Postcard #4. Freedom through the gift shop

Old Melbourne Gaol
December 2013

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To exit Old Melbourne Jail one must walk past the charity donation box and through the gift shop.

 

In the gift shop it is possible to purchase:

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A padlock and key

A stubby holder designed to resemble Ned Kelly’s armour (also on display in the jail)

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and, a Ned Kelly snowglobe. At once the most inappropriate and therefore appropriate souvenir a carceral space has to offer.

As part of the entry ticket to the gaol, it is possible to visit the Watch House where you get locked in a dark cell for 2 minutes with a bunch of other snap happy tourists. Parents are warned that the tour might be traumatic for small children due to the shouty actor pretending to be the duty officer and the real life swears carved into the cell walls. I’ve seen more offensive graffiti in my junior school toilets.

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There are also ghostly projections of criminals telling their stories too which, like the audio guides at Alcatraz, serve to exorcise the space of its ghosts (what Agamben describes as conjuring…) rather than legitimise such voices. The same is perhaps true of Ned Kelly’s death mask on display.

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Kelly is brought back to life at various points in the tour – it is possible to take part in a dramatised version of his trial in the old magistrate’s court. To navigate between the three elements of the tour – gaol, holding cells and courtroom – require one to return briefly to the space of the city – crime and punishment woven into the urban fabric. Yet, in the cities of today such a space can now  exist only as visitor attraction, as guided tour, as part of the museification of the world and a celebration of the processes of gentrification which see both criminality and poverty removed from the urban landscape as anything but commodity fetish.

Kelly is reincarnated but in a display cabinet. And if a 5 year old happens to don the replica of his armour (to be worn only within the allocated area) before charging around the gaol, he must be stopped. Unauthorised reenactments risk unleashing the subversive, criminal spirit of Kelly himself.

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