If Walls Could Talk: Remembering Pentridge
In a new book, Pentridge: Voices From the Other Side, writer and photographer Rupert Mann presents the devastating, moving and funny stories of people who lived and worked at Pentridge. In this discussion, hosted by Hilary Harper, he is joined by former chaplain Peter Norden, former prison officer Pat Merlo and celebrated actor and former inmate Jack Charles. They discuss criminal justice, collective history and the new development on the old site.
From 1851 until its closure in 1997, Pentridge Prison in Coburg was the scene of many humiliations and acts of brutality – as well as unlikely alliances, and stories of hope, survival and friendship. The prison was home to thousands of people over several generations, from notorious criminals to ordinary men and women. The last man executed in Australia, Ronald Ryan, was hung there in 1967.
Today, Pentridge is described by developers as ‘a vital hub of creativity and commerce interlinked with residential opportunities’, but efforts are being made to hold on to the memories and the heritage of Victoria’s longest-running prison.
Hilary Harper has a degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies, a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing, and 30 years’ experience in radio. She’s been at the ABC since 2005. She’s covered everything from news and current affairs to traffic reporting, arts, health, gardening, science, finance, education, relationships, parenting, and much discussion of food.
Rupert Mann is a cultural and built heritage specialist, a writer, and photographer. He has worked with indigenous communities in Australia and remote tribes in Papua New Guinea, has excavated Bronze-Age tombs in Cyprus, and was co-founder of the community-based lobby group Melbourne Heritage Action.
Rupert has created several photographic works focussing on neglected urban heritage in Australia and South East Asia. Pentridge, where the fascinating nexus between place, people, memory and change is powerfully legible, has intrigued him since childhood. Rupert currently lives in Myanmar, where he works with the Yangon Heritage Trust.
Jack Charles is an actor, musician, potter, Koori elder and national treasure.
After Bastardy, a biographical documentary about Jack, was released in 2008, he rediscovered family members, and is now a respected elder of the Boon Wurrung clan and one of Australia's foremost Indigenous stage and film actors.
As a member of the Archie Roach Foundation’s Council of Elders, Jack has taken his place as a Kadaitcha man — a traditional lawman — and works to help Indigenous prisoners see a better life beyond jail.
Pat is a former prison officer who, during her 12 years of service at Pentridge, worked in all its divisions. Her book, Screw; Observations and Revelations of a Prison Officer, details her career at Pentridge.
Peter Norden is an adjunct professor at RMIT, and former Catholic chaplain at Pentridge. In 2009, Peter left the priesthood and the church. After decades of service, he no longer identified with the institutional Catholic Church.
He was a vocal critic of the prison system and a strong advocate for prison reform. He worked to expose the oppression that led to the 1987 Jika Jika fire that killed five prisoners, and was required to identify their bodies. Today, he continues his advocacy of criminal and social-justice reform.