Barton's Mill Prison

Authorities’ Big Task

Barton’s Mill, 24 miles from Perth and eastward of Pickering Brook, was originally a timberworkers’ camp. It closed down about 1936, when the distance to stands of millable timber (as great as 40km) made the operation uneconomic. Also, the demand for sawn timber was low and Millars’ Timber and Trading Co. Limited diverted supply demands to their other sawmills. On closure, the buildings were sold to settlers and orchardists who dismantled them and carted them away. The houses were simple timber-framed cottages clad in rough sawn weather-boarding with an open front verandah and “settler’s chimneys” of timber. Some early dwellings appear to have been slab huts with camp ovens for cooking. Store buildings were timber framed and lined with corrugated iron sheeting. After the commencement of World War Two, a large stockpile of poorly sawn timber remaining at Barton’s Mill was purchased by Douglas Jones, timber merchants of Guildford. After redressing with a thicknesser, this timber was used in the construction of the RAAF huts at Pearce Air Base.

From a decaying timber camp, Barton’s Mill became an unintentional step towards prison reform, it practically replaced the principal West Australian prison and all but the most refractory prisoners were sent there.


1. 40 10ft x 14ft HUTS
7. 49 10ft x 14ft HUTS
12. 10ft x 14ft HUTS
13. 9ft x 12ft


It was not intentional, for the change from a walled gaol to wire compounds was forced upon the authorities in 1942 when the military issued instructions that plans had to be made to evacuate the premises then in use within 14 days. The ultimatum placed the authorities in a quandary; there was no other large-size gaol in the State to which the prisoners could be transferred. The women prisoners were temporarily accommodated at York. The male prisoners, because of their numbers, presented the real problem.

When compounds were decided upon it was necessary to choose some area, fairly isolated but not too far from Perth. After much deliberation Barton’s Mill was selected, as it had once supported 200 people and ample water supplies for that number still existed. An advanced party of gaolers and good conduct prisoners within a fortnight had erected a compound and tents for the remainder of the prisoners. Many of the old timber-workers cottages were still usable and these were converted into warders’ residences and workshops.

A barbed wire fence was set around the perimeter of the compound, tents set up for staff and the male prisoners transferred from Fremantle. Some of the single men’s hut from the mill were initially recycled for the prison. Thirteen prisoners escaped on the first night: a stronger perimeter fence was erected and the military agreed to set aside a section of Fremantle Prison for recalcitrant prisoners. The captured escapees and those considered to be of maximum security risk were returned to Fremantle. New timber-framed building were introduced for administration, staff housing, single-bed hut accommodation, and support facilities such as kitchen , latrines and workshops. After the evacuation of Fremantle Prison by the military at the end of World War Two, Barton’s Mill continued as a prison for “suitable” prisoners of minimum security risk.

Frequent Escapes

The shortage of manpower and lack of time naturally forced those in charge to adopt many makeshifts. During the months which followed escapes were frequent because the opportunities were greater, and this imposed upon the staff supervision of a personal rather than a mechanical character. Adaption to the new conditions was not always easy. Re-captured escapees frequently attempted to justify their escape by tales of “terrible conditions” at Barton’s Mill and a certain amount of credence was given to their stories. However when escapees were held in that portion of the former gaol still available a petition for return to Barton’s Mill soon followed.

The old cottages were regarded by the staff as a poor substitute for good quarters and occasionally the changed environment proved too revolutionary for warder and prisoner. The difficulty that faced the authorities was not fully realised by the public, for, so far as is known, this is the only instance in which a large prison has been forced to evacuate its prisoners without any alternative goal being available. The authorities had simultaneously to create a new prison and continue to function uninterruptedly with a depleted staff.


Mistakes were made but the more tractable prisoners appreciated the new conditions and in the face of many difficulties the work of improving the prison continued. The compound was made more secure, there were attempts to provide better accommodation, more occupation was found for the prisoners and the erection of new cottages for the staff was commenced.

Delinquent Youths

It was later found necessary to send a few delinquent youths to Barton’s Mill. Their incarceration resulted in protests from the public. After tea every night they are segregated from the men and each is locked in a cell by himself.

It has been alleged that vice of the grosser kind was rampant. Its complete elimination is always a problem of prison administration, but the more active life that is possible for the prisoners at Barton’s Mill and the country surroundings are considered to be much more likely to result in a diminution of vice than in its growth. Control is steadily being tightened up as facilities are improved.

Much progress has been made in the following year. The usual prison atmosphere is absent and this could make the reformation of the prisoner easier and more durable. There are 2 compounds. In the first compound the store and the carpenter’s, tailor’s, boot and printing shops are situated. All these shops are new and well lighted, enabling the men to see the outside world during work hours. The floors are concrete and the walls wood and asbestos. There are heating stoves for winter. Here a prisoner with any aptitude can be taught a useful trade and become accustomed to regular work. In the boot repair shop rejected army boots are reconditioned for the inmates of any Government institutions. Footwear is also made for the staff. All the work is hand-sewn and well executed.

In the tailor’s shop men are engaged in sewing sheets and pillow slips for institutions as well as in making staff uniforms and the serge suits prisoners receive on their discharge. In the printing shop much printing is done for Government departments and here the printing of the newsletter which keeps prisoners informed of the major happenings in the outside world will soon be resumed.


Prison Compound

The second compound is much larger and more strongly protected. Here the prisoners are confined. Most are in tents and a few are in the huts originally used by the single men working at the mill. There are from 1 to 3 men in the tents and huts. Many of the tents have wooden floors and have been tastefully fitted up. Some men have planted small gardens by their tents. New double huts of wood and asbestos to house one man to each cell are being erected. The windows are barred to prevent the pilfering which goes on amongst the prisoners.

The compound also contains the infirmary, which has a hot water system contrived from material at the old gaol. The dispensary is well stocked and is in charge of a trained senior warder. Good meals are provided for the sick. The incidences of sickness is just 50 per cent of what was normal formerly and at no time at the Mill, even in the depth of last winter, did sickness equal the figures of previous years. The number of prisoners varied from 160 to 190 and the temporary bathroom is always available with hot water for the inmates. A bath is compulsory once a week but there is no restriction on the number of baths a prisoner may take. A permanent bath-house will eventually be built.

The kitchen is separated from the main compound by a high wire gate and has been adapted from an old cottage. It is perfectly clean with a new fly-proof meathouse nearby. Next door to the kitchen is the new bakehouse, which provides 210 loaves a day. By the mid-1950’s, demand for firewood was declining and some prisoners moved into the business of bread making for other Government institutions. The prison food is wholesome and there is no sign of the old “skilly”.

Most of the long-term men were employed in the compounds. The short-term men have more freedom and under supervision were engaged in burning charcoal and cutting firewood for supply to Government facilities, hospitals and homes. The Perth Hospital and King Edward Memorial Hospital in particular were kept supplied with firewood from the prisoners. Most of the conscientious objectors were engaged in firewood cutting and were reported to work exceptionally well.


By the late 1960’s, prisoners were employed in a number of activities aside from woodcutting and breadmaking, including carpentry and mechanical and building repairs. General improvements were made to the prison facilities, including a new breadhouse, renovations to the prisoners’ huts and the establishment of gardens.

The Government later erected new cottages for the staff and when completed they reconciled the warders and their families to their life in the country. Any prisoners who had any trade ability assisted in their erection. School for the warder’s children was for some time being held in the old recreation hall. This site was considered undesirable as it is too close to the compounds but plans were made to build a school near the warders’ cottages, which could become the model village of the community tomorrow.

There is much for the prisoners to do and the long hours of capacity are not so noticeable as they would be under goal discipline behind prison walls. Generally the men appear to appreciate being confined in their rural surroundings.

In August 1973, committed inebriates began arriving at Barton’s Mill Prison and were accommodated in a section of the prison set aside for that purpose. The Inebriates Advisory Board was abolished the following year and its functions and charges were transferred to the Drug and Alcohol Authority’s facility at Byford.

Due to declining musters, which made the continued use of Barton’s Mill Prison uneconomical, the facility was closed on 31st October 1975. All inmates and staff, aside from a skeleton caretaker staff of three, were transferred to other institutions. The closure was short lived, however, and Barton’s Mill Prison re-opened in November 1977 in order to cope with the increasing prison population.




33. STORE (Lock-up)


42. 19 x 2 CELL HUTS
50. 7 x 6 CELL HUTS

In the early 1980’s, existing buildings were upgraded and additional men’s quarters, fibreglass workshop and garden sheds constructed. Due to the decline in the need for minimum security accommodation, Barton’s Mill Prison was closed on 7th July 1989 and all staff and inmates were transferred to other metropolitan and country minimum security facilities. The site was abandoned and since that time, the entire place has been subject to illegal entry and vandalism.

There is very little left to show what was on this site for so many years. Another piece of our history gone forever except for what you have viewed on this website.

References: Article: Pickering Brook Heritage Group Inc.
Heritage Council of Western Australia
The West Australian Tuesday 23rd February 1943

Image: 1 Heritage Council of Western Australia
2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 13, 14, 15 Kalamunda & District Historical Society
9, 10, 11, 12 Pickering Brook Heritage Group
16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 Barry & Betty Rhodes
26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 Mac & Pam Beard
37 Google Earth

Barton's Mill Takes its Cricket Seriously

By Tom Prior. Published in Sunday Times Sunday 23rd January 1955

Remembering the “Mad dogs and Englishmen” who go out in the sun, I was feeling a trifle canine when we arrived at Barton’s Mill last Sunday. It wasn’t even “noon-day” – only 10.30 a.m. – but already the sun was blistering hot, the recreation ground a simmering oven,

The idea of a Police-Court v Barton’s Mill cricket match didn’t look very encouraging. But then the opposition arrived. The Barton’s Mill boys probably wouldn’t be Neville Cardus’ idea of an ideal cricket X1 but as they piled off the prison truck they were obviously keen enough, fit enough to make any match interesting. Their khaki trousers were clean and pressed, their blue shirts freshly laundered; their gleaming white sandshoes made me, at least, very conscious of my dirty, brown, greys. And they looked at us very much in the manner of a “Typhoon” Tyson in the last day at Melbourne. “You’re carrying a bit of extra weight, kid,” said one fellow who later proved to be an umpire (and a very understanding one at that). “Better be on your toes – these guys aren’t too bad.” He can say that again with no fear of argument from this quarter. Batting first, the “guys” soon proved that what they lacked in finesse they more than made up with slamming aggression

Fielding on the leg side I had more work (and more explaining to do) than an English cricket writer after Australia’s innings win at Brisbane. Unfortunately the boundary was reasonably close behind me and I could grab a fairly regular “breather” searching for the ball in the undergrowth. “Don’t they ever block?” I panted to my friend the umpire. “And what do they keep whacking ’em out this way for?” “What’s the use of blocking?” replied the ump, deadly serious. “We’re after a quick, decisive win.”

Pondering the prevalence of leg-side shots I had time to drop a couple of catches, allow a few more over-throws before lunch. We had our sandwiches in the small pavilion; our opponents unfortunately had a date back at the “stockade”. “What are these boys in for?” I asked our slow bowler. “It’s not polite to ask.” he replied.

Back in action, we managed to end their innings for 95, of which more than 60 runs came from boundaries. Consencious of opinion among the sprinkling of spectators from Barton’s was that we’d been a trifle lucky. “— if Lofty had got going (caught attempting to hit the ball back to Perth) you’d have been in trouble. He made 85 last week, used to play grade cricket in Victoria.” We hoped that their bowlers were a little less talented. We were wrong.

Speed stuff was provided by a former local A grade man at one end, a Victorian cricketer and footballer at the other. Fortunately our openers were also fair average and many fast ball we were none for 38. One scattering over later we were three for 38 – the local man had hit his length and we were really battling. Some lusty (and lucky) swiping by lesser batsmen boosted the total and with six for 83 things were a little less disastrous.

The Barton’s fast bowler trapped our No.8 (that’s me) dead in front but the umpire was understanding and six bruising balls later the partnership had realised one valuable run (neatly turned by my elbow). Relishing a chance to do a little hitting I was naturally clean bowled by the googly merchant, a friendly fellow who had assured me with the guile of an Arthur Mailey. “I’ll put a couple off the wicket to give you a chance to get your eye in”. My protest that he had “conned” me out of my wicket was resolutely dismissed. The innings closed a few minutes later but somehow our total was a match-winning 96 – one run ahead.

Nothing if not polite, the Barton’s boys decided that a look at the score-book might be in order. Their total was right – but ours, most embarrassingly, was not. Generously our opponents conceded a draw. And they commented over the cold ginger beer. “Just as well it wasn’t us who made the blue.”

I also managed to solve the “Case of the numerous leg-side shots.” Appears I had been mistaken for a portly member of the Perth constabulary and the “fat fella” had been gleefully marked for hard labour.

In their second “picnic” innings the boys tried to make amends. They hit only the slowest, softest balls my way and tried desperately to put something in the air which even I could catch. When after half-a-dozen failures, I did manage to hold one the effect was spoiled a little by the fact that “Lofty” had nominated it: “Here’s one, you can’t possibly miss.” before he propped it up. Pitted against me in the second innings was “Tubby” their slowest, least accurate bowler. It took him five balls to spread-eagle the stumps. “Guest cricket’s just not your game, son.” consoled the umpire.

Maybe so, but that game against Barton’s Mill, sunburn and all, is one I’m glad I played. Their “records” notwithstanding, on the cricket or sporting field,

Reference: Article: Sunday Times

I Have Seen a Prison with Hope

By Victor Courtney. Published in Sunday Times Sunday 30th April 1944

To traditional idea a prison is a forbidding place with stone walls and cold cells.

I have seen prisons in many parts of the world, and none of them have very cheering. Worst of all, I think, is Fremantle Gaol, built 90 years ago, and haunted still by all the memories of the dark yesteryears.

Fremantle prison is a dreary place to go into. As a newspaper-man I have visited it a number of times in the paste decade, and have shuddered every time with the thought that here human beings are still incarcerated. For nearly 90 years Fremantle has been our main State prison.

The other day I saw a different side – a prison with hope. I went to Barton’s Mill fearing, and came away cheered – if one can ever be cheered in a prison – by what I had seen. In contrast with the dreary atmosphere of Fremantle Gaol, Barton’s Mill prison is set in picturesque bushland, and its approach is through timber-covered hill and valley similar to that shown in this picture. Because at Barton’s Mill, for the 200 men detained there, there is hope. Barton’s Mill is the first prison I have seen in which the prisoners don’t slink by with averted eyes. At Barton’s Mill they look you full in the face, nod to you pleasantly, and, if you know them, are permitted to exchange words of greetings. There are no broad arrows or real prison garb there. And apart from the barbed wire which must, of necessity, enclose all the compounds, there is nothing repulsive or horrible. I feel you will be interested as I was in what happens to men when they go to Barton’s Mill.

In the first place, picture not a prison with walls, but something more like a military camp, with huts instead of tents. Huts are situated in orderly rows. Each divided into two compartments, one man to each compartment. They are more like rooms than cells, and almost as big as many hotel rooms I have slept in. They are of jarrah and asbestos. The men have each a decent bed to sleep on, and they are permitted to make their rooms as bright as an average bedroom. Some of them even have their pin-up girls.

Some work in tailors’ shops, printers’ shops or other trades, while others go into the bush cutting timber and doing various chores in the open air. They start at 8.30 in the morning and finish at 4.30. After their day’s work is done they can remain in the open air if it’s a summer night until 8 o’clock and they can read until 9, when all lights are extinguished. There’s a library, and a wireless installation with loud-speakers at various points to which men may listen during their recreation hours.

Food is served in a common centre, and taken to each hut. This is one drawback, because with a common dining room the men could get their food reasonably hot and under better conditions. But we must remember Barton’s Mill has only been in existence a couple of years. The setting is an old mill site, and there’s plenty of good green country around it. The air is crisp and enlivening. In the winter time it’s cold, they say, and that’s the worst part of it, but there are plenty of places where it’s cold which are not prisons. There are big braziers in the open fireplaces at which the men can warm themselves, and at which, by the way, I noticed quite a number making toast for the evening meal.

Sunday is their day off. Those who wish to, go to church, and those who wish to, play games. Sometimes they even play football matches with neighbouring teams. On holidays they have athletic tournaments with small prizes. There are facilities for hot and cold baths, and there is a bakery where good crisp bread, much better than a lot of the bread we can get in Perth, is made. In recreation hours the men can walk around the fenced enclosure, and talk to each other. There’s none of the deadly parade superintended by a warder which we used to see in the recreation hours in the old gaol at Fremantle. There’s no gaol tang about this place. Discipline there is, yes, but, after all, not much greater discipline than in a military camp, where free men go to learn how to fight for their country.

In the early days we heard of a number of escapes from Barton’s Mill in an effort to discredit the place. But since a few of the worst types have been weeded out and certain alterations made the whole aspect of the camp has been changed. I talked to some of the men in Barton’s Mill, and there is about them an air of men who are doing penance, but with a definite feeling that, having done it, they can go out into the world without shame.

There’s something about the whole camp that makes for brightness and hope. No coddling, but no broad arrow signs nor grim cells, no bell tolling, none of the horrible relics that Fremantle shrieks of. When the war is over a new and better goal is to be built. But at least we can regard Barton’s Mill as a start.

The world’s greatest students of prison reform are convinced that 99 per cent. of the men react to good treatment, and the harsh penal days of old only made convicts more embittered instead of curing them. At Barton’s Mill men are made to work and justify their existence. There is enough confinement and discipline there to make them look forward to the freedom of the outside world. But with that discipline there is sanity, understanding, and, as I said in the beginning, hope.

I was glad I went to Barton’s Mill, and I know you will be glad to know that those of our fellow citizens who have offended against the social code – many of them for the first time and many of them never to offend again – are being treated as human beings with the chance of regeneration.

Barton’s Mill is all right.

References: Article: Sunday Times

Image: Sunday Times

Barton's Mill from the Inside

Prisoner Tells Of Gaol Life. Published in Sunday Times Sunday 21st May 1944

Life at Barton’s Mill as an outsider sees it was portrayed by Victor Courtney in a recent article in “The Sunday Times”. Now for life as the insider sees it.”Just out of Barton’s Mill” writes:

“It might interest you to know just how your article reacted upon the inmates, and to have a few sidelights on life and conditions from the point of view of a prisoner.

“Naturally a copy of ‘The Sunday Times’ found its way into Barton’s, and prompted remarks such as this: ‘Outsiders won’t send us any more tobacco now. They’ll be writing to us for some of ours. or “You’d better take a lease on your flat, boys. The place will soon be booked out.’ Yet another crack was ‘Wait till they hear that we get spuds here every day, and we’ll all get killed in the rush,’ and, finally, this one: ‘It’s the only place where there are vacant rooms to let, continuous hot and cold baths, all mod. cons. and rent free.'”

And now for the insider’s viewpoint: Here is a typical day in the life of a prisoner at Barton’s.
Up at 7 a.m. make bed and wash (some don’t), breakfast (porridge and toast for those who care to make it), tea, sweep and clean huts.
8 a.m. parade and commence work, whatever the individual duties or task may be.
11.40 a.m. dinner, the daily menu consisting of a variation each day of stew, roast mutton or beef, polony, sausages and mince. Dinner is plentiful, including vegetables and potatoes, boiled, baked or chipped.
Resume work at 1 p.m., cease 4.30 p.m.
Parade and tea at 4.40 p.m., which includes a plentiful supply of hot soup, and whatever extras one happens to have, such as bacon and eggs, fried bread or toast, or anything else an inmate may have saved from dinner. Inmates, of course, are able to buy bacon, eggs, butter, coffee, jam, tinned fruit and other luxuries from their weekly earnings at reasonable rates. The amount of tobacco which can be purchased, though, is limited to 1 1/2 ounces. So the men rely upon their friends sending more in to them.
After tea the men are free to read, or gather round the large fires which are available, yarn amongst themselves and listen to the loud speaker wireless overhead. Many have earphones in their own huts. Most boil the billy and make tea, or coffee, and toast for supper, and off to bed at 9 p.m.

Week-end, of course, there is no work. Roman Catholic church is held on Saturday and the Church of England on Sunday. Sports include football, in which keen interest is taken. The men have expressed a desire that the authorities would sanction and encourage the resumption of the cinema as at Fremantle. It is understood an excellent machine is available. This would also be a great boon to the officers and their families.

It has been mooted that a recreation hall is to be built inside the compound. The only hall available at present being outside.

There is, too, from time to time, excellent talent at Barton’s Mill, and it is felt that with the right sort of encouragement the men could have concerts and singsongs, which would help to engender a better spirit of comradeship in adversity, and greatly help to subjugate any feelings of bitterness against Society, which many are, so often, apt to have. The radio is a great boon, and the men would appreciate it if they could be permitted to ask their favorite stations for request numbers. They take a lively interest in the children’s hour sessions.

Strangely enough, religious talks and sessions are attentively listened to by many. Big laugh was caused recently when, as the radio was suddenly switched on, a speaker was heard to say “………. so then as free men in a free country, etc.” The recipes given out at certain sessions call for many humorously sarcastic comments.

Believe it or not, one man at Barton’s Mill has a large replica of the crucifixion tattooed between his shoulders, another with a smaller example on his forearm. Many little acts of real Christianity are daily to be witnessed at Barton’s, and the officers and men, with few unruly exceptions are apparently on good comraderie terms within, of course, the bounds of duty and prison discipline.

Authorities are to be commended on their humanity in granting such little sentimental privileges as writing to relatives and dear ones on plain paper, in order to keep from them the knowledge (if possible) that he is – well, where he is. One can err against Society, and go to Barton’s to expiate his offence, and still retain the feeling that he is a human being – one of the many for whom The Man of Galilee gave His life to redeem.

And, after all, where is the spirit of the Great Sacrifice of Calvary needed most today but at places like – Barton’s Mill.

And to requote an old axiom, there are some up there who, in the eyes of God, if not in the eyes of man, are not quite so bad after all.

Reference: Article: Sunday Times

Man Who Made Barton's Mill Retires

Published in the Mirror 15th July 1944

“Grateful Mother”, writing from Leederville, says with reference to the retirement of Mr. M. Macaskill as Deputy- Superintendant of Barton’s Mill Gaol; “I would not like to let the opportunity pass without paying my tribute to him. He is one of the most humane men I have ever met”.

“Mercy weighed very heavily in the scales of justice where he was concerned. If ever a man was called to a job, he was that man. Not only the prisoners, but their relatives and friends will regret to see him go. He left his mark at Barton’s Mill. Many who were there will look back on him as their friend; he had their welfare at heart. I feel that he should never have been allowed to resign..”

At a farewell dinner given to him by the Prison Department this week, very warm tributes were paid to Mr. Macaskill’s work. Mr. C. L. Wilson, Deputy Prisons Controller, in particular referred most eulogistically to the board humane judgment of Mr. Macaskilll, allied to discipline.

Mr. Macaskill, who was on loan originally from The Army, resigned at his own request to return to his pre-war business life.

References: Article: Mirror, Perth


Published in Sunday Times Sunday 18th MAY 1947

When the Inter-club billiards started this week it was strongly rumored that a Barton’s Mill team had applied to enter. When a billiards official asked their qualifications he was told the men had been selected by the best judges in the country.

Reference: Article: Sunday Times