Lonely Planet review
With its foreboding 5m-high walls enclosing a nearly 6-hectare site, the old convict-era prison still dominates present-day Fremantle, with its tales of adventure and hardship living on in the city's imagination. In 2010 its cultural status was recognised, along with that of 10 other penal buildings, as part of the Australian Convict Sites entry on the Unesco World Heritage list.
The first convicts were made to build their own prison, constructing it from beautiful pale limestone dug out of the hill on which it was built. From 1855 to 1991, 350,000 people were incarcerated here, although the highest numbers held at any one time were 1200 men and 58 women. Of those, 43 men and one woman were executed on site, the last of which was serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke in 1964.
Entry to the gatehouse, including the Prison Gallery, gift shop (where you can purchase fetching arrow-printed prisoner PJs) and Convict Cafe is free. To enter the prison proper, you'll need to take a tour. During the day there are two fascinating 1¼-hour tours on offer, timed so that you can take one after the other on a combined ticket (single tour adult/child $19/10, combined adult/child $26/17), although you can return for the second tour anytime in the next fortnight.
The Doing Time Tour (departs every 30 minutes, first 10am, last 5pm) takes in the kitchens, men's cells (the original 2.1m by 1.2m convict cells are smaller than modern toilets), the black-as-hell solitary-confinement cells (the longest anyone did here was six months on bread and water), the exercise areas, the whipping post (people could be sentenced to up to 100 lashes of the cat o' nine tails, although most would die after 30), the gallows, an interesting display on the 1988 riot, and the big, light-filled chapel (daily attendance was compulsory).
The Great Escapes Tour (departs every hour, first 11.45am, last 4.45pm) introduces you to famous inmates such as bushranger and famed escape artist Moondyne Joe and bank robber Brenden Abbott, who escaped in a prison guard's uniform. It also takes in the women's prison and the rifle range.
Bookings are required for the two more intense experiences on offer. Torchlight Tours (90 minutes, adult/child $25/21, Wednesday and Friday evenings) are designed to chill, focusing on the creepy and unpleasant aspects of the prison's history. The 2½-hour Tunnels Tour (adult/child over 12yr $60/40) takes you 20m underground to tunnels built by prisoners sentenced to hard labour. You'll be kitted out in overalls and hardhats with headlamps for the descent, which includes an underground boat ride. Children must be 12 years or older for the Tunnels Tour.