About 20 minutes south of Perth CBD is the fabulous city of Fremantle. Home to Western Australia’s largest collection of heritage listed buildings, “Freo” (yes like the Dockers) is named after Charles Fremantle, a British naval officer who took formal possession of the mouth of the Swan River in the name of King George in 1829. Almost 186 years later, Fremantle is fresh, bustling, artsy, historical, and home to the Fremantle Prison.
Fremantle Prison (image via One Perth)
The prison was opened in 1855 to house convicts sent to Australia from England, and it was still operational (for maximum security prisoners no less!) until 1991. It was ultimately closed following two massive prisoner riots – the fact that the Fremantle Prison was the last prison in the developed world that still used the bucket system probably didnt help with prisoner unrest.
The sorry aftermath of the 1988 Fremantle Prison riot (image via Wikipedia)
You’re probably wondering where the tunnels come into play. Your patience is going to pay off. 🙂 Beneath the prison grounds is a large network of tunnels built by the prisoners beginning in 1852. Now you’re probably wondering if the prisoner-built tunnel system was built for the purposes of escape, but actually these tunnels were dug to create a fresh water supply for first just the prison, but was ultimately utilized for the entire town of Fremantle.
The tunnels are now part of the Fremantle Prison Tunnels Tour for those individuals older than 12, in fairly good physical condition, and it is not for those with any semblance of claustrophobia or fear of heights. Case in point:
The shaft we climbed down to access the tunnels – yikes! You’re strapped in though.
I don’t know who these peeps are – we weren’t allowed to bring anything down the tunnels with us so no pictures of us actually in the tunnels – but it gives you an idea of how tight the tunnels are! (image via VisitFremantle.com.au)
You also get to wear some pretty sweet gear:
Proof we actually did the tour
Once you have descended into the depths of the tunnels, your guide (the two we had were so great!) explains the history of the tunnels, how they were built and for what purpose – I can’t imagine how the prisoners spent 15+ hours down there each and every day.
One of our favorite parts was when we approached the deeper portions of the tunnel, where the water was very deep: pairs of us lumbered into these teeny canoes to continue to paddle through the tunnel network. At the end boating portion, the guide stopped the group and asked everyone to turn off their headlamps to “see” what it is actually like to experience complete and utter darkness – the term “light at the end of the tunnel” has never meant more to me.
If you ever find yourself in Fremantle, I can’t recommend the Fremantle Prison Tunnel Tour enough! It’s an incredibly unique experience. If tight tunnels and heights aren’t your thing (or you’re with a younger group), the prison offers some other tours that may be up your alley. Until next time…