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.


  1. Did you mean "green" when you said "What Will Stay?
    All the areas shaded pink in the plan above will stay

    1. Indeed I did, Robert. Thanks for the sharp eyes.