Jail's chilling past is restored

Kate Emery
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Jail's chilling past is restored

Walk into Fremantle Prison's gallows and it is difficult to avoid staring at the noose hanging above the gaping trapdoor.

In this room 44 people died, including Martha Rendell for poisoning her stepchildren with acid and Eric Edgar Cooke, who terrorised Perth in the 1960s with a string of suspected murders but was hanged for just one.

The room was given its first major modern restoration over the past year with an out-of-place skylight removed, the roof fixed, paint removed and the walls given an old-fashioned limewash that better protects the thick limestone.

Visitors are greeted by much the same sight as at the last execution there - Cooke's in 1964.

That, says prison heritage conservation manager Luke Donegan, is precisely the point.

"It's a perfectly preserved place of death, a completely functional space," he said. "In terms of cultural value, it's one of the most important places in the prison."

David Campbell, chief warden when Cooke was executed, said entering the room in 2013 was surreal and exactly how it was for the execution.

Now a supervisor at the prison, Mr Campbell said he was so passionate and full of stories it made guiding tours difficult. "I'm hopeless at doing a tour because we have time limits," he said.

"They find out I was the warden and the questions start firing." Work was also done on the refractory, where death-row prisoners were held.