Built in the 1850s as a service area for the convict establishment, the original complex included a cookhouse, bakehouse and laundry. With the transfer of control of the Fremantle Prison from the British Government to the colonial administration in 1886, the much smaller Perth Gaol was closed and inmates moved to Fremantle. It became necessary to provide accommodation for women prisoners formerly held in Perth. A wall was built around the service buildings and they were converted for use as the first separate women’s prison in Western Australia.
With the rapid increase in population and a resultant growth in the crime rate during Western Australia’s gold rushes, Women’s Prison was extended in the 1890s and again in the 1910s. It continued to serve as a women’s prison until 1970, when the inmates were transferred to a new facility built at Bandyup.
From 1970 until the Prison was decommissioned in 1991, the area was used as an education and assessment centre.
In 1996, Women’s Prison was linked to the West Workshops to form an extensive art and design facility which specialises in vocational art courses and features a purpose designed jewellery studio built in the former yard.
The jewellery studio was conceived as a new building which, while not replicating the aesthetic of the surrounding buildings, reinterprets elements of the material and spatial qualities of Women’s Prison. In accordance with current conservation practice and the Fremantle Prison Conservation Policy, the new building integrates the requirements for future use while conserving both the fabric and the significance of Women’s Prison.
Extensive consultation over several years with the Department of Training has ensured that the Western Australia School of Art and Design is not only a viable facility that will serve the needs of TAFE well into the future but one that retains the heritage significance for future generations.
The Western Australia School of Art and Design in the Women’s Prison was financed by the Western Australian Government through the Department of Training and the Department of Contract and Management Services. The master planning and schematic design for TAFE at the Fremantle Prison was prepared by the former Building Management Authority. Management services for the whole project were provided by Contract and Management Services. Philip McAllister Architect designed, documented and administered the project, while construction of the adaptation was carried out by Palmerston Building Company. The Western Australia School of Art, Design and Media - TAFE vacated the premises mid 2010.
In July 2009 expressions of interest were sought to lease the premises. YHA Australia has expressed intent to use the premises as short stay tourist accommodation. They have conducted due diligence on the feasibility of the project and are currently preparing plans for presentation to the City of Fremantle and Heritage Council of Western Australia.