Australia

Returning to Pentridge

Returning to Pentridge

It rises high in the sky, just as I remember it. In fact, most Victorians would recognise it’s façade. The blue stone competes with the blue sky, and dominates. My husband and I find our way to the reception of The Interlude Hotel. We are going to enjoy a night in the plush surrounds of this unique, amazing accommodation. You might know it by its other name… Pentridge Prison.

My anticipation is a mixture of history (both mine and the building’s) and the reinvention of a space. Have they managed to incorporate luxury into something which, in its pure identity, was the antithesis?

This place closed as a working prison in 1995. Unlike many who I hope will go to enjoy this unique experience, I liken it to an old slipper finally found and slipped on. I called the prison system home most of my life. Dad was a prison officer, and so my family lived inside prison grounds between 1956 to 1980. Prisons that were and still are dotted around Victoria. He was stationed at Pentridge in the 1960’s and then returned in the 1980’s as Governor of the now infamous Jika Jika precinct.

My memories are very clear of the building in the 1960’s, including the Ronald Ryan period. The building itself impressive. Dad, as handsome as ever, would come out at the end of his shift as he started it. Spotless, full uniform, silver braid on cap and silver buttons. Shining symbols of seniority. I understand he was considered hard but fair.

I ponder on the name they chose for this Hotel; its definition means “a space in time”.  Once upon a time this definition spelt misery, cruelty and despair for many.

We enter the building from the side where H division once stood. When we arrive we are greeted with a glass of champagne (not sure Ned Kelly got this when he arrived) and are ushered to a casual seating area now occupying what was B Division. An extraordinary indoor pool glistens below us within the original spaces (not sure Chopper ever had a dip in this).

Our room for the night is made up of three combined cells, retaining many of the original features. Bars on the windows and the three heavy iron doors reminds us of where we are. The luxurious bedding and beautiful amenities, however, transforms this into an indulgent area. A complete metamorphosis. Yes, the bluestone adds a moody reflection. I look up to the windows They are the same ones where thousands of prisoners would have looked out to the blue sky of the free world, their only luxury.

The other areas of B division, especially the wine bar, are so cleverly incorporated into the cells. It provides an intimate area for a drink or a unique catchup for groups sanctioned off amongst the bluestones.

History isn’t ignored here. It is a reminder of our very origins as a country, founded on the very premise of what this building stood for…punishment. It is one of the few remaining examples of the “panopticon” style of a disciplinary penal concept. There are only eight left in the world. Designed to separate and be always seen by warders.

These buildings are difficult places to re-invent. Both costly and tricky to entice the greater public to embrace a space where there was so much misery and despair. Prisons are always going to be a contested conversation. Everyone is entitled to their own personal thoughts.  These prisons are  dotted around the country. Some of course still working prisons and others left standing as sentinel to a harsher time lost.

The Interlude did not disappoint. Staying true to its name, it is a beautiful space that offers guests respite. A new ‘system’ offering connection and peace instead of separation and silence. This is the biggest change of all.

Get there

Pentridge Prison is in the northern suburb of Coburg, in Melbourne.

 

Stay there

For more information, or to stay, check out The Interlude Hotel.

Stays are from around $450 per night.

Get Informed

Jika Jika (also known as Billi-Billeri) was an influential ngurungaeta (leader) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan. Jika Jika was used to refer the parish area on the eastern bank of the Moonee Ponds Creek.

Words Kerryn McGlone

Tags: melbourne, pentridge, prison stay

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