It’s a riot!

• Assistant curator Eleanor Lambert with toilet buckets which were a central part of every prisoner’s day. Photo by Steve Grant.

THEY threw gruel at the guards.

It sounds almost like a Laurel and Hardy comedy, but for the perpetrators of the 1902 Kitchen Riot at Fremantle Prison the consequences of their 15-minute gruel-fuelled rebellion were anything but a joke.

Eight of the ringleaders were clapped in irons for a month, which also meant hard labour and potentially a trip to the prison hospital, as the heavy shackles were known to cause severe pain, lesions and skin ruptures.

The Kitchen Riot is one of a number of violent incidents at the prison featured in its latest exhibition Protest and Unrest.

Assistant curator Eleanor Lambert said the previous exhibition had been about the transportation of convicts, so they wanted something that had a more modern flavour.

“The 1988 riot lives on in people’s minds, but we also wanted to let people know that there were more,” Ms Lambert said.

Like the Kitchen Riot which was over unpalatable food, the 1988 riot was fuelled by conditions within the prison; it was overcrowded and the summer was unusually hot, so the prisoners torched half the building and took five prison officers hostage.

Ms Lambert said it was challenging curating that section of the exhibition because so many participants in the 1988 riot were still alive but had vastly different recollections of the incident.

So where possible they’ve let people tell their own stories, through video footage and oral histories.

“It’s not just the prisoners either, it’s also the administration and the prison officers,” she said.

Ms Lambert said while putting the exhibition together they came across two small wooden boxes which had been used for electro-shock therapy from the late 19th century, but as they researched them discovered some uncomfortable facts.

“During the course of the exhibition we started to find the darker side of their history, when we found they were using it as a form of punishment, not just for medical treatment,” she said.


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