Pentridge: Voices From The Other Side - A Photo Essay
 

The Subjects

For many of the interviewees, the journey they made into the prison, to be photographed as part of this book, was the first time they had returned to Pentridge since being released or retiring up to 60 years before. 

The subjects are shown here in the order they appear in the book.

 
 
Brian Morley D Division. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png

brian morley

Brian Morley spent less than three hours in Pentridge. Those hours had a profound and lasting effect on him. As a young reporter and news editor in 1967, he was given a big story to cover — Ronald Ryan’s hanging. Brian was excited to be one of eleven witnesses who would stand before the gallows in D Division, and watch as the execution was carried out a few feet away.

On 3 February 1967, Brian stood before those gallows as Ryan was guided out of the condemned cell to the trapdoor. A hood was lowered over his face, a noose put around his neck, and the hangman threw open the trap. The wooden doors crashed back against their iron stops, and Brian was left with a deep trauma. He says it will be with him until the end.

Brian has campaigned against capital punishment since the moment he left Pentridge in 1967. He continues to argue that it’s a futile and barbaric act, and hopes to see it abolished globally.

He returned to D Division, as part of this book, for the first time since 1967.

 
Noel Tovey. Pentridge. D Division. By Rupert Mann.png

Noel TOvey

In 1951, at age 17, Noel found himself in a Pentridge cell awaiting trial for the ‘Abominable act of buggery’, having been arrested at the home of female impersonator Max Du Barry. As a boy, Noel sold newspapers, and his body, on the city’s dark streets. With spare pennies, he would sit in grand picture palaces, and watch the glistening silver screen. He saw the handsome stars, and wanted to be in their shoes.

One evening at Pentridge, a guard casually unlocked Noel’s cell door, raped him, and left. Along with hope, his boyish dreams of the silver screen must have receded into the blackness. He lost himself in misery, and tried to end his life, but was pulled back from the brink by the voices of his ancestors, who promised a better life.

After 40 years, Noel returned to Australia in 1990, and began a reconciliation with his home and his past. Today, he is a recognised figure in the arts world and a Ngarrindjeri elder. His second autobiography And Then I Found Me, was published in 2017.

He returned to Pentridge, as part of this book, for the first time since being released. 

 
Billy Longley Main Gate 5. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png

billy longley

Billy Longley, also know as The Texan for his habit of carrying a six-shooter, was a hard-nosed survivor of the bloody Painters and Dockers war of the 1970s. He grew up in Depression-era Melbourne, and calls it the hardest time of his life.

In 1975, he was convicted of ordering the murder of a union official, and was sentenced to life. Pentridge was home for around a decade. He spent five years in H Division during one of its most bloody eras.

Billy would readily say there were things he’d have done differently, if he could. He often gave advice: ‘Don’t make a move without the numbers.’ ‘Always appreciate your mother.’ And, ‘Never trust an automatic.’

Billy died in Melbourne in 2014 and made his last trip to Pentridge as part of this book.

Pat Merlo B Division 16. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.jpg

 

Bob Scates

Bob is one of around ten young men who were imprisoned at Pentridge for refusing their call-up to the Australian Defence Force during the Vietnam War as conscientious objectors. Bob’s perspective on Pentridge was that of an outsider.

In April 1972, Bob Scates’ car was forced off the road by police, and he was arrested. Within days, he was in Pentridge Prison. There he stayed until the newly elected Whitlam government, in one of their first official acts, ordered the release of all draft resisters on 6 December 1972.

Prisoners like Bob shed outside light on the prison system at a time of international social reform. Pentridge was, until this time, almost exclusively home to those from a low-income background. In 1970 and 1971, draft resisters held in Bathurst, Long Bay, and Yatala jails publicly complained about abuses by prison staff. At Pentridge, the Jenkinson Inquiry into staff brutality was already underway.

Upon his release, Bob became an active member of the Labor Party, and ran for federal parliament in 2010.

Bob Scates D Yards. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png
 

jack charles

Jack was in and out of Pentridge, and other jails, most of his life. He spent his 20th, 30th, 40th, and 50th birthdays in jail. Under the Australian government’s forced-assimilation program, he was taken from his indigenous mother as a baby.

Along with Bob Maza, Jack was a co-founder of Australia’s first Indigenous theatre company, Nindethana, in 1972. He became a well-known performer, and, In those days, it was not uncommon for Jack to take a bow in some of the nation’s most prestigious theatres and then leave through the stage door looking for a bridge to sleep under.

After Bastardy, a biographical documentary about Jack, was released in 2008, he rediscovered family members, and is now a respected elder of the Boon Wurrung clan and one of Australia's foremost indigenous stage and film actors.

As a member of the Archie Roach Foundation’s Council of Elders, Jack has taken his place as a Kadaitcha man — a traditional lawman — and works to help indigenous prisoners see a better life beyond jail. 

 

Jack Charles, Pentridge Prison. Indigenous actor of stage and screen. By Rupert Mann
 

Sister clare mcshee

Sister Clare joined the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood in her native Britain at the age of seventeen. In the 1980s, she was involved with early-counselling programs for sex offenders at Pentridge. Many had committed appalling sex crimes against children.

Clare was a small, polite woman, calm and softly spoken, always generous with her laughter, grandmotherly, and the personification of English good-manners. It is a strange contrast to picture her working with the prison system’s most despised inmates, hearing their horrific stories.

Clare knew, that most of these men would one day be released, and that the only way to prevent further crimes was to give them the strength to stop themselves. For this reason, and because charity was her calling, Clare showed compassion and understanding to brutal rapists and violent paedophiles. She worked with faith to protect the children these men would meet after release.

Sister Clare died at Ladyell Convent in 2014. She made her last visit to Pentridge as part of this book.

Sister Clare McShee. Pentridge. Beside B Division. By Rupert Mann.png
Female Prisoner B Annexe Obso. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.jpg

 
 
 
Bob Gill Beside B Division. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png

bob gill

A former governor of D Division and one of the first officers to work in H Division in 1958, Bob is widely regarded by former staff and prisoners as being a fair and humane prison officer. He served during the Second World War in Borneo against the Japanese and in North Africa against the forces of Nazi general Erwin Rommel.

At the end of the war, Bob was involved with the liberation of Changi Prison, what he saw, gave him an understanding of human cruelty’s depth and how bad prisons could get if left unchecked.

Bob retired in 1980. As part of this book, he was willing to speak about Pentridge in a way that few former prison officers are. Where most of his former colleagues still man the prison’s towers, Bob spoke honestly about abuses and regrets.

Late in life, Bob would take long ocean voyages each year. In 2012, he fell ill in Guam, while on a cruise through Asia, and passed away soon after.

Bob made his last visit to Pentridge as part of this book.

 
Ray Mooney. Pentridge Prison, H Division. Playwright. By Rupert Mann.

Ray Mooney

Ray says some of the best and worst times of his life were spent in Pentridge during his seven-and-a-half-year sentence. Ray is the first prisoner in Australia to have begun and finished a tertiary degree while in prison. His first play, A Blue Freckle, was performed in Pentridge in 1975.

During his time in A Division, Ray met Christopher Dale Flannery, a man who had spent almost his entire life in state institutions. What Flannery said about his time in Morning Star Boy's Home and his graduation into H Division, had a great effect on Ray.

In 1973, Ray was sent to H Division for his involvement in a prisoner strike. There, he was routinely bashed by prison officers. After release, Ray premiered his seminal play, set in H Division, Everynight ... Everynight in 1977. In 1994, it became an award-winning film by Alkinos Tsilimidos, and is regarded as one of the great Australian prison films.

Today, Ray continues to write and teach in Melbourne. He is a loyal advocate for the men he met in Pentridge 40 years ago, and continues an important body of work challenging public ideas of prisons and prisoners. His ebook, The Ethics of Evil: Stories of H Division, was published in 2016.

 
Paul Kelly. Pentridge Prison. Musician. By Rupert Mann

Paul kelly

Paul Kelly performed in Pentridge in 1985, as part of a series of prison shows. Paul has provided his own lyrical account of life in this country, both past and present, for 40 years. His voice is a familiar companion to many, and his writing has created an invaluable portrait of Australia. Paul has written about prison life, and contributed music to the 1994 film, Everynight ... Everynight about H Division, based on the play by Ray Mooney. Paul has also provided some of the most powerful distillations of the disjointed and bloody nexus between Indigenous and European culture in Australia, including Treaty, written with Yothu Yindi, and This Land is Mine, with Kev Carmody. His 2011 memoir, How to Make Gravy, won the Prime Minister’s literary award.

Noel Tovey Boys' Yard 3. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.jpg

 

greg macainsh

Greg Macainsh is a pioneer of Australian song writing whose career had a far-reaching impact on Australian music. As the songwriter and bassist of The Skyhooks, Greg was one of the first to write about life in Melbourne rather than the usual New York or Paris — a one-night stand in Balwyn Calling, scoring dope in South Yarra in Toorak Cowboy, or the ‘spaced-out faces’ of students in Lygon Street, Carlton. Greg was writing a portrait of Melbourne 40 years before it became a UNESCO City of Literature. The Skyhooks performed twice at Pentridge in 1973, and again in 1975 in full glam-rock regalia.

Greg Macainsh Main Gate. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png
 

Pat merlo

Pat is a former prison officer who, during her 12 years of service at Pentridge, worked in all its divisions. Her strong sense of integrity and honesty led Pat to occasionally question the decisions of ranking staff. This was unacceptable within a culture of blind obedience amongst the guards. Because of this, Pat was regularly questioned by the Prison Investigation Unit during her career.

Because, as Pat says, ‘We are dealing with human beings whose natural environment is not a prison cell’, she is convinced that there isn’t a good solution to the problems of incarceration. 

On Christmas day, 1993, Pat watched three violent paedophiles enjoy a meal in K Division. Her mind wandered to the victims and their families. She imagined how the day was for them. Soon after, Pat resigned. She never returned to the prison until she agreed to be part of this book.

Pat's book Screw; Observations and Revelations of a Prison Officer, details her career at Pentridge.

Pat Merlo B Division 14. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.jpg
 

Female Prisoner

Of the five women I spoke to about their experiences as prisoners in the 1980s at Pentridge Prison’s female unit, B Annexe, one agreed to be part of this book, on the condition of anonymity.

B Annexe was established as a temporary women’s unit after a fire at Fairlea Women’s Prison in 1982. The women were moved into the heart of the state’s largest male prison, Pentridge.

Self-abuse and suicide attempts increased sharply due to the appalling conditions within the cold and rat-infested division, and the lack of activities or education services. During the five years this women’s unit existed, four prisoners committed suicide — the first four female suicides in the state’s penal history. 

The woman featured in this chapter was in for burglary, and served four or five years in and out of jail at both Pentridge and Fairlea. 

She hopes to be able to give a voice to this silent group of former Pentridge prisoners, as part of this book.

Female Prisoner B Annexe. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png
Noel Tovey. Pentridge Former Boys' Yard. By Rupert Mann.jpg

 
 
 
Muhammad al'Mahdi H Division. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png

Muhammad al'mahdi

Known in Melbourne during the 1980s as John Dixon-Jenkins and as ‘The Anti-Nuclear Warrior’, Brother Muhammad was a highly intelligent, American Vietnam War veteran. In 1984, he planted a series of fake bombs around Melbourne to draw attention to his ‘Struggle against the insane policies of the world’s governments which threaten the very survival of the human race’.

 Brother Muhammad ended up at Pentridge Prison’s High Security Unit, Jika Jika, in the lead-up to the 1987 fires. He called Jika Hell. In 1988, he was extradited from the U.S., and returned to Pentridge. Having studied world religions, it was during this second stint in H Division that, in the words of a fellow inmate, he, ‘literally overnight’, became a devout Muslim.

Upon release, he left Australia and travelled widely in the Islamic world before settling in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. There, he wanted to help bring about ‘A world society that is good and right in every way, which conforms to the ... beliefs and practices of traditional Islam’.

Brother Muhammad died in 2006, before the inception of this book. 

 
Peter Norden. Pentridge Prison. Former Chaplain. By Rupert Mann.

peter norden

Peter was Catholic chaplain at Pentridge for seven years after taking over from Father John Brosnan in 1985.  He would help young or inexperienced prisoners entering the system for the first time, administer last rites to suicide or murder victims, and look after the pastoral needs of the prisoners. The job was a balancing act because he needed the permission of prison officers to access the prison while working to improve conditions for prisoners.

He was a vocal critic of the prison system and a strong advocate for prison reform. He worked to expose the oppression that led to the 1987 Jika Jika fire that killed five prisoners, and was required to identify their bodies.

In 2009, Peter left the priesthood and the church. After decades of service, he no longer identified with the institutional Catholic Church.

Today, Peter continues his advocacy of criminal and social-justice reform.

 
Craig Minogue. Pentridge Prison. Glasses. By Rupert Mann.

craig minogue

Craig spent a decade in Pentridge at the end of its operational life. He received a long sentence for his involvement in the 1986 Russell Street bombing. In 1988, he murdered Alex Tsakmakis in H Division.

In 1987, Craig and nine other prisoners in Unit 4 of the new Jika Jika High Security Unit barricaded themselves into the day room and lit a fire in protest against conditions there. The airtight unit filled with smoke and its gadgetry was paralysed. Officers pulled five bodies out after taking to the mechanical doors with axes.

During the 1990s, Craig re-read transcripts from the Russell Street trial and did not like what he saw of himself. He began a critical self-examination. This grew into an academic career focussing on law and ethics in the justice system. In 2012, Craig became one of a few prisoners anywhere in the world to complete a PhD behind bars.

In 2016, the state parliament passed legislation making people convicted of killing police ineligible for parole. This effectively means that Craig is likely to remain in prison for life. 

Everything that went on at Pentridge can, and does, happen in modern prisons, asserts Craig.

Craig is the only subject of this book still in the prison system. 

Jack Charles B Division 10. Pentridge. By Rupert Mann.png