Fremantle Prison YHA Entrance Fremantle Prison YHA Entrance

Fremantle Prison YHA

Did you know that you can voluntarily sleepover in Perth's old convict prison? That's one way to holiday.

By Julia D'Orazio

I volunteered to spend a night in prison, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

No, I hadn't committed a crime; instead, I was looking to stay somewhere a bit left field, a bit badass, and Fremantle Prison ticked the right boxes for all the wrong reasons. So, what was it like to spend this night in Fremantle's eeriest place to sleep?

Built in the mid 19th century, Fremantle Prison is one of the largest surviving convict-built prisons in the world. Within its imposing quarried limestone walls, the six-hectare prison was once a place of hangings, floggings, midnight escapes and even an infamous prisoner riot in 1988. Although it was a maximum-security prison, many inmates were held for minor offences, though some were known murderers, prisoners of war and colonial prisoners. With such a calibre of former residents, it's considered one of Western Australia's most haunted sites.

Fremantle Prison closed in 1991 and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage site. These days, visitors can wander the former prison blocks, admire its 19th and 20th-century architecture and delve into its underground tunnels. And they can also stay the night – willingly – within the walls of the former women's prison, now a YHA hostel. An eerie place to sleep? You bet!

Before getting cosy in a prison bed, I embarked on a Convict Prison tour. It's a great introduction to discovering Fremantle Prison's history by visiting the main cell block known as the Convict Establishment. It's hard to fathom that people lived in these conditions, confined to a small cell, some measuring a measly 1.2 metres by 2.1 metres, with a bucket for a toilet and a mattress looking more like layers of cardboard. At this point, I was hopeful that my bed for the night at the YHA would offer a few more springs under its outer lining.

The tour also visits the prison kitchen, outdoor communal areas, and, if game enough to enter, the gallows, where 44 prisoners met their final fate.

Fremantle Prison YHA History Corridor

Walking through the YHA Fremantle Prison entrance, the sight of green grass felt like a luxury after the gloomy, bare state of walking through the central Prison estate.

Although providing a welcomed bit of Zen, the trimmed grass was bordered by the same imposing six-metre-high limestone walls with a warder's gun tower. Indeed, this venue has slightly more unique surroundings than your usual hostel accommodation.

And perhaps even uninvited guests too.

"For a couple of nights, I felt uneasy, and I thought about ghosts," a guest tells me, unsolicited, just after I check-in. "Going to the toilet at night gives me a bit of a chill."

Well, that's reassuring!

Making my way through the former women's prison felt eerie yet exciting. The two-storey hostel has given the former prison cells a new life, converted into dorm rooms with bunk beds. The hostel definitely ticks the box for novelty factor with old prison memorabilia and wall plaques featuring the stories of former inmates. Thankfully, it has also received a lick of paint, with corridors painted in soothing pastel green to distance itself from its former life.

Or, for an extra 'luxe' prison stay, guests can book into a newer, purpose-built building with private rooms and ensuite bathrooms next to the historic prison block.

The hostel has a large communal kitchen, lounge and outdoor area aka 'Prison Yard'; all areas akin to what you would expect from a modern hostel stay that includes fast Wi-Fi and air-con. However, just to remind you that, in fact, you are sleeping in a former prison, the hostel rules include the line "If you see a ghost, notify reception immediately."

It is believed that the spirit of Martha Rendell - the only woman to have been hung at Fremantle Prison - lives on within the prison's walls, with her spirit felt from time to time. Apparently, she's a friendly ghost.

Spooky, special or both, Fremantle Prison YHA is the only accommodation in Western Australia to receive UNESCO World Heritage status. Surprisingly, locking myself in for the night didn't seem as daunting as I initially thought. After waking up from a decent sleep in a comfortable bed, I wanted to lurk around a little longer to really appreciate the building's history and feel a sense of place in this unique setting in Fremantle.

Fremantle YHA Family Ensuite Fremantle YHA Family Ensuite
Fremantle Prison YHA Outdoor Fremantle Prison YHA Outdoor
Fremantle Prison YHA Corridor Cells Fremantle Prison YHA Corridor Cells
Fremantle Prison YHA Dorm Room Fremantle Prison YHA Dorm Room

Photo credit: YHA Australia.

Fremantle Prison YHA