From uncomfortable to comfortable: the adaptive reuse of Australian gaols

Waled Shehata, Craig Ashley Langston, Marja Sarvimaki

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Penal colonies form an important historic cornerstone in colonial Australia, and therefore are considered part of Australia’s widely debated uncomfortable heritage. Over time, many incarceration facilities around Australia have become functionally obsolete and were decommissioned. In the last few decades, many of those decommissioned Australian gaols listed as heritage buildings have undergone adaptive reuse. They have been transformed from uncomfortable and shameful memories to community spaces or tourist attractions. Most of these gaols were adapted to museums that celebrate the dark history of the site, while in a few cases, preserved gaols were integrated with mixed-use and residential developments, reused as boutique hotels, event venues, theatres, or art schools. The aim in this paper is to critically discuss the underlying rationale for transforming heritage-listed Australian gaols, as representatives of ‘uncomfortableness’, to house contemporary functions for the public to use and embrace. How do such buildings that remind us of our shameful past find their place in contemporary society? Discussion of the literature relates to dark tourism both internationally and in Australia, such as ‘time’ as a strategy for forgetting, selective remembrance of a site’s negative memories, economic viability of reusing dark heritage for tourism, and the rarity value of historic buildings. Issues behind the unusual adaptations of ‘castles of shame’ into places of contemporary democratic society are identified, discussed and supported by actual examples.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2018
EventThe International Heritage and Cultural Conservation Conference - Waterfront Hotel, Kuching, Malaysia
Duration: 3 Dec 20185 Dec 2018 (InHERIT 2018 website) (InHERIT 2018 Programme)


ConferenceThe International Heritage and Cultural Conservation Conference
Abbreviated titleInHerit 2018
OtherInHerit 2018 offers a collaborative environment to academicians, researchers and practitioners to discuss an academic discourse in relation to cultural heritage conservation and its contributions towards sustainability. The conference also provide a platform for the intellectuals from various fields and disciplines in those topics to share experiences and promote better practice in conserving the cultural heritage.
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