Back in Prison

This afternoon, I was given my keys to the door in the wall and now I’m settled on the big leather couches inside the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre. The Centre is housed inside the old prison hospital in the top corner of the old Fremantle Prison. The hospital has been converted into galleries, offices, classrooms and a residential area for visiting authors.

During the week, the building hums with the voices of hundreds of visiting children who come to see the artwork, attend creative writing workshops and meet visiting authors. But it’s incredibly quiet in here today. Not a soul in the building except me and the ghosts. The thick stone walls keep out the sound and the world.

The first time I stayed here was in 2000 when I came over to receive my first WA Premier’s Award for Zarconi’s Magic Flying Fish. It was during school holidays so I had the whole building to myself. It used to spook me being alone here at night. When the wind comes up off Fremantle Harbour and rattles the windows, it’s easy to feel unnerved. But since then, I’ve stayed here on many occassions. A few years ago, the fearless Boori Pryor was also staying in the Centre during one of my visits. When I complained about the ghosts, he said ‘Just you let me know if those ghosts bother you and I’ll get out there and give them a talking to.’ Boori reckons you just need to have a firm word with the ghosts and they clear off and leave you alone. I suspect he’s right. Today the silence seems companionable.

I love the welcome I get when I come to the West – there is a powerful culture of hospitality in this state. Tonight I’m having dinner with Lesley Reece, the Director of the Centre, her husband Bob (a fabulous historian) and the author/artist/musican Matt Ottley at the Reece’s home. The Centre is Lesley Reece’s brainchild and her passion. Her drive and spectacular energy have seen this building transformed from a lonely place of suffering into an inspirational hub for young readers and writers. You can feel the energy of the building has been re-energised and the dark past exorcised. Or perhaps the ghosts simply rest easy these days after seventeen years of being soothed by stories and the presence of children. It’s good to be back.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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