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If Walls Could Talk: Remembering Pentridge


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.

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’ll be joined by former chaplain Peter Norden, former prison officer Pat Merlo and celebrated actor and former inmate Jack Charles. They’ll discuss criminal justice, collective history and the new development on the old site.


Jack Charles

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 an... Read more

Peter Norden

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 ... Read more

Hilary Harper

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, gardeni... Read more

Pat Merlo

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. On Christmas day, 1993, Pat watched three violent paedophiles enjoy a meal in K Division... Read more

Rupert Mann

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... Read more


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.