It was the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm who proclaimed that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Pigs are similarly the object of resentment in under-the-mattress graffiti in Cell #26 of this former prison.
The poem began burnt into the wood:
Pigs CAN’T FLY
and continued in blue pen:
BUT THEY CAN DIE
NEXT FINE DAY
BLOW A Pig away
IF YOU KILL A Pig a day
it WILL Keep the doctor away
Nowhere more clearly did we find articulated the smoldering frustration of incarceration, channeled into the kind of blind hatred that negates any opportunity for insight.
Elsewhere was a mixture of light and shade. In the kitchen the relative gentleness of a rainbow framing the extractor fan was juxtaposed with murals depicting fearsome hyper-masculine muscularity. No such diverting decor was provided for prisoners in solitary confinement, who were required to surrender their tobacco products and were issued with fresh water, a chamber pot, one mattress, one pillow, one pillow slip, one sheet, and blankets or duvet “in accordance with climactic conditions”. How some of them obtained implements sharp enough to partially chisel their gang names and insignia into the stone walls and into the paint of their cell bars and doors is anyone’s guess.
Puzzling at what we had experienced, and all the more aware of our own freedom of movement and expression, we walked for ninety minutes back down the road through pine forests to where we’d parked our car.
From the window of #55, an informed eye studies the moody skies above the central courtyard. Glenn’s 1972 Christmas present – The World Encyclopedia of the Film – languishes in #11, its front cover torn off but not yet discarded. #18 plays host to a brown crayoned face, mouth agape as if inviting the throwing of ping pong balls at a fairground amusement. In another piece of art nearby, a grey-bearded pig farmer and an athletic woman carrying groceries seem to be missing an opportunity to converse at the fence line. Monied wanderlust is palpable in #16, where a shrine to cars, boats and exotic getaways gleams under fluorescent light. Outside Sunday church services advertise the promise of personal transformation via belief in a higher power, while inside #37 another route to growth is being chosen. The number of 5 – denoting maximum difficulty – is written into every column associated with expressing affection towards anyone from an intimate partner to a shop assistant.
Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level.
From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Maori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe.
The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet of vandalism. A 360 degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach.
Another victim of the earthquakes, this historic wartime island was once used as a quarantine station, Maori fortification and a defence against Russian attacks.
On arrival and after a short swim across to the island we navigated our way up the steep barbed wire bank. Once inside the fort we were met by a beautifully designed historic fort which included a labyrinth of tunnels with torpedo and mine stores. The two disappearing guns on the fort were completed in 1895 and were never actually used to fire a shot in their years as part of the island fortification.
We hope they can restore this unique part of New Zealand’s history once again for visitors to appreciate it.
The information I had surrounding this location sounded almost mythological, an abandoned North Korean prison movie set in Queenstown?
Since access to the mountain had been closed for the last five years, I had to go in the hard way, straight up the sheer face of the mountain! A few cuts and bruises later navigating dense bush, deer and goat I finally reached the top.
What greeted me felt so out of place, an old North Korean prison surrounding by beautiful Queenstown scenery, Awesome!