How Darlinghurst Gaol became an art school

It also includes chapters by NAS board member and journalist Jennifer Byrne; NAS Director of Undergraduate Studies Lorraine Kypiotis; and former Sydney Morning Herald Art writer Jacqui Taffel, who is now in charge of media relations at the school.

bribe outlines the chronology of the prison-turned art school, which spent its first hundred years as a place of imprisonment and the next 100 years as an artistic sanctuary.

National Art School protest rally in 2016.

National Art School protest rally in 2016.Credit:Deborah Beck

Construction began in 1822 on the highest hill in the new colony of the prison’s sandstone walls, which still stand today with their original convict markings.

Darlinghurst Gaol opened almost 20 years later in 1841 and operated until 1914. During that time, many thousands of men and women were imprisoned there. Some stayed for only a few days, some served life sentences, and 76 people were hanged.

In 1922 the site was taken over by the East Sydney Technical College, including its art department, which was renamed the National Art School in 1926. It grew into Australia’s premier art school and launched the careers of many notable and successful artists, but the NAS has also spent decades fighting for its survival and freedom to remain independent.

The book outlines the various chapters in the life of the site, from notorious inmates to the Cell Block Theatre, created in 1955 by American actress Katherine Hepburn and dancer Robert Helpmann, which later helped launch the careers of many outstanding actors, including Mel Gibson to start.


There are revealing minute details such as the sandstone keystone carved in 1866 by Aboriginal inmate ‘Billy of Namoi’, who was described by the foreman who built the chapel there in 1870 as ‘the best stonemason he had’. And there are stories of those who have spent time behind bars, like Louisa Collins, the first woman to be hanged there in 1889, outlaw Jimmy Governor, and even poet Henry Lawson, who was jailed there for drunkenness and a lack of child support for time in prison clinking spent.

Make fabulous photos and illustrations bribe correspondingly captivating. Like that of former NAS student Rosaleen Norton, known as “the witch of Kings Cross” who, before she became known for her “satanic rituals” and “extravagant sex life”, helped bring down Sydney Symphony conductor Sir Eugene Goosens led, a nude model for her fellow students.

bribe will no doubt find a home on the bookshelves of its many artistic alumni. But it also deserves a read by any Australian art lover, or indeed Sydney history buffs.

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Jaclyn Diaz

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