Challenging Uncomfortableness: The adaptive reuse of Bendigo Gaol into Ulumbarra Theater and School

Waled Shehata*, Craig Ashley Langston, Marja Sarvimaki, Jim Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article discusses the adaptive reuse of buildings associated with uncomfortable memories that have been turned into places for the general public to enjoy. It can be argued that the transformation of Australian heritage gaols into museums makes economic, cultural, and social sense, given the increasing rate of interest in dark tourism and the willingness of contemporary Australians and international tourists to understand the continent’s carceral history. However, the adaptive reuse of some gaols into places that provide multiple forms of art, culture, and education is a recent phenomenon that is under-studied. Bendigo Gaol, which was recently adapted into Ulumbarra Theater in addition to being partially occupied by a high school, retains many elements of the uncomfortable architectural features of the gaol. This paper investigates the factors mentioned in the literature that negotiate the uncomfortable past for its new functional purpose. Discussion of these factors provides clarity for decision-makers on how to maximize the full potential of conversion, while simultaneously commemorating the history of the site. This research concludes that reusing Bendigo Gaol to an art-and-education building was a collective decision and, despite being successful, appears to have not been sensitive to its uncomfortable history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-133
Number of pages25
JournalHeritage and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2023


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