Experience incarceration for yourself

The Watch House experience gives you an opportunity for a unique encounter with the justice system by being processed and 'charged with a crime'

Between 1913 and 1994 the City Watch House was Melbourne’s central holding facility for people arrested and awaiting trial. 

The police office and cells remain almost unchanged in the years since they were last used. 

This is a 30-minute session with an actor performing as a police sergeant in the Old Watch House. If you would also like to access the main building of the Old Melbourne Gaol, you need to book a Gaol Tour as well. 

The Watch House Experience Levels 9-VCE

During the Watch House Experience students actively explore this confronting place and its people from different perspectives through role-play and self-exploration. Students will discover the experience that people had when they were arrested in the late 20th century, being subjected to a search, questioned by the sergeant and witnessing the basic conditions of confinement in the cells.  

Please note: this experience can be confronting for students, there is a social script attached below that outlines the experience in greater detail if they’d like to be prepared for what they will see and hear. 

Curriculum links for Levels 9 and 10
Subject Strand Sub-strand Outcome During the Watch House Experience students will… 
History Historical Concepts and Skills Historical Sources as Evidence Analyse the different perspectives of people in the past and evaluate how these perspectives are influenced by significant events, ideas, location, beliefs and values (VCHHC124) Understand the perspectives of those incarcerated at the City Watch House, which is visible in the makeup of the building and the stories of people who spent time within the walls.  
Cause and Effect Evaluate the historical significance of an event, idea, individual or place (VCHHC128) Evaluate the significance of the Watch House in Melbourne’s history.  
Historical Knowledge Rights and Freedoms (1945 – the present) Continuity and change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in securing and achieving civil rights and freedoms in Australia (VCHHK156) Explore the graffiti in the cells which depicts displays of the inequality First Nations people experienced whilst incarcerated at the Old City Watch House. 
Civics and Citizenship Laws and Citizens Discuss the key principles of Australia’s justice system, including equality before the law, independent judiciary, and right of appeal (VCCCL034) Question whether the principles of Australia’s justice system were met at the Old City Watch House, equality in particular.  
Ethical Capability Understanding Concepts Investigate the connections and distinctions between and the relative value of concepts including fairness and equality, and respect and tolerance (VCECU019) Asess the fairness of a place like the Watch House, discussing whether they believe it was a respectful and equal experience for arrested people to have. 
Distinguish between the ethical and non-ethical dimensions of complex issues, including the distinction between ethical and legal issues (VCECU021) Discuss whether the treatment of people who had been arrested was ethical, and discover how under the law this was the sanctioned punishment for said people.  
Curriculum links for VCE Legal Studies
Subject Unit Area of Study Key Knowledge and Skills During the Watch House Experience students will… 
Legal Studies  Unit 1 Legal Foundations The role of individuals, laws and the legal system in achieving social cohesion and protecting the rights of individuals Learn about the role of police sergeants within the lock-up facility.  
Unit 1, 2 The principles of justice: fairness, equality and access Ask the key question: was the Watch House fair and equal?  
Unit 2 Sanctions Types of sanctions such as fines, community correction orders and imprisonment Learn what the purpose of the Watch House was, as a holding facility for people who had been arrested but not yet charged. 
Unit 2, 3 The purposes of sanctions: punishment, deterrence, denunciation, protection and rehabilitation Understand the purpose of the Watch House as place of protection, punishment and deterrence.  
Further program details
Available:Monday-Friday during school terms, 9.00am, 9.30am, 10.00am, 10.30am
Numbers:15-30 students
Resources:Social script for parents and teachers of students on the autism spectrum.
Cost: $10 per student (Teacher/carer to student ratio 1:12)
Safety:Click here to access the Old Melbourne Gaol Task Risk Assessment document.
Bookings:Online Booking Form or Email: bookings@nattrust.com.au or Phone: 9656 9817.

Plan your visit

Experience incarceration for yourself


345/355 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

9656 9800
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"Both presenters were fantastic. They were able to keep the attention of VCAL students. Treating the students as if they were arrested, with the line up, checking for contraband and putting them in cells in the dark was great. Taking photos for line up was also a fun experience for them all."

Teacher feedback, August, 2015

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