Historic Fremantle Prison ‘Behind Bars’ Tour

A special return behind bars for former prison guard Bill

20th Feb 2018

William (Bill) Lehane, was pleasantly surprised when is his first outing with Community Connections turned out to be a visit to WA’s iconic Fremantle Prison. While some find the historical prison slightly spooky and some believing it is actually haunted, Bill relished the opportunity to relive some of the good memories and positive changes for prisoners he was part of as a former prison guard.

The historic, (now closed) prison, is actually where Bill began his career some 43 years ago. He hadn’t been back for close to 20 years, but was delighted to enjoy a trip down memory lane and join the program group for the prison’s ‘Behind Bars’ tour.

Fremantle Prison is WA’s only World Heritage listed building, was constructed in the 1850s to house convicts up until the end of the convict era in 1886. The ‘Behind Bars’ tour asks participants to ‘Step inside, do time and explore the prison’s history as a maximum security gaol from 1887 to 1991’.
The large group of about 20 brave souls were excited to really immerse themselves in the prison’s rich history and find out how a prison built by convicts became Western Australia’s primary place of incarceration for men, women and even children.

The comprehensive and illuminating tour gave the group a real chance to go back in time, exploring the ‘Main Cell Block’ and its exercise yards, where they heard about the daily routine of the prisoners that were housed there and the harsh realities of life on the inside. Some of the group enjoyed hearing about how the prison was first built and the convict era in general, others were keen to hear more the spooky going’s on at night, for Bill it was more about his fond memories of his time working closely with the inmates. “It was just amazing for the opportunity to return to where my career started all those years ago, of course this time it is with a completely different perspective,” Bill said.

As dedicated officer of the WA justice system with a career spanning over 40 years, he began his career as a trade instructor at the prison at a time when there were only three guards on duty. Utilising his strong carpentry experience, Bill spent his career teaching inmates trade skills with some inmates even working their way through an apprentice program under Bill’s guidance and support.

Bill retired at the age of 65 after a dedicated career sharing his trade skills across the justice system, where was presented with a plaque for his 40 years of dedicated service. With numerous stories and anecdotes about his time working there, Bill was more than happy to share a few with the with the group as well their Prison tour guide, who, as someone commented, should have perhaps been taking notes, to use when leading his next tour.

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