SITTING in the centre of Bendigo is a place all residents know, but not many have visited.
That will change when the old Bendigo Gaol opens to the public for one day only – on March 24 – before its redevelopment into a community theatre begins in April.
The prison opened in the 1860s, next to what is now Bendigo Secondary Senior College, and was decommissioned in 2006.
It was built in the Pentonville style and has housed many famous inmates throughout its history, including the last man to be hanged in Australia, Ronald Ryan, and Mark “Chopper” Read.
The prison was also the scene of a dramatic siege in 1987, when John Dixon Jenkins took six education staff and three prisoners hostage.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said the prison’s proximity to the school was a strange juxtaposition.
“It certainly is an unusual combination,” he said.
“Especially now, most prisons are built way out of cities, but this is right in the centre.”
City of Greater Bendigo acting chief executive officer Stan Liacos said its central location made the jail a fascinating landmark for most Bendigo residents.
“It’s got a certain mystique about it,” he said.
“People see it from a distance and wonder what is inside.”
Mr Liacos said it was probably the first time the prison had been open to the public.
Visitors will be able to visit most of the buildings, including the chapel ruins, the gallows and some of the cells, from 10am to 2pm on the open day.
Representatives from Y2 Architecture, Bendigo Senior Secondary College, The Capital and the Bendigo Historical Society will also hold four presentations hourly.
Mr Pearce said he expected thousands of interested people to come through the gates.
“I suspect while the former inmates of the jail couldn’t wait to get out of the building, there will be many members of the public who would relish the opportunity to go inside and have a good look at this important part of Bendigo’s history,” he said.