Postcard from Fremantle

31 Mar

Two words of advice: Always volunteer.

OK, maybe not in every situation–really, now that I think about it, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t want to volunteer, so let me qualify that: If you’re a tourist on a guided tour, and the tour guide asks for volunteers, do it.

That’s how I happened to get flogged while visiting Fremantle Prison.

My friend Connie took me to Freo on one of my off-days before the WFTDA Perth Officiating Clinic so we could go on a couple of the prison tours–the general Doing Time tour and Great Escapes, which focuses on the clever folks who tried their best to get out.

Fremantle Prison, when you really get to thinking about it, is a mind-blowing place. Unlike other Australian settlements, Fremantle itself wasn’t a convict town, but eventually the British started sending prisoners there. The prisoners even had to build their own prison, which they did in the 1850s. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991. During its existence, the original cell plan never got upgraded–i.e.–cells never had toilets. In the 1990s. Wrap your head around that one. Prisoners got two buckets: one with drinking water and one for personal waste. Heaven forbid you mix them up.

Anyway, during our tour, we stopped at the flogging station (or whatever the technical term for this was). Our enthusiastic tour guide (quick aside, but both of the tour guides we had were really informative and entertaining. If you like doing tours, go for the talent alone) asked for volunteers, and of course, I said yes. The last time I volunteered on a tour, I was at the Jameson Distillery and volunteering meant I got to taste a bunch of extra whisky.

Not so at Fremantle (had they had samples of some of the prisoner-made booze, I probably would’ve thought twice about my always-volunteer philosophy). Volunteers on this tour got to demonstrate prisoner punishment. So I was the brave prisoner who stepped up to endure the punishment, which was a set number of lashings, which my friend lightly “administered” (i.e.–barely touched me with the flogging whip).

The best part about being a volunteer is that you’re the unknown element for the tour guide. They’re in control of the tour–but not of what the volunteer does in the volunteer moment. As a volunteer, I know my job is to keep the show going in as entertaining a way as possible, so I committed to my role of punished prisoner and dutifully screamed with every tap of the whip and hung limply off the rack, to the delight of our tour guide.

But the flogging was only the first part. Prisoners have to come down off of the rack at some point, so I channeled what that would be like, which to me was basically collapsing down onto the ground like this:

To which, the tour guide responded (and these are the words you always want to hear), “No one’s ever done that on the tour before.”

I’ll admit I didn’t give a perfect performance. Our guide went on to explain the details of punishment by flogging. While a prisoner was getting the lashes, someone from the prison would monitor their condition and stop the process if it was getting too out of hand. So if you were sentenced to 97 lashes and you were nearing unconsciousness after 17, they’d take you down, clean you up and send you to the hospital part of the prison to heal.

Sounds OK in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, no. You still have 80 lashes left on your sentence, so when you’ve healed enough, they haul you back to the rig for more flogging. And the process repeats for as long as it takes to get through your sentence.

At that, I popped up and said, “You’re kidding me, right?!” (hopefully without swearing). Sure, it broke character, but I was truly dumbfounded–both at prison punishment and the notion of why anyone would commit a crime that would involve a prison sentence when this punishment–along with other horrible everyday occurrences–was a distinct possibility.

After that moment, my job was pretty much over. I hope my efforts were useful for the others on the tour. It was nice to know I raised the bar for other tour groups (our guide said the afternoon group was really going to have to step it up), but ultimately doing this also helped me remember the tour a bit better, and this was definitely an experience I want to remember.

5 Responses to “Postcard from Fremantle”

  1. Connie March 31, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

    As the local on those tours with you I learned so much more about my own home town. I’m looking forward to you writing about our Freo/Boston connection too.
    Would you believe I volunteered on the Jameson tour also? To be honest, I enjoyed flogging someone more than sampling Irish whiskey…


  2. DavID Payne July 18, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    Originally I only looked at your left wrist and thought you were actually tied to the triangle, which seemed unnecessary. Now I realise that was your watch band, but that raises another point.

    If the whip damaged an expensive watch I guess you’d be upset. But since you volunteered and didn’t remove your watch, maybe you wouldn’t be compensated. Or would the Western Australian government want to avoid an international incident. That would be discriminatory so they’d have to do the same for everyone. Did you have to sign a disclaimer?


    • Jill July 20, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

      No, the other person just barely swung the birch–mainly pantomimed it for demonstrative effect. I didn’t think I (or my watch) was in danger at any time. 🙂


  3. DavID Payne July 18, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    Jill, do you feel that someone who didn’t faint should be whipped more than someone who did? Also, an unconscious person won’t feel any strokes so I expect that was a reason for stopping if they fainted. But again, should a tougher person be punished worse?


    • Jill July 20, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

      Good question. The tour didn’t really get into the detailed guidelines of whipping prisoners and how to determine whether or not a flogging needed to be paused. This interesting website tracks corporal punishment and has a picture of a kidney protector that was put on for back floggings–so I guess there was some concern about looks/one’s constitution being deceiving.


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