29 March 2015

Check the Facts & Make Up Your Own Mind About Plans For Boggo

I very recently linked an official statement on this page from the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society regarding the current planning situation for Boggo. As the secretary of the BRGHS, I was one of co-signatories to that statement. You can read it here.

What I'd like to do here is just expand on that statement slightly with a few of my own observations on four main points:

The current Boggo Road planning process began under Premier Anna Bligh in 2011.
1. This is not a Liberal-National Party plan

This planning process commenced in 2011 when the Labor government of Anna Bligh awarded the tender to Leighton Properties based on that company's vision for the future of Boggo. As this September 2011 media release from Bligh herself made clear;
"On completion the project will incorporate residential, retail, commercial, research and recreational facilities while still retaining and complementing the historic significance of the site."
A few days after that statement was released I had a meeting at George Street with a number of officials, including a national head of Leightons, and viewed their draft map of what the refurbished site might look like. Over three years later the current proposals look very similar to the original plans. Which is no big surprise, as Leightons would be obliged to do what they said they would do back in 2011.

After Bligh came the LNP government of Campbell Newman, which made mistakes with the interim reopening of Boggo but seemed to make no major interventions in the wider planning process. Simply put, an ALP government signed off on the mixed-use approach in 2011, but Leightons have a contract with the Queensland Government and not any single political party.

2. There is a long way to go

This planning process has a long way to go and big hurdles still lie ahead. I'm not aware of precise terminology, but the process would take several months and look something like this:
  • Preliminary review to see if the draft plan meets the basic requirements for a full review. 
  • If accepted, the Development Application is thoroughly assessed by government and heritage bodies. 
  • This stage would also include public release of the plans for a consultation period. 
Only after all this is completed can any physical work on the redevelopment begin.

As it stands, at the time of writing the government has not even signed off on the first stage here.

3. The BRGHS supports the overall 'mixed-use' approach

The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society have discussed the possibilities for Boggo at great length with various people and organisations, and the concept of it becoming a dynamic cultural hub featuring history, innovative cultural events and quality dining facilities is very exciting. The true potential of the site has never been realised and a successful Boggo would be better funded and visited by more people than ever before.

Of course, the question then is do you need to make structural changes to allow those activities to happen inside a heritage-listed place?

Phrenology chart.
4. Structural changes? Make up your own mind

The BRGHS is well aware than any changes to heritage-listed structures are controversial. Especially demolition. Some of the basic proposed changes are objectively explained here. In addition to those proposals, the site-wide details are quite complex. What is required to ensure equal access to upper-floor spaces? How is cellblock space adapted into restaurant space? Will further perimeter access points be required? These are not hypotheticals - they are actual issues that would need to be negotiated through a heritage approval process.

These details will become apparent in any public consultation phase.

The complexity of the proposed adaptations of prison structures demand one of two responses. Firstly, you oppose EVERYTHING full stop. Secondly, you accept the need for some change but then it is a question of 'how much?' Where do you draw the line?

Those of us involved in stakeholder discussions are aware of a whole raft of proposed structural changes, both large and small. Our approach to this question is straightforward. The BRGHS has around 300 members, each one an individual with their own views. One person might support certain changes while another will not. What we will do - when the details are made public - is work to objectively inform people of exactly what is proposed and encourage them to form their own opinions. We would also advise people to participate in the public consultation process and continue to lobby decision-makers if they want to. What we hope to see is a level-headed, rational, and mature debate informed by facts and not speculation and conspiracy theories.

Big Lebowski. It's just an opinion.
As for myself, I have been involved in this thing forever and after much consideration of the known details I have my own opinions and will be making a submission during any public consultation process. I know they are not shared by some other BRGHS people, but we have been able to discuss this in a light-hearted and amicable way, much as we'd discuss a preference for a colour of car. After all, accepting that other people are allowed to form different opinions to your own on subjects like this is a basic function of a rational mind. Some of the public debate about Boggo so far seems to forget that.

So there it is. The BRGHS supports the general direction of a history/culture/dining hub for Boggo. And as for any structural changes to the old prison: Look at the plans when they come out. Engage in known facts. Make up your own minds. Give voice to your opinions.

That's what I'll be doing anyway.

BRGHS Statement on the Current Boggo Road Planning Situation

The following is a statement from the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society (Inc.) management committee on the subject of the current Boggo Road proposals.
1 Division, Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane, Queensland, 1915.

29 March 2015

The current Boggo planning situation

Official planning for the transformation of the Boggo Road heritage prison into a mixed-use historical/cultural/dining venue has now reached the advanced stages. This process began in 2011 when the Queensland government awarded the redevelopment contract to Leighton Properties (see the original statement from Anna Bligh here).

Elements of planning include formulating ways in which the site could be utilised; what structural changes (if any) are required; and if any proposed changes meet heritage requirements.

Although the developers are still engaged in discussions with various stakeholders about how the historical and cultural activities at the site could be managed, the draft plans are currently under PRELIMINARY review by state government officials. The purpose of this stage is to assess if those plans meet the basic requirements to proceed to the FULL governmental review stage.

At the time of writing, the government has not signed off on any proposals.

If the development application reaches that next stage, there will be a public consultation period and a thorough official assessment of the development application, including consideration by heritage bodies. It is important to remember that any plans will have to meet the conditions of the original tender contract.

The process will likely take several months and there will be time for the public to have input into this process in a rational and considered manner.

The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society approach

The BRGHS is an incorporated association with around 300 members. We have been involved in discussions about the future of Boggo for over a decade. We have seen the latest plans and continue to discuss them in detail with the companies and officials involved in the redevelopment.

The BRGHS fully supports the mixed-use approach to opening up the heritage prison. As for any structural changes, we will be encouraging our members and the public to consider any proposed changes and to express their own opinions during the public consultation stage.

It is, however, crucial that any consideration is based on factual data and an appreciation of the wider economic context of this project. The BRGHS will continue to engage in stakeholder discussions and provide factual information to help our members and the public better understand the planning process.


Stephen M Gage (President, BRGHS)
Mick Kindness (Vice-President)
Chris Dawson (Secretary)

23 March 2015

Boggo Road to Make Way for Shops?

“Should Boggo Road Gaol make way for shops? The state government has signed off on the plan - which includes knocking down parts of the jail for retail and dining spaces.”
So began a post on the Facebook page for local ABC Brisbane radio last week. The opening question gives the clear impression that the prison would be knocked down to ‘make way for shops’. The second sentence actually features the key word here - ‘parts’. The current plans propose to demolish a part of the prison, not all of it. Unfortunately, many commenters below the post failed to pick up on this and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the imminent destruction of the entire site.

The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society has also received a few emails and phone calls from concerned citizens about ‘the gaol being knocked down’. There have been similar messages to the Better Future For Boggo Road Facebook page. In this situation, I think a little explanation of the known facts might be helpful.

I’ve been meeting with officials to discuss aspects of this redevelopment for years now (most recently last Friday). As I understand it, the draft plans are currently under preliminary review by the state government to see if a complete assessment is warranted. There are still several months of heritage consideration and PUBLIC CONSULTATION to go through before they are finalised. The plans are not a done deal yet.

I’m not going to express an opinion here on the proposed changes. The proposals are not a secret; many stakeholders have been (and continue to be) consulted, and the draft plans have been already been promoted in public (i.e. at the local markets). And - as already stated - there will be an official period of public consultation in which everybody can have their own input.

As it stands, these are the basics:
  • New market and hospitality venues to be built between the prison and the Ecoscience Precinct. 
  • The 1903-era prison buildings (shaded green in the plan below) will stay and the remaining modern prison structures (A-D shaded pink below) would be demolished. 
  • The heritage buildings inside the walls will be used for a mix of historical interpretation, cultural events and hospitality venues.

Plan of proposed changes for Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.

The most controversial aspect of the redevelopment is the proposed removal of the modern structures to make way for new market buildings and a grassed area in that corner. I will outline here exactly what these buildings are.

They are in the northeast corner of the prison and include the Contact Visits area; 3 Tower; Welfare offices; the Detention Unit; and a row of modern cells upstairs. These are all heritage-listed structures dating from around the 1970s-‘80s.

A: Contact Visits area
This is the large pinkish building adjacent (and with a similar shape) to the old gatehouse. It opened in July 1987 as a place where inmates could meet visitors face-to-face. There is a large mural on the inside walls, painted by prisoner Ray Wallace, which would be recorded prior to any demolition
Contact Visits area, Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.
Contact Visits area (BRGHS)
B: 3 Tower
This modern tower was hardly used after the prison became a historical site, and was fenced off when large cracks appeared in nearby supporting walls. The attached walkway was not designed to support large numbers of people.

Will the Boggo Road heritage prison really be knocked down to make way for shops? Read about the proposals here.
3 Tower (BRGHS) 

C: Welfare Offices
These were built in the 1980s behind the prisoner’s mess. By 2005 they were in a bad state of disrepair by 2005 with big holes in the flimsy walls and collapsing ceilings. This is probably the area of least historical value inside the entire prison.

Welfare Offices, Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.
Welfare offices (BRGHS)
D: Detention Unit and associated structures
This is a three-storey structure, currently hidden from view behind the massive grey mural on the outside wall that looks like this:

Mural on Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.
Boggo mural BRGHS)
Take away that screen and it looks like this:

Exposed structures at Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.
Exposed structure (T Blake, 2002)
This is what was left when the rest of 1 Division was ripped away from it. There are six cells on the top floor, the back of the Detention Unit is on the next floor down, and the space below was used as a gym.

Detention Unit
Built to hold prisoners in solitary confinement, these six modern cells have barred front walls for easy observation, small individual yards, showers and toilets - ironically much better facilities than the old cells in 2 Division. They were opened in April 1988.

Detention Unit cell, Boggo Road Gaol, Brisbane.
Detention Unit cell (T Blake)

Modern cells
There is a row of six cells above the Detention Unit that have not been physically accessible since the 1996 demolition of 1 Division. This were originally part of 7 Yard, C Wing.

What Will Stay?
All the areas shaded green in the plan above will stay. These are the red-brick structures dating back to 1903, which include the front gatehouse, the three cellblocks, the old guard tower, and the buildings on the sides of the central quad. The developers are VERY keen to ensure this area becomes a successful hub of history, culture and hospitality. These buildings will NOT be knocked down.

That’s as much as I shoud share about the proposals for now. It’s basic stuff that has already been out there. They are proposals only at this stage and might not even happen. Some people will like them, some won’t. At some point in the future we will all be able to take a closer look at the plans, and people will be able to make their own submissions. Until then, however, it is important that any public discourse on the Boggo redevelopment is based as much as possible on facts and not throwaway lines that make people think that the old prison will be levelled at midnight by the Deen Brothers.

After all, if you run around making people expect the worst, they will be more accepting when things turn out not to be as bad as they had been told they would be.

13 March 2015


Where does the prison officer slang term 'Screw' come from?
SCREW. Apart from other well-known meanings, it’s a slang word for ‘prison officer’ that’s been around a long time and - to those outside the job - would seem like it’s meant as an insult. However, it’s also a word that officers freely use to describe themselves and their comrades. There are a number of retired officers in the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society and it’s quite common to hear them refer to themselves and each other as ‘old screws’. They know it’s a term loaded with intent, but is now one of those supposed insults which has disarmed by being appropriated by the recipients.

For example, shown here (right) is a yellow ribbon that was used (very unofficially) by members of the old Boggo Road ‘Emergency Response Group’, with a screw attached to the top.

But where did this name come from? As usual with these things there are a number of possible explanations. It’s actually a lot older than you might think, with the first recorded English use of screw being in Pierce Egan’s Boxiana (1812), in which he wrote;
‘Where flash (slang language) has been pattered in all that native purity of style, and richness of eloquence, which would have startled a High Toby Gloque, and put a Jigger Screw upon the alert.’
(‘Jigger’ was a slang term for prison, and a ‘High Toby Gloque’ was a highwayman.)

The term was used (in a slang sense) for jailers in a Queensland Figaro article about Brisbane Prison in 1883. A Sunday Mail article in 1954 used the following headline:

(Sunday Mail, 6 June 1954)
The origin of the word goes back much further, and the English noun screw is derived from Middle French ‘escroe’ (pronounced ‘escrow’) which became present-day French ‘écrou’ (pronounced a-crew) and referred to the nut (of a bolt). Its use in English is recorded as early as circa 1400. The word ‘écrou’ is still used in a number of expressions in the modern French prison system:
  • écrouer: to imprison. 
  • registre d'écrou: the prison register log recording new arrivals and releases. 
  • numéro d'écrou: the unique id for a prisoner. 
  • levée d'écrou: the release of a prisoner (literally raising the screw). 

One of the meanings of escroe in Old French (ca 1160) is a scroll to which new strips (escroeles) of parchment were attached when more room was needed. This meaning evolved to refer to royal administration registers and prison registers (registre d'écrou). 

Where does the prison officer slang term 'Screw' come from?

However, the nickname ‘screw’ is most likely derived from the ‘keys’ used in early prisons, where many prisoners were not only locked in cells, they were shackled and chained to the wall (locks were expensive to produce so sometimes the prisoners were just chained). That involved shackle riveting and later screwing (for screw pin shackles). The screw must first be removed so that the key can open the shackles.

Screw was a slang term for ‘key’, and Henry Mencken’s The American Language reports that in the 1920s deskmen and bellboys in hotels used screw as a slang for room key. ‘Turnkey’ was actually the official name for the job of jailer in Australia for much of the 19th century

Where does the prison officer slang term 'Screw' come from?

There is also a theory that screw refers to the thumbscrews used earlier centuries to torture prisoners into confessing, but there is little evidence that the name was derived from this.

Another variation is ‘turnscrew’, as used for jailers in Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo (1848). A turnscrew was part of Crank device, which was a large handle in a cell that prisoners facing punishment inside the call had had to turn up to 15,000 times a day. Meals could be linked to completing this task, i.e. 2,000 turns to get breakfast, 3,000 for dinner, 3,000 for supper and a further 2,000 before they could go to bed. The handle could be tightened by the jailers by turning a screw, making it easier or harder to turn depending on how much the authorities wanted to punish the prisoner. The story goes that the original ‘screws’ were the unpopular jailers who adjusted the settings of the crank.

Of these suggestions, I would think the 'key' reference makes the most sense as the origin of the name, but there will always be those who think differently. Whatever the source is, it's a name that has stuck through time although it's probably going to be used less as we move through the coming century.
(Note: In Australia, officers were officially called turnkeys until the later 19th-century when they became warders (a term referring to the fact that earlier prisons had wards instead of separate cells). In the 20th century they became prison officers, and more recently correctional staff.)

09 March 2015

Tom Uren and Boggo Road

The following article about Tom Uren (former deputy leader of the Labor Party) was written by Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society president Stephen M Gage for the latest 'Boggo Road Bugle' newsletter of the BRGHS. I have republished it here with his kind permission.

Find out why the late great Tom Uren was once a reluctant 'guest' at Boggo Road.
Tom Uren (National Archives of Australia)
This great gentleman once graced our presence at Boggo Road; he was a big man in so many ways that he deserves his place in our history. Tom was a young man with plenty of fight in him, but the war was to stop that and he enlisted as a gunner in artillery. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese and this was the start of this young man’s life as a Prisoner of War (POW) on the dreaded Burma Railway, for three years he survived the treatment from the Japanese. It would only get worse though, as he and many other POWs were transferred by ship to Japan as slaves of the Emperor. It was here in Japan that Tom witnessed the sky change colour as the atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, and of course this would lead to Tom’s opposition against atomic warfare in future years.

After Tom returned to Australia he ran some small family businesses and was convinced to have a look at becoming a Federal Politician for the Labor Party. Tom was elected to Federal Parliament in the seat of Reid in 1958. He became a Federal Cabinet Minister under Gough Whitlam and served under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, retiring in 1990 after 32 years in Parliament.

Tom was the last and longest Second World War veteran to serve in the House of Representatives. He received a number of awards during his life, but it was not until 2013 that he was upgraded to Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) that set the party faithful and veteran community alight.

The time was right and Queensland was the place for it to happen, yes it is October 1978 and Bjelke-Petersen’s dictatorial government was in power and ‘Pig Brisbane’ as it was referred to by southerners was a true police state. Three people or more could not march down the street, so street marches became the mode of the day for the freedom of its people. One of those marches had Tom Uren and Senator George Georges out in front sticking it to the Queensland Government.

We all know the result; Queensland Police were ordered to arrest the leaders and any other fringe dweller of their choosing, Boggo Road Prison now became a ‘political prison’ for the Queensland government. This archaic rule was dumped sometime later as Queensland returned to mainstream Australia. It is said that Senator George Georges was lockup in the Herschel Street Watchhouse so many times, that he had his own cell and knew the Watchhouse keeper by his first name.

Tom Uren (centre) is arrested in Brisbane, 1978. Senator George Georges is in the foreground.
Tom Uren (centre) is arrested in Brisbane, 1978. Senator George Georges is in the foreground.

I was one of many officers on duty on the day they bought Tom Uren into the Reception Division for processing; all officers were told not to salute Mr Uren. As the vehicle pulled up and Tom was ordered to stand in front of the reception window, I and many other officers saluted this man for what he stood for. The senior Prison Officers present could not stop the junior officers from saluting and speaking respectfully to Tom Uren, but the surprise was yet to come. The most senior officer present was the Chief Superintendent of Boggo Road Prison, Mr Clyde Lang, who was also a POW on the Burma Railway and a comrade in arms with Tom Uren. Later on that afternoon both Tom and Clyde left the prison to have dinner and no doubt drinks to their friendship from so many years ago.

Tom received a surprise guest one afternoon in 2011; it was the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, and she had arrived to inform Tom that a supplementary payment would be made to WW2 and Korea veterans as POWs. This was the one campaign that eluded Tom, and now Julia Gillard had done her part for veterans what no other MP could or would do.

There are not many men who stand out among others and remain in the memories of those living, this is one such man that has left an indelible mark on so many.

“Walk Tall Tom”