Gaol art generates heritage dollars

02. 21NEWS

Fremantle Society president Henty Farrar and MP Melissa Parke at Fremantle Prison with a mural by inmate artist Peter Cameron, who had invited murdered brothel madam Shirley Finn’s son Shane to work on it with him. Photo by Jeremy Dixon

FREMANTLE PRISON’S world heritage status has helped it pull in a big slice of this year’s national heritage grants.

The prison received three grants totalling $375,000 from the $4 million Your Community Heritage program. There is a separate fund of $4.4m, also available for historic sites.

The money will go towards conserving the prison’s exercise yard and walls, and a book documenting the murals and artworks around the precinct.

Taking a tour of artworks this week with new Fremantle Society president Henty Farrar, federal Labor MP Melissa Parke says the funding was a great achievement: “Particularly in this economic environment.”

Most of the prison’s art was created in its last years, with a large number of indigenous works reflecting both their high incarceration rate and its use as a rehabilitation tool.

Jimmy Pike, whose works are now worth tens of thousands of dollars, discovered his talent while doing time for murder. Peter Cameron, who also went on to national prominence as an artist, has a mural in one of the yards—completed with the help of Shane Finn, the son of murdered brothel madam Shirley.

The only example of early convict art that has survived are paintings that grace the walls of master forger James Walsh’s tiny cell. Hidden for almost a century, they were discovered only when a clumsy prison officer knocked off some whitewash while moving something.

There is still conjecture on whether Walsh was given permission to paint the walls, as the practice was frowned on by authorities, or whether he was able to cover them to keep them protected.

by STEVE GRANT

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