Vigil to mark Australia's last execution

Megan Neil

Silence will mark the moment Ronald Ryan became the last person to be executed in Australia 50 years ago.

Former Pentridge Prison chaplain Peter Norden says Friday's silent vigil at the Melbourne site will contrast with the noisy protests that surrounded the hanging on February 3, 1967.

Speeches would detract from the solemnity of the occasion, the capital punishment opponent said.

"I think the powerful statement of having those people standing in silence is a strong communication tool and it stands in contrast to the angry, noisy mob that gathered on the night before and at the time of the execution 50 years ago," Mr Norden told AAP.

Mr Norden was 17 when Ryan was hanged for the murder of prison officer George Hodson during his escape, with another prisoner Peter John Walker, from Pentridge in December 1965.

The former Jesuit priest, the 1985-1992 Pentridge chaplain, conducted a service outside the old prison site a decade ago on the 40th anniversary of the execution.

Ryan's remains were exhumed in 2007 from an unmarked grave at Pentridge, which closed a decade earlier, and laid to rest beside his former wife at Portland cemetery in Victoria's south west.

Mr Norden conducted a private funeral service to provide finality for Ryan's three daughters, who want privacy for the 50th anniversary.

Author Dr Mike Richards, who will speak after a Victorian Supreme Court re-enactment of the Ryan trial on Friday, said he could understand the family's wishes.

"The approach of a 50th anniversary observance of the execution brings it all back for them in a way that is obviously a time of anguish and it's very unwelcome for them," he said.

He said it was also a tough time for Mr Hodson's only child.

"She's opposed to capital punishment but her principal concern through all of this is that it's acknowledged and understood and not disputed that Ryan was guilty," Dr Richards said.

Mr Norden, an adjunct professor at RMIT University and member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, said Ryan's execution divided the community at the time.

Despite widespread protests, then Victorian premier Sir Henry Bolte refused to commute Ryan's mandatory death sentence for murder.

The death penalty no longer exists in Australia but Mr Norden said Australia still has a responsibility to continue to contribute to the movement for its abolition throughout the world.

Friday events: Silent vigil 7.30am-8.15am at Old Pentridge Prison site, Champ Street, Coburg; Victorian Supreme Court re-enactment of parts of Ryan's trial from 4.30pm.