Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific


Remembering Places of Pain and Shame:

The Heritage and Conservation of Imprisonment Sites.


Research project funded by a grant from the Deakin Univerity Central Research Grant Scheme
This project began in 2003 with a preliminary study that was funded by a Deakin University Central Research Grant and designed to lead to a larger, multi-authored, cross-cultural heritage study of imprisonment sites that would be published as a book. The project is now in its second stage – the preparation of chapters contributing to the book.

Aims and Objectives
Project Rationale
Project Significance and Expected Outcomes and Outputs
Book Outline


Cultural Heritage Heritage Conservation
Cultural Identity Heritage Interpretation
Imprisonment Detention

Aims and Objectives

This project is conceived as a cross-cultural study of imprisonment sites, their heritage values and the ways that communities, government agencies and heritage professionals deal with these cases of ‘difficult heritage’.

The project aims to identify the heritage values of selected places of incarceration and detention, and evaluate the ways in which these values are interpreted and conserved. Using a case study based comparative methodology, it seeks to analyse existing theoretical approaches to interpreting sites of imprisonment, and to explore a new framework for understanding the dilemmas and debates over these sites at a societal, community and individual level.

Based on a case study approach focussing (although not exclusively) on Asia-Pacific examples of places of detention and incarceration, the project deals with places not generally celebrated because of their association with pain and suffering in the past. Such places frequently become the subject of calls for their demolition in order to erase the shame associated with them.

In Australia, examples of threatened sites include civilian jails, such as Melbourne’s Pentridge, or refugee centres, such as Woomera. For this reason there is a need for this study to assist in clarifying the processes of identifying, documenting and, where appropriate, physically protecting significant sites that are threatened with obliteration.

On the other hand, some places of imprisonment become regarded with the passage of time as having a quasi-sacred status, often as reminders of the bitter pages in a society’s evolution, and warnings of the potential human’s have for inhumane actions towards one another. Sometimes, these places may become regarded as the sites of an individual’s or group’s transcendence over the conditions of unjust imprisonment.

In such cases there may be little or no dispute about their heritage significance, although the processes of achieving their effective interpretation, documentation and long-term protection remain difficult. Australia’s convict settlements at Port Arthur, Norfolk Island and Fremantle fall into this category – easily recognised as having ‘outstanding significance’ but with many questions hanging over their future, the intention of the Australian and relevant State governments to seek their inscription on the World Heritage List having stalled.

The project will evaluate the ways in which these historic sites and their significant heritage values can be and are being interpreted and conserved through planning and management interventions. The research will consider a range of places of imprisonment, from eighteenth century convict sites to contemporary refugee detention centres, developing its primary focus on Australian sites but seeking to clarify distinctive Australian approaches by comparisons with the treatment of places of imprisonment in other cultures.

While using this case study based comparative methodology, the project will also:

• analyse existing theoretical approaches to interpreting sites of imprisonment (eg. Darian-Smith and Hamilton, 1994; Finch, 1993; Finnane, 1997; Foote, 1997; Foucault, 1967,1977; Harper, 2001; Inglis, 1998; Kristeva, 1982; Malpas, Zinoman, 2001);

• investigate current cultural heritage conservation and management practice in relation to places of imprisonment (eg. Kerr, 1988, 1992; Lowenthal, 1998); and

• seek to develop a new framework for understanding the dilemmas and debates over these sites at a societal, community and individual level.


Most societies have their scars of history, and a range of places, sites and institutions that represent the legacy of these painful periods. Sites of incarceration, in particular, chart a changing history of conceptions of social order, identity, discipline, and public health. These important, but often ambivalently regarded sites of historical memory may recall traumatic involvements in war, civil unrest and genocide. Sites of incarceration may also constitute an institutional record of belief systems based on racial discrimination, ethnic hostilities, and conceptions of religion, science and social and individual health and morality.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia or New Caledonia had convict settlement beginnings and were founded on the pain and suffering of an involuntary work force. In such cases, these issues are especially cogent and touch upon fundamental issues of national identity. In important ways, sites of imprisonment document many contentious issues in a nation’s history and politics – in Australia’s case, from the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples held in missions, orphanages and prisons, through World War 2 internment camps, to the refugee detention centres of today. For post-structuralist historians such as Finch (1993), these sites of incarceration record the ways in which ideas of the ‘normal’ have been policed through the disciplining, regulation or exclusion of identities considered deviant or ‘other’.

Sites of imprisonment therefore raise some difficult questions of conservation and interpretation for cultural heritage practitioners.

• How are these places to be remembered?
• How do people and societies cope with painful memories?
• Should these aspects of cultural heritage be erased or memorialised?
• How do political attitudes impact upon this question?
• Are only those places that reflect the official interpretation of historical events likely to be commemorated?
• What happens to those that do not reflect the ideology of the regime in power or the dominant social, ethnic or racial group?
• Auschwitz was added to the List in 1979; but does Cambodia regard its Tuol Sleng prison (Chandler, 1999) in the same light – a place to be memorialised?
• And how can the Rwanda genocide be remembered and memorialised when that country’s heritage is essentially intangible (oral histories, songs and dances) and disappeared with the massacre of the people who embodied the heritage?
• It is already difficult to argue for heritage conservation in urban areas when governments give priority to development projects. Does this become more difficult in lesser developed countries, such as Vietnam or Cambodia, or when the heritage site is a place of pain and shame and the object of ambiguous public sentiment (Logan, 2002).
• What happens when the government and public are agreed that a painful heritage site should be protected but it is located in another country, as in the cases of Gallipoli, Changi or the Burma Railway?

There is a growing interest in the theme of ‘sadness, pain, retribution, tragedy, and (sometimes) redemption’ at both international and national levels. UNESCO sees the forced migration of peoples as a useful new theme leading to new places being considered for World Heritage listing. The theme is one way of putting into operation its ‘Global Strategy’ of shifting the balance of the World Heritage List away from Western Europe and North America, and already sites such as South Africa’s Robben Island (site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment) and the Gorée Slave Collection Point in Senegal have been added to the List (Graham et al, 2000).

This project builds on Prof. William Logan’s Deakin University Central Research Grant 2003, which, in turn, grew out of his research interest in the Hoa Lo Jail in Hanoi, Vietnam. He presented his initial findings on Hoa Lo at the June 2002, Australia ICOMOS national conference at Port Arthur, Tasmania, on the theme of ‘Islands of Vanishment’. This conference sought to ‘explore, conserve and interpret places which commemorate painful or ambivalent themes in the history of our societies’ and its papers are highly relevant to this collaborative Pain and Shame project. Logan’s paper dealt with the way in which the Vietnamese went about conserving the central Hanoi prison, a site of injustice and intense suffering during French colonial times as well as the place where American pilots were imprisoned during the Vietnam War. The paper was subsequently published in Historic Environment, vol. 17 (2003), no. 1, pp. 27-31, and is also available on the Australia ICOMOS web site (

Project Significance and Expected Outcomes and Outputs

As well as being theoretically innovative and contributing to the emerging field of Heritage Studies, the analysis will have practical implications for cultural heritage conservation.

The principal outcomes of the project will include:
• Better understanding of the theoretical and practical issues relating to this form of heritage;
• Suggestions for improved heritage management of sites of imprisonment at various levels of government;
• International research collaboration and training.

The project has contemporary relevance in that it impinges upon discourses focusing on political, civil and cultural citizenship, in particular in relation to the curtailing of normal citizenship rights through the process of imprisonment.

The principal output proposed for this collaborative research project conducted under the Forum UNESCO banner is a book. It is planned to hold a preliminary workshop where draft chapters will be read and discussed. Project contributors may also prepare papers for other conferences based on their findings.

The proposed book will:

• Develop a consolidated and rigorous argument about the relationships between memory and identity, memorialisation and places with a painful past and shameful present;
• Base that argument on a systematic analysis of existing theoretical and practical approaches to the interpretation and conservation of places of imprisonment; and
• Make use of a carefully selected set of case studies both to demonstrate and challenge the central argument.

Book outline (provisional)

A working outline of this book is as follows:
Section of Book Possible Case Studies Confirmed Participants
Introduction: Remembering
Places of Pain and Shame
I. Convict Sites Téremba, New Caledonia  
  Port Arthur, Tasmania Adj. Prof. Jane Lennon
  Norfolk Island  
  Devils’ Island, Guyane  

II. Civil Prisons

Old Melbourne Gaol
  Pentridge, Melbourne  
  Holloway, UK  
III. Political Prisons Hoa Lo, Hanoi, Vietnam Prof William Logan, Deakin University
  Maze, Belfast UK Prof Brian Graham, U. Ulster
IV. War Internment Camps Cowra, NSW  
  Changi, Singapore Prof Joan Beaumont, Deakin University
  Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam Prof William Logan, Deakin University; Nguyen Thanh Binh, Hanoi Architectural University
V. Concentration Camps, genocide sites Auschwitz, Poland  
  Toul Sleng, Cambodia Dr Colin Long, Deakin University; Keir Reeves, Melbourne University
VII. War-time enforced brothels Korea/China  
VIII. Refugee Detention Centres Maribyrnong, Melbourne  
  Woomera, South Australia  
  Christmas Island  
IX. ‘Benevolent’ Detention Centres Molokai Leper Colony, Hawaii, USA  
  Kew Lunatic Asylum, Melbourne  
X. Slave depots Gorée, Senegal  
  Ha Long Bay, Vietnam  


Other participants and content suggestions are welcome. Please contact Prof Bill Logan on to join this collaborative project.


Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

18th May 2005