Creative, close-knit group mark craft centre milestone
For more than 120 years, prisoners in Geraldton were locked up in the heart of town at the gaol on Chapman Road.
But for the past three decades the gaol has been filled with new inmates — local craftspeople.
Wander down the gaol’s hallway and you’ll find some of the cells are packed to the rafters with handmade goods, from knitted scarfs and tin sculptures to felt animals and wooden signs.
This month marks 30 years since the gaol was saved from the wrecking ball and transformed into the Old Geraldton Gaol Craft Centre.
To celebrate, the craft group will be hosting an open day on April 27, inviting community members to pop into the heritage-listed building.
“People drive past all the time without realising we’re there,” craft centre secretary Marg McNaught said.
“The gaol and craft centre are so much a part of our local history, but people don’t know about it.
“We get visitors from all parts of the globe, but we’re encouraging the locals to come and have a look.”
First used for convicts and Ticket of Leave men in 1864, the gaol was nearly knocked down to make way for parking after the Greenough Regional Prison was completed in 1984.
After hearing that the gaol was in danger of demolition, a group of local crafts people swooped in and saved the historic building, which was officially reopened on April 8, 1989.
One of the founding members, Archie Ovens, is still locked up in the gaol, creating animals from tin cans in his cell.
Ms McNaught, a “repeat offender” on her second stint in the gaol, said if it hadn’t been for the dedicated group 30 years ago, the gaol’s history would have been erased.
“If they had not stepped in and made the building habitable, it would have been demolished,” she said.
“There’s not a lot of history ... and there’s so few old buildings left in this town,” she said.
“We need to be celebrating our history and it’s important to stick with some of the iconic stuff.”
There are around 10 people at the gaol selling their wares, including Ms McNaught and Vicki Robson, who share the old police station.
Ms McNaught said they were always looking for more inmates to join the craft group.
“We’ve got some empty cells we’d love to fill,” she said.
“There are times when we have a waiting list!”
The group is also on the hunt for photos, documents or stories of the craft centre from the past three decades.
Contact the group on 9921 1416.
The family-friendly open day will be on April 27, 9am-noon.
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