If the walls of the Berrima Correctional Centre could talk they would tell 181 years worth of stories.

Key points:

  • Prison photographer Sue Paull spent time documenting the final days of the Berrima Correctional Centre in March
  • Paull has worked for decades in prisons as an artist, teacher, and photographer
  • She says the rapidly changing appearance and style of prisons means it is important to consistently document them

These would include holding some of the country’s worst prisoners, being used as a World War I German prisoner camp and, more recently, housing minimum security inmates working alongside the overseers on the property’s gardens.

Sue Paull has spent years working in prisons as a teacher, artist and photographer.(Supplied: Sue Paull)

Prison photographer Sue Paull was commissioned to document the Southern Highlands NSW jail before it was retired in April this year after its last incarnation as a male and female minimum security prison.

“What’s changed since the 1990s is the way the department has approached management of prisoners,” she said.

“They’ve given them meaningful work and activities to get involved with, so there’s been a change in the relationship between overseers working with the inmates and that has changed the atmosphere of the prison.

Paull has worked in prisons for decades as an artist and teacher, with 25 years spent teaching art to maximum security inmates at Long Bay jail.

Inmates pay basketball inside the Berrima Correctional Centre before it was retired in April.(Supplied: Corrective Services NSW/Sue Paull)

Jail’s history writ large in its walls

Corrective Services NSW wanted Paull to photograph the jail’s architectural details and its operations before it was retired.

Sue Paull says she was captivated by the movement of shadows across the jail’s walls.(Supplied: Corrective Services NSW/Sue Paull)

Given the centre remained a contingency prison, having been closed and reopened in the past, it may not be empty for long.

“I was so pleased to be asked to document it because, architecturally, it’s such a unique prison and its location in Berrima is adjacent to an extraordinary-looking courthouse,” Paull said.

“The prison is interesting for its facade, proportions, and the intricacies of the stonemasonry work.

Importance of documenting prisons

While Paull had previously exhibited photographs of prisoners inside Long Bay jail, it was a poignant moment years ago while arriving for work that reminded her that photographing the buildings themselves was important.

She said one day she arrived and a handmade sign at the entrance had been replaced by something printed from a computer.

“That brought home to me the importance of documenting the handmade, and having a record of how rapidly the prison system was changing both in management style and visually,” she said.

The entrance to the Berrima Correctional Centre features a famous motivational mural.(Supplied: Corrective Services NSW/Sue Paull)

The motif of ‘time’ is featured as part of an imposing mural at the jail’s entrance that says ‘Make time serve you’, and Sue Paull said the idea of ‘time’ helped direct her photography.

The closure of the Berrima Correctional Centre was triggered by the expansion of other regional prisons in New South Wales.

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