Saluting crafty gem

Jon SolmundsonGeraldton Guardian
Archie Ovens in the Geraldton Gaol cell where he’s been selling his work since 1989.
Camera IconArchie Ovens in the Geraldton Gaol cell where he’s been selling his work since 1989. Credit: Jon Solmundson

While the residents today are different from those who occupied the Geraldton gaol when it was built 160 years ago, one of the Old Geraldton Gaol Craft Centre’s founding members reflects on the past as he celebrates his 87th birthday.

Archie Ovens jokes that he’s tried to weed his way out of the craft centre community for years now, but he also salutes the fine company that’s gathered in the creative space over the years. “We’ve got a good group of people in here and it’s good fun,” he said.

Born in 1929, Mr Ovens grew up in York, moving to Yuna in his 30s where he worked as a shearer. But he always had a passion for the bush, especially the rocks and gemstones he found in the outback. He moved to Spalding and by 1968 had joined the local gemstone club and begun sharing his work with people across WA.

“In the 70s tourism here was useless,” he said. “So folk like myself who owned small tourist attractions got together and formed a group, and we went down to Carousel Shopping Centre in Perth every year for about six years to promote Geraldton.

“It wasn’t exactly ‘professional’ — we just had a long trestle table with pamphlets on it and one person behind the table.”

When he discovered the Old Gaol was going to be demolished Mr Ovens and the group swung into action, fixing up the masonry and moving their craft stalls into the old prisoners’ cells — a practice which continues today. “We had people doing silverwork, gemstones, gold, pottery — all sorts of stuff.”

He said that with the visitor centre moving closer to the CBD, traffic had halved and members would like to see more local visitors. But it was terrific when people came in with their children and remembered visiting the Old Gaol as kids themselves.

The Old Geraldton Gaol is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am-3.30pm and the second Sunday of each month, 8am-noon.

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