History is relative. Yesterday is history, last week, year, decade… When does a place become historical?

On a recent holiday in the Hunter Valley we checked out the ‘Maitland Gaol’. This ‘historical’ place was closed in 1998, yep, a mere 13 years ago. Today it is  a laser tag backdrop, a party venue and a museum! A real money spinner considering how much you have to pay to get through the door and onto an audio tour!

There’s something untoward about this place. Unlike other historical sites. This is recent history and for me it felt a little too close to home. In this place lived the worst of the worst criminals in New South Wales. If you are a Sydney-sider, you would have heard of these ruthless people and the fact that barely 15 years ago they lived in this place, is a bit creepy.

Now, if you have plans to visit the gaol/jail, then here’s some advice. Be very selective about what parts of history you choose to listen to, especially if you have kids participating. I advise against listening to the shower rooms description. Here there were no cameras… say no more!

You may also want to avoid knowing who exactly lived here unless you’re into that! There are three sections to the jail: A Wing (housed the petty criminals, poor lost souls), B Wing (the slightly creepier crimes) and C Wing (the famous or deadly or both crims). Often they kept the last inmates separated from the rest as revenge was common.

In the visitor’s area there’s a kids section for those who had the pleasant task of bringing children to such a place. Here some crims painted cartoon murals of Disney characters and the like. Their signatures read something like this, Artists: Mark Pedswart (Armed Robbery) and David Ninklebackian (Murder). Eeeeek! It felt a bit wrong for a murderer to be painting such innocent pics! But perhaps I’m just sheltered!

My six year old found the whole experience very exciting! He loved locking his dad in a cell and pretending to be a guard. Thankfully he wasn’t interested in the real history of the place but had fun making up his own. It is an interesting place but in the end it made me feel a bit icky. The thought of all those men (and some women) living in such a confined space with all those issues, all that dark history made me feel very uncomfortable. And I was more than happy to walk out a free woman at the end of it all.

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