According to local history, Ronald Ryan performed in a jailhouse play with other Bendigo Jail inmates housed inside the imposing prison walls more than 50 years ago.
In a play called The Valiant, Ryan is said to have played the role of a prison warden who led a condemned man to the gallows.
Ryan, the last man to be hanged in Victoria by the state, was also a keen student while in the goldfields jail. During his stint at Bendigo on a robbery sentence he was considered a "model prisoner".
A few years later Mark "Chopper" Read, another of Victoria's most notorious criminals, spent time in the jail's Marong wing, reputedly in cell number 23.
Today, cell 23 is just a few metres away from four adjoining cells in the former jail that are now undergoing a transformation. They will become the box office for Bendigo's new Ulumbarra Theatre, the culmination of a $28-million project to convert an old goldfields jail into a stunning modern theatre that will seat almost 1000 guests.
The cloakroom is housed in an old cell nearby. When they drop off their coats, and pick up their tickets, theatregoers will see the thick metals bars on the windows.
And if they look up while queuing for a ticket, they will spot the gallows trapdoor through which three men plummeted with a rope around their neck in the late 1800s, after they were sentenced to death.
The redevelopment of the jail, which was built between 1859 and 1864 and decommissioned in 2006, is considered a unique and trailblazing project. The team behind it say a disused Australian jail has never been converted into a theatre before.
"This is a project that I believe is of national significance," says Stan Liacos, co-director of the project and a director at the City of Greater Bendigo.
"It is the realisation of a long-held civic dream in Bendigo. We've long wanted to develop a 1000-seat, A-grade theatre for arts, entertainment and conferences," he says.
"A 1000-seat theatre in itself is not that special or unique, but what makes this special is that we have cleverly and creatively adapted a former historic jail. We don't know of any other comparable developments," he says.
As he speaks to The Age during a tour of the redevelopment, a building site cacophony dominated by electric saws, drills, alarms, blower vacs and earthmoving equipment rings out.
Matt Dwyer, director of Y2 Architecture and the project's principal architect, says the redevelopment is "probably the first worldwide" to transform an old jail into a theatre.
"It has been a successful adaptation of a redundant-type facility. Jails are very difficult, of course, to modify in any way. So I think it's been successful in terms of paying homage to the existing heritage architecture. We've used the best components of it and we've celebrated it," he says.
"There's a really clear delineation between the old and the new, and then there are moments throughout the site that patrons will happen across, or explore, whether it might be a view of a guard tower, or similar, that was never possible before," he says.
Dale Pearce, principal of the neighbouring Bendigo Senior Secondary College and a co-director of the project, says saving the landmark was important for the city. The school is a joint venture partner in the project and is able to use all of its facilities.
"It was important, I think, to find a civic use for the facility, because it's been decommissioned as a jail for around 10 years. And there was a great risk that it would fall into disrepair, that we wouldn't find a public use for it," he says.
A gala opening was held at the theatre on Friday night. A staggering 170 bookings have been made for the theatre in its first 12 months.