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Captivating! 12 historical Australian gaols to check out

If only the walls could talk. Well, it turns out they just about do.

Australia is dotted with historical gaols and similar sites that explode with captivating stories of a time gone by. From the spine-tingling to the fascinating, these yarns make for a memorable visit to an old lockup.

Break free from standard and enter the gates of a heritage Australian gaol on your next escape.

Port Arthur Historic Site in TAS is arguably the most iconic heritage prison on this list. Credit: Alastair Bett.

Port Arthur Historic Site, TAS

Arguably the most well-known prison in Australia, Port Arthur Historic Site bursts with tales from its rich convict past. The admission fee includes an introductory tour where yarns both educate and entertain before the iconic grounds are yours to explore at your leisure. Or grab a ticket to one of the themed activities, which enhance a visit to this World Heritage attraction and include riveting ghost tours.

Stay at...NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park or visit on a daytrip from BIG4 Hobart Airport Tourist Park.

Port Arthur Historic Site has plenty to captivate. Credit: Alistair Bett.

Richmond Gaol, TAS

Almost two centuries’ worth of history is jammed into the walls of Richmond Gaol, which can be gleaned on a self-guided tour. View a series of spaces that highlights the harsh conditions that prisoners were subject to: convict-holding rooms, a flogging yard, and solitary confinement cells, among others. The gaol belies the charm of this beautiful English-style village, reached with ease from Hobart.

Stay at...BIG4 Hobart Airport Tourist Park.

Unlock almost two centuries' worth of history at Richmond Gaol. Credit: Alastair Bett.

Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, TAS

Little more than ruins exist at this World Heritage site, but visitors can still leave with a vivid picture of how this facility once was. This is achieved through a dramatic theatre-style tour, The Proud and the Punished, which cleverly and powerfully details what it would’ve been like for convict women condemned to life here. It’s not to be missed when at this leading Hobart attraction, although other tours are available.

Stay at...BIG4 Hobart Airport Tourist Park.

Cascades Female Factory brings past stories to life in clever fashion. Credit: Alastair Bett.

Fremantle Prison, WA

This imposing limestone creation was built by convicts during the 1850s, and its past is as engrossing as its façade. Join a fascinating guided tour to learn about the many roles of this World Heritage property, including as a place for executions and an internment camp during two World Wars. A superb selection of enthralling tours is on offer. 

Stay at...BIG4 Perth Midland Tourist Park or Perth Central Caravan Park.

Fremantle Prison is full of intriguing yarns. Credit: Tourism Western Australia.

Albany Convict Gaol, WA

Take yourself for a stroll around Albany Convict Gaol to retrace the extensive past of this enchanting heritage site. Built in 1852, this facility had many uses, and these are thoroughly detailed through various displays and old photographs that are placed throughout this top attraction.

Stay at...BIG4 Emu Beach Holiday Park or BIG4 Middleton Beach Holiday Park.

Retrace the steps of prisoners past at Albany Convict Gaol. Credit: Albany Historical Society (Inc).

Adelaide Gaol, SA

Having been in operation for almost 150 years, Adelaide Gaol possesses more stories than your average library. The best way to take it all in is on a guided tour, which extensively retraces the gaol’s long history. For a hair-raising experience, sign up for a ghost tour and hear spooky yarns about this supposedly haunted site.

Stay at...BIG4 West Beach ParksThe Retreat at West Beach or Marion Holiday Park.

Adelaide Gaol is full of intriguing stories. Credit: Penny Wilkinson/Adelaide Gaol Preservation Society Inc.

Maitland Gaol, NSW

These confines hold a wealth of history, which is shared via a self-guided audio tour or through a top-notch selection of themed tours. These include the gripping Crimes of Passion tour as well as those dedicated to great escapes and ghosts. A visit to this Hunter Valley attraction is not to be missed.

Stay at...Ingenia Holidays Hunter Valley.

A themed tour of Maitland Gaol is a must-do. Credit: Newy Digital; Maitland City Council.

Old Wentworth Gaol, NSW

More than 135 years of history are tucked into the walls of Old Wentworth Gaol, a striking, well-preserved brick building. Its great condition enables you to easily slide into the shoes of a prisoner to imagine life as it once were, soaking up a riveting past on a self-guided tour.

Stay at...BIG4 Mildura Getaway, BIG4 Red CliffsNRMA Mildura Riverside Holiday Park or Rivergardens Holiday Park Mildura.

Slip into the shoes of a prisoner at Old Wentworth Gaol. Credit: Roberto Seba.

Old Dubbo Gaol, NSW

Delve into the absorbing history of Old Dubbo Gaol, which operated for close to 120 years. Self-guided and guided tours combine with theatrical experiences, or join a thoroughly entertaining night tour. Head to the watchtower for a great view of this complex, check out the hangman’s kit and gallows, or increase the chill factor by stepping into a pitch-black solitary confinement cell.

Stay at...NRMA Dubbo Holiday Park.

Old Dubbo Gaol is one of the best. Credit: Destination NSW.

Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, NSW

Although this site has been reduced to ruins, guided tours bring its many stories to life in fascinating fashion. Learn about the gaol’s rich past, including failed projects and its role as an internment camp during World War I. However, one of the biggest drawcards has as much to do with the present as the past: the coastal views from this attraction are breathtaking, particularly from the sentry’s lookout.

Stay at...NRMA South West Rocks Holiday Resort or Ingenia Holidays South West Rocks.

Stunning coastal views complement the gaol's fascinating history. Credit: Destination NSW.

Fannie Bay Gaol, Darwin, NT

Retrace the footprints of a diverse selection of prisoner groups with a self-guided tour around this compelling site. In use for more than a century, the gaol has retained the gallows that were used for the last execution in the Northern Territory, which took place in 1952. Please note: the gaol has limited opening times during the wet season (November-April).

Stay at...BIG4 Howard Springs Holiday Park or BIG4 Hidden Valley Holiday Park.

Fannie Bay Gaol is compelling. Image courtesy: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Old Melbourne Gaol, VIC

Infamous as the setting for the hanging of bushranger Ned Kelly and home to various other ‘celebrity’ prisoners, Old Melbourne Gaol is brimming with stories from a time gone by. By day, self-guided tours lift the lid on the gaol’s extensive history and provide access to the police watch house. By night, ghost and hangman tours at selected times are among the experiences that enhance the chills and thrills of a visit to this leading Melbourne attraction.

Stay at...BIG4 Dandenong Tourist Park or BIG4 Melbourne Holiday Park.

Several infamous prisoners once called Old Melbourne Gaol home. Credit: Old Melbourne Gaol.

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