04 August 2011

How much would you pay to get into Boggo Road?

How much do you think it should cost to get into Boggo Road Gaol? $5? $10? $20? $45? This is a question to think about as the future of the gaol remains, as always, up in the air. 

[UPDATE: Vote here!]

The state government is currently looking to lease the old prison to a developer, who would then be required to consult stakeholders and come up with a management plan that would see Boggo Road used for a mix of heritage and commercial non-heritage purposes. It's a process I myself could support, but of course it all depends on "the mix". The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society would be aiming to maximise the heritage protection of what is, after all, not a particularly large site. As a strong community group, we are also keen to ensure that a high level of community access is maintained.

One result of the planning process would be to designate which organisations will provide a range of visitor services at Boggo Road. The BRGHS has plans to provide these services, and one of our primary concerns is that they are as affordable as possible. Why? Simply because the unique capacity of the site to teach about crucial issues like crime and punishment makes equitable access a key priority, especially for school groups and young people.

The BRGHS has direct experience of how pricing affects accessibility. We used to run school tours at the Boggo Road Gaol Museum at just $4 per head, and night tours cost $10. It was this affordability that made the place so attractive for school groups, who returned to us year after year. This fact was confirmed in 2005 when Public Works allowed a small business to offer tours and functions at Boggo Road. These were vastly more expensive than the services we offered, and the results spoke for themselves. Schools were simply not interested in paying about $15 per head for tours, so while the BRGHS ran hundreds of school tours during that year, the private company attracted hardly any bookings at all!     

The story was much the same with functions and site hire. Something like 100 functions were booked at Boggo Road in 2005 under the basic site-hire fee option. In contrast, only a small handful of the expensive ‘all-frills’ function packages were booked. This shows that while people wanted to hire the place for their various functions, they also wanted to organise the content of their own events and not pay through the nose for a pre-dictated food/drinks/street-theatre package. 

This is an issue that the BRGHS will continue to push with government. For comparison, I will list what the other major Australian heritage prisons currently charge (a list of smaller sites is added below this article). Note that EVERY one of these is funded and managed by government or non-profit bodies, making the Queensland government the only one unwilling to properly invest in this kind of site:

Maitland Gaol (Economic Development and Marketing Division, Maitland City Council:
Self-guided audio tour: $15/$12
Ex-inmate tours and Ex-warders tours: $17/$14 (day) $24/$21 (night)
Escapes/History tours: $18/$15
Psychic tours: $29/24

Old Dubbo Gaol (Community Services Division, Dubbo City Council)
Self-guided tour: $15/$12
Theatrical performances/costumed characters: no extra charge to above
Theatrical night tours: $25/$20

Adelaide Gaol (Department of Environment & Natural Resources, on-site services provided by the Adelaide Gaol Preservation Society)
Self-guided History tours: $13/$11
Guided history tours: $17/$15
Guided night tours, Ghost tours: $28
School groups: $6 per student

Port Arthur (Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority)
Numerous historical sites, various passes available
Ghost Tours: $22/$12
After Dark Pass (Ghost Tour and meal): $61

Old Melbourne Gaol (National Trust Victoria)
Admission: $22/$18/$12 (Self-guided, with live ‘Ned Kelly’ performances)
Hangman’s Night Tours: $35/$30

Fremantle Prison (WA Housing and Public Works, with the Fremantle Prison Advisory Committee). 
Day tours (two themes): $18.50/$15.50 each, or $25/$22 to do both
Tunnels Tour: $59/$49/$39
Torchlight Tour: $25/$21/$15

It is worth noting that all these not-for-profit sites create just as many jobs, and probably more, as they would under private business models.

As you can see, there are a range of prices charged for various services at the heritage gaols, with most admissions costing $10-20. Melbourne is one of the most expensive at $22 entry, but that gets you access to a massive complex which includes the ‘Old Magistrate’s Court’, the ‘Police Watch House’, and the multi-award-winning ‘Crime and Justice Experience’. It is obviously just not possible to replicate this product at Boggo Road, and logic dictates entry would therefore be much cheaper.

The closest comparable heritage prisons to Boggo Road would probably be Maitland, Adelaide and Dubbo, where entry includes a self-guided audio tour for $15-17. There are also a range of themed guided tours available, and the BRGHS is hoping to provide similar day and night options. What we would charge for such tours is still unclear, but while the days of the $4 school tour are over for Boggo Road, there is still a capacity and need to keep the price in single figures for this particular market. Obviously, one of the ways to achieve this would be with a dedicated volunteer base - an option not open to private business. 
Old Melbourne Gaol, run by the National Trust and winner of the
highest prize in the Victorian Tourism Awards for the
last three years in a row.
However, private business proposals could make Boggo Road the most expensive heritage gaol in Australia, with basic night tours costing up $45. Compare this to similar tours in the other prisons. Port Arthur, an established world-class venue, is only half that price. Based on past evidence, it would be fair to guess that prices for other services, even general admission, would be as wildly expensive if Boggo Road was to be run mainly for the financial benefit of a private business. In fact, the only way for that business to have any chance at all of succeeding would be to completely remove any cheaper price options for the public.

We simply can not afford to let the public be priced out of visiting Boggo Road. The BRGHS has better plans to make Boggo Road affordable, and we will be arguing our case whenever the opportunity arises. 

The sites listed below are small-to-medium heritage gaol sites in Australia, and all are operated along not-for-profit lines:

Cooma Gaol Museum (NSW Department Corrective Services)
Hay Gaol Museum (Hay Shire Council)
Narrabri Old Gaol Heritage Centre (Narrabri & District Historical Society)
Silverton Gaol Museum (Broken Hill Historical Society)
Trial Bay Gaol (NSW National Parks and Wildlife/Friends of Trial Bay)
Old Wentworth Gaol (Wentworth Shire Council)

Normanton Gaol (Normanton Council)
Old Croydon Gaol (Croydon Shire Council)
Saint Helena Island (QLD National Parks & Wildlife)

northern territory
Fannie Bay Gaol Museum (National Trust NT)
Old Stuart Town Gaol (National Trust NT)

south australia
Redruth Gaol (National Trust SA)

Ross Female Factory (TAS Parks & Wildlife)
Barracks and Convict Gaol, George Town (George Town & District Historical Society)
Cascades Female Factory Historic Site (Female Factory Historic Site Ltd Board)
Hadspen Gaol (Westbury Historical Society)
Old Hobart Gaol (TAS National Trust)
Richmond Gaol (TAS Parks & Wildlife)

Ararat County Gaol [aka J-Ward] (Friends of J-Ward)
Geelong Heritage Gaol (Rotary Club)

western australia
Albany Convict Gaol (Albany Historical Society Inc.)
Derby Police Gaol (Commissioner of Police)
Guildford Old Town Gaol (Swan Guildford Historical Society)
Old Courthouse and Gaol, Perth (Western Australia Museum)
Old Cue Gaol (Shire of Cue)
Old Toodyay Gaol Museum (Toodyay Shire Council)
Roebourne Old Gaol Museum (Shire of Roebourne)

There are only three privately-operated heritage gaols. These are either accommodation centres (Mount Gambier Gaol and Gladstone Gaol Tourist Complex, both South Australia) or a hospitality training centre (Old Castlemaine Gaol, Victoria).


  1. Interesting stuff. The lastthing we need with a new recession coming up is top places like this being too expensive to take the family. $45 a tour? no thanks!

  2. Too true. For a family of four, thats $180 right there. Or a movie, meal, transport and drinks. I've got 4 kids and I always have to watch the prices. If it costs too much, we don't go, simple as that.

    Thanks for reading...

  3. The 'feet dragging' by the Queensland Government over when the gaol will open again and under what operating capacity has done much to damage the 'brand' or 'product' that is Boggo Road Gaol. My understanding is the Queensland Government (who appears not to want anything to do with the Boggo Road Gaol) wants only to look at a commercial option with no government involvement. This is of course at odds with how most of the old prison sites around the country are administered.

    It will take some time to promote to the public the fact that the site is ACTUALLY OPEN again and that people may visit. This means it will take some considerable time and resources (money included) to raise the profile of the site, make people aware they can visit, and have people actually coming through the door. The prices you have outlined Chris are based on models that have established products and services. They also for the most part have some 'fall back' in that they are overseen or even funded by government bodies.It would seem to me that any commercial operation will have to charge considerably more to first raise the profile of the site and restore public confidence that the site is open again. And secondly, any commercial operation will not have the luxury of government funding/resources to fall back on.

    Whether Boggo Road Gaol to operate should be able to rely on government funding is another debate. However, you would have to ask the Queensland Government why they are focused on handing the administration and access to the site over to a commercial/corporate operation that in turn has no government involvement. Especially when this practice is clearly at odds with so many of the existing administration models for heritage prison sites around the country. In short, the prices you have used as a ‘marker’ will likely be too conservative as they for the most part do not represent purely commercially financed and administered operations that would not be receiving government funding. Under a strictly commercial operation, who knows how high entrance/activity prices might be at the ‘new’ Boggo Road Gaol. What’s more, who will be able to afford a visit?

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, you make a lot of sense.

    My understanding is that for a long time there was much internal debate within Public Works itself as to the level of government involvement there would be. If it could be divided into two camps, one was pro-heritage, the other viewed the site in strictly commercial terms. There were discussions with respected curators and at one point it looked like government involvement would be much greater, but I guess Economic Rationalism (an inability to value things in anything other than dollar terms)won out... for now.

    I'm expecting there will be some government involvement financially - there would HAVE to be, because expecting a private business to shoulder costs for maintaining a set of century-old heritage buildings through the next century seems like wishful thinking to me. There would need to be so many heritage safeguards built into any agreement. However, there is still a long way to go yet, and I'm not at all confident the government's plan will come to fruition, and have encountered a lot of skepticism from busines types over the sustainability of the proposed arrangement. I have also been told at various points over the last 9 months that a deal was imminent, but we're still waiting.

    As you point out, it is at odds with the Australian norm, and the only privately-run places have very specific primary commerical services, such as accomodation. Castlemaine gaol went bankrupt about 5 times in 15 years before it became a hospitality training centre. There is a damned good reason everywhere else has government backing.

    Still, the devil is in the detail. There are many considerations for us, and we certainly don't want to see this unique place turned into some poxy boutique heritage site.