Visiting Trial Bay Gaol inside the Arakoon National Park at South West Rocks
If you’re driving along the new Pacific Highway through the Macleay Valley, you might enjoy taking a short 25km detour off the highway to the stunning seaside town of South West Rock.
The town was once home for prisoners in the late 1800s and then German interns during World War 1. After 13 years of construction, the Trial Bay Gaol was opened in 1886. During World War I the jail became an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers.
Prison labour was used to construct the breakwater located at nearby Laggers Point. The breakwater was constructed to provide a safe harbour for wind powered ships that were travelling along the New South Wales coast. But it was destroyed by a storm. Construction work was abandoned in 1903.
After World War I a caretaker was installed and the gaol was stripped of all materials in 1922. Trial Bay Gaol was added to the NSW State Heritage Register on 14th May 2010.
When you visit the gaol, you’ll see where the kitchen was housed, along with the bakehouse, showers, cells, hospital and prison guard watch tower. The guard’s tower is located at the northern end of the gaol. Make sure you climb to the top — you’ll be surprised by the amazing view of South West Rocks.
The NSW National Parks And Wildlife Service operates the Trial Bay Gaol. Signage inside the gaol allows self-guided tours of the facility. The gaol is open from 9am to 4:30pm daily — except Christmas Day. When we visited adult admission was $11, concession $8, family $30 (2 adults and 2 children).
When you first arrive at the gaol, turn right as you walk through the gates, and watch the short introductory documentary. The film was recorded in about 1997 and is presented by the late Mike Hayes. He was a former ABC broadcaster, documentary maker, Sydney Morning Herald writer and musician.
After working for the ABC in Darwin and Canberra, Mike moved to Deep Creek near Kempsey and was writing a column called ‘Prickle Farm.’ He died only days short of his 59th birthday in 2003.
Trial Bay Gaol is located about 5km south of township of South West Rocks. You’ll enjoy visiting the old gaol — you might even spot a kangaroo inside the facility.