Dutton Park is an inner southern suburb of the City of Brisbane with a population of 2,024 people.
Development in the suburb was slow because of difficult terrain, and the fact that a large part of the area was surveyed for government reserves by H.C. Rawnsley in 1863. The South Brisbane cemetery was reserved in 1866 and is Brisbane’s oldest surviving municipal cemetery.
The name Dutton comes from Charles Boydell Dutton, the Queensland Minister for Lands from 1883 to 1887, who created the recreation reserve in 1884. This became known as ‘Dutton’s Park’, a name which was later applied to surrounding estates, a school (originally known as the “Jail School”)and a railway station before becoming the name of the suburb.
On 2 July 1883 the Boggo Road Gaol opened, firstly serving as a holding place for prisoners who were to be transported to St Helena Island and by 1989 had housed over 300 prisoners. In 1903 a separate structure was opened adjacent to the main prison to house the female prisoners. After a Queensland Government inquiry into the living conditions of the inmates the female section of the prison was closed in 1989 with the male section closing in 1992.
We started by walking around the parklands before going for a coffee. We then went to go and join a tour of the gaol.
We were fortunate that tours of the gaol had commenced again having been stopped due to Covid. We joined a tour (only 4 of us) and it was interesting seeing the inside of the goal. So glad I did not have to ‘live’ in the conditions these people did.
Our guide told us that Boggo Road Gaol was Queensland’s main jail from the 1880s to the 1980s, by which time it had become notorious for poor conditions and rioting. The gaol was originally designed to cater for 40 male prisoners serving as a holding place for prisoners heading to St Helena Island in Moreton Bay. By 1989 there were 187 male prisoners. Protests at the gaol during the 1970s saw inmates undertake hunger strikes, roof-top protests, and rioting over the poor conditions and treatment. The prison was constantly in the headlines and became notorious around Australia. Cells in the No. 2 prison did not have any form of sanitation, and facilities for washing were lacking. Prisoners were required to use a bucket through the evening for toilet breaks and empty it, or ‘slop out’, in the morning. Our guide pointed out the ‘rim’ added on the inside of the bucket – an invention to prevent the prisoners having the heads shoved inside the bucket..
Slim Halliday – Glenda enjoyed the story about Slim Halliday and marvelled at what he might have achieved if he was able to use his mind for good. For decades “Slim” Halliday was regarded as a public enemy, a dangerous and difficult prisoner, who could not be underestimated. The only man to ever escape No.2 Division twice, Halliday’s escapes in January 1940 and December 1946 caught his jailers unawares and deeply embarrassed prison officials – something they did not forgive or forget.
Nicknamed “Slim” on account of his tall, thin frame, 29 years-old Brisbane-born Arthur Ernest Halliday already had criminal history as a housebreaker in New South Wales before moving north to Queensland to try his luck. In February 1939 however Halliday was convicted and sentenced to five years hard labour for break and entering. Halliday did not take well to being jailed.
From late 1939, Halliday methodically tried to escape. His first attempt with another prisoner in an adjoining cell was unsuccessful. Next Halliday was caught using a hand drill on the door of his cell to drive out the rivets that held the bolt. Though sentenced to additional time, undeterred, he tried again.
January 1940 – Mid-afternoon on Sunday 28th January 1940 wily Halliday slipped out of line while under escort, scaled a yard wall, timber fence and broke into the prison workshops to retrieve his escape kit – a grappling hook made of two wooden hammock sticks and a 30 feet (10 metre) long rope of plaited coir – doubled and knotted every 18 inches (45 centimetres) to create footholds. It had taken months to create.
Halliday had identified a perfect “blind spot” – an unpatrolled section of wall at the rear of No. 2 Division near the workshops which could not be seen from the towers. Halliday worked the grappling hook into a corner of the perimeter wall and pulled himself up and over to freedom.
It was not until 4.10 pm Halliday was discovered missing during the routine muster of prisoners. By that time Halliday was far away.
Halliday was recaptured a week later after a state-wide manhunt which ended in a sensational chase in which he toyed with police in a stolen car. Asked why he escaped, Slim replied: “I was sick of the bloody place!” He was sentenced to an additional nine months imprisonment cumulative on the sentences imposed for his attempts to breakout the previous year.
Halliday’s ongoing testing of prison security earned him the title of the “Houdini of Boggo Road” after Harry Houdini, the world-famous escape artist. The section of wall Halliday went over became known as “Halliday’s Leap”.
December 1946 – On the afternoon of Wednesday, 11th December 1946 Halliday struck again. This time he would take two others with him.
Victor John Travis, 20, gunman and housebreaker, worked in the prison storeroom. There he used a gas stove to bend a piece of metal into a curved hook, to which he secured a length of clothes line.
Travis gathered discarded warders shirts and trousers, to be worn under their uniforms, so they would blend in once they were free.
Derwent Evans Arkinstall, 25, talked himself into Travis’ and Halliday’s scheme. Seven years earlier Arkinstall had murdered an elderly taxi-driver. The desperate killer, not wishing to grow old in prison, had money smuggled in to him from the outside which the trio could use to buy supplies while on the run.
The three avoided guards and met by the prison storeroom. They had a five-minute window of opportunity. They secured the hook and went over the wall merely 15 yards (13 metres) from “Halliday’s Leap” – the “blind spot” where he had escaped six years earlier. Despite the furore over his one-man escape in 1940, the security of this part of the prison had not been improved.
They pulled off their prison garb and took flight. Within minutes their absence was discovered; armed guards poured out of the jail. Their clothes were still warm when found. The trio caught a taxi to the northside and even tipped the driver.
What followed was one of the greatest police hunts in Queensland’s history. Police warned residents to lock themselves in. Taxi-drivers feared for their lives given Arkinstall’s previous crime and armed themselves.
Arkinstall and Halliday were recaptured north of Brisbane four days later. Though handcuffed to Halliday by his right wrist, Arkinstall stupidly made a grab with his left hand for Detective Sergeant Bill Cronau’s revolver: ‘You can’t blame a man for trying, can you?’ Asked why he escaped again Halliday replied: ‘A man’s liberty means everything to him’. Arkinstall added: ‘I am doing life. I have nothing to lose.’
Travis was recaptured on Christmas Day at a military camp at Redbank, west of Brisbane.
A Commission of Inquiry following Halliday’s 1946 escape led to a major upgrade in security including the installation of external lighting; lookout towers with armed guards and Halliday was escorted with 6 warders at all times. Halliday could now lay claim to being the only prisoner to have ever escaped No.2 Division, twice. Halliday made another 8 escape attempts and came close on some occasions.