Trial Bay Gaol

Cardwell St, South West Rocks, New South Wales, Australia

Step back in time by exploring inside of walls of the ruins of one of Australia’s historic old gaols used to house German residents during World War I. Opened in 1886 after a long 13 years of construction, the gaol was originally opened to provide a ready convict labour supply to create the ill-fated breakwater jutting out into the sea near the gaol, which is now within the Arakoon National Park at South West Rocks. The project, designed to create a safe harbour for ships after a series of costly maritime disasters along the east coast, was a disaster from the beginning, proving no match for the wild weather. Construction of the breakwater was well behind schedule and the rocky wall never reached its full length. After completion, a hole was smashed in the middle of the breakwater by stormy seas.

During World War I, the gaol gained a new purpose: as an internment camp for German-born residents identified as potential traitors. Evidence remains today of the internees innovative approach to life on the inside from 1915-1918. The gaol became a mini-village for the internees, who set up a bakery, sausage making enterprise, built a full-sized tennis court and pursued artistic pursuits such as painting and acting. Plays would regularly be produced inside the gaol, while residents surrounding the gaol would bring the internees flour to be turned into bread for them at a price. It all came to a fiery end when a decision was made to discontinue use of the gaol before the end of World War I and relocate the internees to another facility. The guards simply set fire to the gaol in an act that would devastate the internees, who had spent years building the gaol into a home away from home.

Today, visitors can gain a sense of what it was like to be on the inside of the gaol overlooking the stunning seaside scenery of the South West Rocks coastline. Visitors can step inside the silent cell block, see the remains of the outdoor baths and internment hospital remains, step inside cells used by the prisoners and later internees, view photographs and read the stories of the internees and watch a video on the history of the gaol in the small museum.

Key information: