on the Queen Street facility, it soon proved to be too small.


This building was proclaimed a gaol for women in 1863 but was only used to hold short-term inmates awaiting trial or transfer elsewhere. Despite this, the gaol still attracted criticism as it suffered all the society-shocking problems usually associated with confining inmates in the common wards of larger facilities.

The new colony expanded rapidly during the 1860s, and the prison system had to grow with it. Having a prison was something of a status symbol for the emerging regional towns, and it was Rockhampton, on the central coast, that became the second town in Queensland to have such a facility.

Toowoomba, the administrative centre of the Darling Downs region, was the third Queensland town to have its own prison. As with Rockhampton, this also meant hosting executions in the yards of the prison. In later years the prison became a female-only facility, much to the chagrin of 'respectable' citizens.


As Brisbane's penal authorities struggled to keep up with the booming prison population during the 1860s, a short-term solution was found in holding some prisoners on old ships on the Brisbane River. Initially the barque Julia Percy was used, and then more famously the barque Proserpine, which later became a boys' reformatory.

Brisbane's second 1860s prison was opened on the Moreton Bay island of St Helena in 1867, taking some of the load from Petrie Terrace when long-term inmates were transferred there. St Helena proved to be one of Queensland's longest lasting and most interesting incarceration facilities.
 
The colony continued to expand during the 1870s and so Roma, in the Western Downs, became the next regional centre to have a prison. In its heyday it was the unwanted home of cattle thieves and striking shearers, but like many of the regional Queensland prisons that followed, its days were numbered.


11. Maryborough (1877) (read more here) 
The central coast town of Maryborough was considered too small to warrant having its own prison, but needed one to host an execution scheduled to take place in the town in 1877. The police lock-up was therefore proclaimed to be a prison for the duration of the macabre event.

The second half of the Know Your Colonial Gaol History series will follow the expanding frontier deeper into colonial Queensland, reaching as far as Blackall, Normanton and Thursday Island. New prisons also replaced the older structures in the major towns and cities as the penal system maintained the pattern - still seen today - of struggling to keep up with a growing prison population.

The series should be complete any year now. The colonial gaol history of Queensland is a lot more extensive and interesting that you might imagine... 



07 April 2014

Know Your Colonial Gaol History #5: Fortitude Valley Police Gaol 1863–1903


The police lockup at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, can be included in this series as it was officially proclaimed a prison in September 1863, even though it does not appear to have been used as such, probably because of the existence of a female ward at the Petrie Terrace prison until 1870. It was listed in the 1878 Blue Book as a gaol, but was referred to as a police gaol in the 1890 Prison Act. Police gaols were used for prisoners serving sentences of less than a month, and for those awaiting trial or transfer to another prison. 

Female prisoners in Brisbane in the mid-to-late 19th century were sent to either the prison on Petrie Terrace, the Toowoomba prison (from 1870), or the Fortitude Valley facility on the corner of Brookes and Church streets. It had been constructed in 1860 and consisted of two dirty cells measuring about 10x15 feet. In 1887 the average daily number of prisoners held in these cells was 11, although at one time 23 had been confined there ‘huddled together like cattle and not human beings’ according to one Brisbane Courier report. The prisoners slept on the floor with a pair of blankets underneath and another pair over them. There was a yard outside where they would cook for themselves. These yards were often overgrown with grass and had stagnant water in them, due to poor drainage, and the stench from the earth closets could be overpowering. The gaol was next to a state school, ‘from the playground of which everything said in the yard by the prisoners can be heard’. Children were reportedly kept in the gaol on occasion with their mothers, including boys aged 9 to 11.
  
The prison was regularly visited by the Sisters of Mercy, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Salvation Army officers, who tried to help the inmates back onto the ‘straight and narrow’. They were shocked by the conditions they found, especially with young prisoners ‘packed as close as cattle in a railway truck with creatures so vile that no language at our command will convey an adequate conception of their degradation’. In 1887 a major inquiry into the Queensland prison system was launched. It was found that the ‘old hands’ were using the prisons as recruitment grounds for young prostitutes, and the inquiry heard that one 17-year-old girl held at Fortitude Valley awaiting trial had been approached by a ‘notorious brothel keeper’ who made the ‘most improper overtures to her, and that if when released she went to a certain address, she would get plenty of flash clothes and $10’. 
 
Members of the Christian Women's Temperance Union,
Brisbane, 1901 (John Oxley Library)

The authors of the 1887 report found that keeping the women and girls in common wards instead of separate cells led to the ‘worst evils of indiscriminate association and of mixing tried and untried prisoners’, and called for new facilities that allowed for ‘separation’.
‘It is the system that is at fault, and until that can be altered and female prisoners confined separately, with classification for work purposes, we may regard the gaol as little better than a manufactory of abandoned and criminal women.’ 
(‘1887 Inquiry into Gaols’)
 The dilapidated Fortitude Valley lockup was subsequently demolished and a new facility erected in its place in 1889. Although it was still small, the new building allowed a limited amount of separation of the prisoners. It featured four ordinary cells measuring 8x12 feet, rooms for bathing, storage and cooking, and two yards. Two punishment cells measuring 8x10 feet were erected in 1891, as these were ‘urgently required for enforcing obedience and discipline’. 

Ground plan of the Fortitude Valley police station and lockup, ca.1903. By this time there
were four regular cells and two punishment cells in the building (Queensland Police Museum).
 
Throughout the 1890s the comptroller-general of Queensland prisons, Charles Pennefather, repeatedly requested that a new prison for women be built. A state-of-the-art female prison - with two whole wings containing separate cells - opened on Boggo Road, Woolloongabba in October 1903 and Fortitude Valley was subsequently gazetted closed as a police gaol. All female prisoners were transferred to the new prison.  

(See the book Intemperance & the Train of Evils for more on this subject) 




06 April 2014

Know Your Colonial Gaol History #10: Roma Gaol, 1872-1903



As the colony of Queensland continued to expand after the boom of the 1860s, the reach of British law extended further inland. The Maranoa region of the Western Downs was opened for pastoralists and the site of Roma was first surveyed in the early 1860s. By 1866 it was the major administrative centre of the Maranoa and had a police station and a courthouse, so a prison was not long coming. 

Built by T Slaughter, the ‘Public Gaol, Prison and House of Correction’ opened in December 1872 on the corner of May and McDowell Streets. It became known locally as ‘Donnelly’s Hotel’, after Peter Donnelly, the first superintendent. The prison initially had capacity for 24 prisoners, with 8 separate cells and the rest confined in a common ward. The 1¼ acre grounds were surrounded by a 4-metre-tall hardwood stockade fence, and the early yards were not graveled but were instead ‘muddy and boggy’.

McDowell Street, Roma, 1875. The gaol and courthouse were on the far end of this street.
(Australian Town and Country Journal, July 1875)

The most common crimes in the gaol register were reported to be forgery, false pretences, and cattle or horse theft. Among the inmates held there was the notorious cattle thief Harry Redford. Sadly, as was this case with many other colonial prisons, people with severe mental health issues were also confined in the cells on occasion.

By the 1890s the buildings were decaying and required constant patching up. These were probably the prison’s busiest days thanks to the Shearer’s Strike. The prison was expanded with a couple of new cells and another ward to increase the capacity to 38 inmates, both male and female.

McDowell Street, Roma, 1875.
(Australian Town and Country Journal, July 1875)
The hard labour regime of the 1890s saw gangs of prisoners in the ‘broad arrow’ clothing on the roads pulling carts to a creek for sand. Local residents protested that the sight not only had a bad influence on children, but it was unnecessary degradation of the prisoners. Hard labour was then switched to woodcutting.

The prison closed in October 1903 and became a police gaol, meaning that only prisoners serving sentences of 30 days or less could be held there. It served in this capacity until 1923, when it was demolished as an ‘eyesore’.


05 April 2014

Know Your Colonial Gaol History #11: Maryborough 1877


Maryborough probably holds the Queensland record for having the shortest-lived prison, after the police lock-up there became a prison for less than a month in May 1877. It was an unusual move, but it was made in unusual circumstances.

Executions in 19th-century Queensland were legally required to be conducted at places that had officially been proclaimed as prisons. This created a problem in 1877 after two Pacific Islander labourers named Tommy and George were sentenced to death for a rape that took place near Maryborough. Noisy sections of the local (white) population demanded that the executions be conducted in the town so the rest of the indentured labour population of the sugar plantations could be ‘taught a lesson’. 

Although the government decided to hang Tommy and George in Maryborough, the town only had a police lock-up instead of an official prison. 

These lock-ups were small structures containing a few cells and usually attached to a courthouse or police station. They were used to confine prisoners for a short space of time only and were staffed by police or court officials.   

During the 1850s the New South Wales government voted that £1000 be spent on the erection of a court house and lock-up in Maryborough, but this was not completed until about 1863. Built on the corner of Kent and Adelaide Streets, on the site of the current town hall, these were said to be the first brick buildings in Maryborough.

Maryborough, 1880s.

The lock-up was extended circa 1870, but soon afterwards plans were prepared for a new courthouse and lock-up in the town. This did not open until 1878, and so the old lock-up was still in use for the execution in 1877. It consisted of a little yard and five small cells, the largest of which was 3.5 by 2.6 metres, all surrounded by a four-metre timber wall. The cells were intended to hold only one prisoner each, but often housed up to four.
The Maryborough Courthouse on the corner of Kent and Adelaide Streets,
c. 1870 (Fraser Coast Regional Council)

Conditions inside these cells were harshly criticised in the press:

Their sufferings in the “Black Hole,” with the thermometer registering x can hardly be imagined, much less described. This is the sort of thing that we dub “the administration of justice”, and this is the kind of humanity that everywhere follows in the wake of our “most Christian” nation.

(Brisbane Courier, 25 December 1876)

These cells would have held Tommy Ah Mow and George as they awaited their deaths. For the purposes of the execution, the lock-up was officially proclaimed to be a prison in May 1877. It had been planned to allow up to 600 Pacific Islanders into the yard to witness the hanging, but authorities grew nervous of the large crowds when the time arrived and instead decided to allow a dozen representatives of various sugar plantations inside. The prison reverted to back to the status of a lock-up after the execution was completed, making it the shortest-lived gaol in Queensland history. 

Maryborough, 1880s.

22 March 2014

Know Your Colonial Gaol History #9: Saint Helena Island, 1867-1932

St Helena Island map
Overcrowding at Brisbane Gaol on Petrie Terrace in the early 1860s led to the use of the prison hulk ‘Proserpine’ in the Brisbane River. The prisoners held on the hulk travelled to nearby Saint Helena Island on most days to construct a new prison there (this was actually intended to be a quarantine station before plans were changed). The island itself was proclaimed to be a Penal Establishment on 18 May 1867, and John McDonald was appointed as the first superintendent.

The original prison was made up of two wards holding up to 80 inmates, and single cells for eight more. It was surrounded by a wooden stockade wall, 14 feet high, which had a 20-foot wide ‘track’ between it and the buildings inside. By the end of the century there was accommodation for up to 300 men on the island.

The ward walls were made of hardwood, grooved and tongued with iron, while the internal walls were made of thick iron wire, allowing constant supervision of the inmates (who slept in hammocks). Other spaces inside the stockade included a hospital, kitchen and bakery, water tank, wash house, and dining shed. 

What is the difference between a prison and a penal establishment?
A prison is a building that has been officially proclaimed as an incarceration facility. A ‘penal establishment’ includes all the surrounding land. St Helena was actually proclaimed to be a high-security ‘gaol, prison, and house of correction’ for long-term inmates on November 1875, before again being proclaimed a Penal Establishment in July 1879.

St Helena was considered to be a model prison of the time. The enforced isolation and high levels of discipline on the island resulted in the prison becoming self- sufficient and profitable. The native vegetation was cleared by the prisoners, who planted crops there. The prison food, including hominy and bread, was obtained by growing wheat, sugar cane and vegetables, and also raising sheep and dairy cattle herds. 


Boot Shop at St Helena, 1911
Buildings were also constructed using local resources where possible. For example, a lime kiln opened there in 1869 to burn coral in order to make cement.
Field gang on St Helena, 1911

During the 1870s a number of trade workshops were erected, and some prisoners were trained as saddle makers, tinsmiths, boot makers, tailors, blacksmiths and carpenters. Despite its relative success, St Helena was considered by some officials to be unsuitable for the appropriate classification of prisoners. Following the decision in 1921 to use both divisions of Boggo Road for male prisoners, St Helena became a prison farm after long-term inmates prisoners were transferred to the metropolitan prison. St Helena eventually closed in December 1932.

The buildings soon deteriorated into ruins, but in 1979 the island became a National Park and the following year it was gazetted as Queensland's first Historic Area. It can now be explored on various guided tours.


13 March 2014

Book of the Month: ‘Intemperance & the Train of Evils: A life on the wrong side of the tracks in colonial Brisbane’ (2008)


I have been revisiting some of my old publications (for reasons that will become clear in the coming months) and have found that after a few years I can finally look at them with fresh eyes. It's surprising how much research I can do on something and then completely forgot about it a few years  later. 

Intemperance & the Train of Evils is one of those books. It would be a great name for a Blues album, but instead it is a biography on the life of Margaret Blessington, who arrived in Brisbane as a 2-year-old back in 1874. After being brought up ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ she led an institutionalised life in various venereal disease hospitals, ‘charitable institutions’, prisons and mental asylums. This went on for decades, because somehow Margaret managed to live into her eighties.

The book was written on the back of research I conducted during my postgraduate History studies at the University of Queensland. The project was to write a biography of a Queenslander and I chose Margaret for two reasons. Firstly because people like her left a massive footprint in the historical records as they moved from institution to institution and courtroom to prison cell. Secondly, a name like Blessington is easier to track through the records than Johnson. So I guess I was cheating a bit there in making my work easier. It did turn out to be a good choice because her life told a much wider story of the Brisbane underclass at the turn of the 20th century.

Margaret was sent to prison at least 46 times, which might seem like a staggering amount but these were almost all short-term sentences (usually a few weeks) for offences such as drunkenness and prostitution (the coded official terminology for which was usually 'obscene language' or 'obscene exposure'). Some of her contemporary female prison colleagues were actually sentenced in excess of 100 times. It is clear they had become ‘habitualised’ to the merry-go-round of a few weeks on the streets followed by a few weeks in a cell. Sadly, for many this cycle was only broken by death or insanity.

What surprised me during the course of the research was the sheer number of institutions there were in colonial Brisbane trying to ‘help’ women like Margaret. There again, there was obviously a lot of demand created by the awful working conditions that many women had to endure back then. Domestic Service was presented as something of an aspiration for these women, but that was a life of drudgery and semi-slavery, working long hours doing strenuous work in the homes of the middle and upper classes in return for a pittance. As was often commented at the time, it was no surprise that some sought refuge in the relative freedom of life as sex workers.

The course of Margaret’s life took her through such places as the Toowoomba and Brisbane prisons, the Fortitude Valley lock-up, the Lock Hospital, the Goodna Hospital for the Insane, the Ipswich Hospital for the Insane, Toowoomba Mental Hospital, and finally the Dalby Jubilee Hospital, where she died in 1957 at the age of 85 years. Other institutions she might have seen the inside of include the Female Refuge and Infants’ Home, the Toowoomba Industrial School and Reformatory, Brisbane Industrial Home, and The Magdalene Asylum.
 
Kit inspection, 1903 (John Oxley Library). Margaret Blessington is one of the prisoners in this
photograph, which was taken on a day when she was confined in Brisbane Prison.
This 1913 photograph gives a somewhat sanitized impression of the women’s ward at the
Goodna Hospital for the Insane. (Brisbane City Council)


The symmetrical grounds of the Toowoomba Hospital for the Insane, ca.1902
(John Oxley Library). This design was intended to reflect a sense of balance and order.
Intemperance & the Train of Evils is one of my personal favourites, I think because in researching the lives of people like Margaret you come to feel you know them a bit, 

There’s more than enough material out there on the lives of the rich and famous, and frankly it’s a side of history that I’m not really interested in. The wealthy ensured their historical remembrance with studio portraits and lavish grave memorials. People like Margaret tend to disappear between the cracks of History. There are no photographs (even her prison photo has been lost) and their graves usually lie unmarked. Uncovering the forgotten lives of the less fortunate is, in my opinion, a much more rewarding pursuit because in the process they become un-forgotten.You correct a little bit of the inherent bias within History towards the rich and powerful. Just a bit.

Maybe, given her circumstances, Margaret would have preferred historical anonymity, but her story tells us so much about the society she lived in. The lives of people like Margaret slipped by in a blur of 'corrective' institutions, alcohol, insanity and eventual anonymity.    

Check a local bookshop for Intemperance & the Train of Evils: A life on the wrong side of the tracks in colonial Brisbane, or it can be bought online or by mail here.

Price: $10.00 (+$5.00 postage).
21,000 words, 84 pages.
Includes photographs, endnotes and appendices. 
Foreword by Senator Claire Moore.

11 March 2014

Ghost Hunting & Me: Even Atheists Want to go to Heaven

(This was article was written last week. Since then Courier-Mail reporter Des Houghton has published this hard-hitting article titled 'Stop This Sick Sideshow'. He is strongly critical not only of Ghost Hunts, but also ghost tours at Boggo Road. My own recent concerns have been about ghost hunts in places where deaths in custody occurred. Here is my original article:)

The funny thing about atheists is this - they all want to be wrong. Given the choice between utter non-existence and some blissful eternal afterlife playing harps in another dimension, atheists would choose Heaven every time. Who wouldn't? And I say that as an atheist myself. Thing is, we don't believe there is eternal afterlife so non-existence it is, which is fine by us. Que sera sera.

I'm also a skeptic. Same thing there. Like Agent Mulder, I want to believe, I want there to be an afterlife, but I've seen nothing to make me believe there is one. I think it's something a lot of people in the 'paranormal industry' don't get about skeptics. We're not cynics, we just set a very high bar as far as proof goes because deep down we want this stuff to be true. As I've written before, understanding the supernatural - if it it was to exist - should be a thing of awe and wonder, and understanding it would be an epochal triumph of science. Skeptics are just not prepared to accept the laughable Kentucky Fried Ghosts play-acting that too many in the paranormal industry are currently engaged in. 

This opinion has been reached after more than a decade of personal dealings with the 'paranormal industry'. One of several prospective books I'm working on now is something of a warts-and-all memoir of that relationship. It's been an eye-opening experience to say the least, and over that time my opinions have evolved considerably. There have been times in the past when I gave tentative support to a couple of paranormal investigation projects planned as heritage fundraisers, and it was during those times that I had to confront ethical questions about 'ghost hunting', questions that I am still working through. 

That is, putting the pseudoscience aside, where and when is it appropriate to do ghost-o-meter-type paranormal investigations? 

Back in 2009 the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery were approached by a woman who suggested doing a not-for-profit paranormal investigation fundraiser for cemetery heritage. The group agreed and planning commenced. It was a very strange time indeed. 'Queensland Paranormal Investigators' and the 'Brisbane Ghost Tours' business co-ran commercial 'ghost hunts' in the cemetery and did what they could to stop this fundraiser. They didn't want any 'competition'. Phone calls were made, emails were sent, and I won't go into here but court intervention was required to stop the persistent harassment of this woman.

Of course all this only strengthened the resolve to do the fundraiser, but along the way this involved practical on-the-ground planning, and it was during that time that I came face-to-face with ethical questions. Was it right to run paranormal investigations in a place where people were placed by their loved ones to 'rest in peace'? I was uneasy but the group planned away. 

In the end it never happened anyway. Once the staff at the Brisbane City Council discovered that commmercial ghost hunts had been conducted in the cemeteries they stepped in to ban them all. And quite rightly too. More than that, they overhauled the whole ghost tour thing, charging a fee for the first time and regulating tour content and marketing, which was getting more and more disrespectful.

After a long period of squabbling, it was something of an acceptable ending.

During this time I was also involved with the Greater Brisbane Cemetery Alliance, a coalition of heritage volunteers associated with various cemeteries, who among other things lobbied the council to crack down on nocturnal trespassing in cemeteries and ban all night tours. I pushed for language that a total ban was the 'preferred option'. 

The ban never happened, and so the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery decided that if for-profit ghost tours were going to be held in cemeteries anyway, then let's offer the public a respectful alternative that focussed on real history, and so the not-for-profit Moonlight Tours were born (once again there was private-sector opposition to this 'competition').

Was this 'hypocrisy', as was alleged? Not really. To us, the night tour bans were had always the preferred option. If council was going to allow ghost tours in cemeteries anyway, then the next best approach for FOSBC was to do night tours properly. Merely a change of tactic.    

Something of the same process took place at Boggo Road. In November 2012, during negotiations for the interim management of Boggo Road, a Public Works official gave us three days notice to produce a business plan for something we had never contemplated before - running Boggo Road ourselves. It was a request more suited to a reality TV show ('we gave the contestants three days to come up with a business plan from scratch - can they do it?') than best practice planning. But it was the kind of rushed, chaotic process than led to the interim opening of Boggo Road and all the subsequent problems.

Three days from scratch. That's not how business plans work. Especially as we were highy skeptical of fair consideration. We said we'd put together an outline, that was it. Established ideas were included, but some new things were sprinkled in too, such as the monthly not-for-profit 'paranormal investigations' as suggested by one of the organisations interested in being part of the set up. 

As with the South Brisbane Cemetery paranormal fundraiser, it seemed reasonable enough without giving it too much thought in the rush to get the document together. Thinking about it afterwards, the problems became clear. There had been deaths in custody at Boggo Road, including Aboriginal men committing suicide. I have studied Aboriginal culture enough to know there were spiritual issues here. 

Consequently, at a meeting with Public Works officials in December 2012, I voiced my concern about paranormal investigations at Boggo Road in relation to deaths in custody. The officials were of the same opinion, and no 'ghost hunts' were to be allowed. At the same meeting I also suggested it might be appropriate for the Indigenous community to conduct whatever ceremony was felt necessary to spiritually 'cleanse' Boggo Road if there was going to be ghost tours in there. Again, there was agreement. If we had managed Boggo Road, such a ceremony would have been a prerequisite to the place opening again.

So now, with 'ghost hunts' planned for Boggo Road, I have again voiced my opposition. This opposition is the result of careful consideration of the issues over time. What might seem harmless enough at first can be, with further consideration, disrespectful.

So, in short, opinions evolve over time. Tony Abbott supported a carbon price before he opposed it. 'Ghost Tours' once ran commercial ghost hunts in Brisbane cemeteries, now they label them as 'disrespectful not only to the people that have passed, in their final resting place, but also to the living families of those that have passed as well'.

Of course, this opinion was only expressed some time after Brisbane City Council banned ghost hunts in their cemeteries. Before then, 'Ghost Tours' had fought tooth-and-nail to run the hunts, and promotions for them even involved smoke machines and Ghostbusters theme music.   

The questions is; is this change of opinion on cemetery ghost hunts the result of genuine reflection on the subject, or is it just hypocrisy?