Dr Jillian Barnes – ‘Prison Tourism – a subset of Dark Tourism?’

History@Newcastle Research Seminar: 4 March 2016
Dr Jillian Barnes—University of Newcastle

Prison Tourism – a subset of Dark Tourism? The challenges of interpreting Shades of Violence through Containment at Trial Bay Gaol.

Trial Bay Gaol is a grand relic of late-nineteenth century British colonial architecture located at an arrestingly beautiful Australian beach. The website for the gaol headlines a tourist remark that this is “…funny. Imagine lying in a dark cell listening to the sounds of the
ocean.” The remark captures frequent expressions of surprise by tourists. The seaside is usually associated with leisure and pleasure, not punishment. The remark also implies the unsettling, bittersweet nature of the gaol’s history and location. First constructed to house
prisoners employed on a significant colonial public works project, the gaol later became a World War I internment camp for Germans and German-Australian prisoners of war. In this second phase, incarceration took an even more surprising turn. The POWs were a select group of highly educated men who established a working theatre, orchestra, European-style beach huts and a restaurant. This cultural expression was well-documented by a talented photographer and his newly-discovered cache of beautiful but haunting images is enabling curatorial staff to more fully present the multilayered and multihued histories of society’s handling of crime and punishment and of lived realities of captivity in a setting that evokes both pleasure and pain. While historicising the gaol’s evolution from penal past to focal attraction in a new national park, this presentation argues that the making of Trial Bay Gaol museum complex is the result of a sustained, convoluted, contested and illuminating nationalistic process. This presentation grew out of a joint publication by Jillian Barnes and Julie McIntyre in an
international edited volume on Prison Tourism to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016.

Jillian Barnes is an interdisciplinary researcher across the fields of critical tourism studies, environmental history, colonial and Indigenous relationships in Australian history, and representation and power. She is particularly interested in the relationship between tourism, visual culture and Australia’s history of human rights. Her current research projects include the history of the National Tourism Organisation phenomenon, and its role in Australia in national cultural and environmental heritage conservation.

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