Idle Hands Busy

This simple tray made in the 1980s has the innocent look of a home craft project. But it was made by a prisoner at Maitland Gaol (in operation 1848-1998) where Australia’s most notorious and hardened criminals were locked away. Despite their crimes, many Maitland prisoners put their time inside to good use. To keep prisoners […]

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The Dress with Two Lives

Many objects from previous generations tightly conceal the identities and lives of the people who made and used them, but occasionally, they give away a few clues. We may never know who made or first wore this beautifully printed nineteenth century day dress from Newcastle. But a close look at its construction tells us the […]

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Wicker and Gladioli

In 1955 a journalist for the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate reported that when touring the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital he observed a blind patient weaving a basket. At the Hospital in this time, and until 1965, items such as these baskets were made by patients in the Male Occupational Therapy Department. But there are also […]

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Art in Confinement

In 1936, Morisset Psychiatric Hospital opened a new ward for the Criminally Insane, commonly referred to as the ‘Crim’ by staff. Patients of this maximum-security ward were men with mental illnesses which contributed to their offence or prevented their integration into the regular prison environment. By the 1970s, the most common diagnosis of patients was […]

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Healing Through Craft

A pair of moccasin slippers, a latch hook rug and a set of wire clothes pegs—what do they have in common? They were all handmade by patients at Morisset Hospital. From its inception, Morisset Hospital was planned to be a largely self-sufficient community—boasting a farm, gardens, a fishing boat, boot maker’s workshop, a busy kitchen, […]

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Mask Up

Remember the first time you wore a face mask in public? Did it take you some time for the self-conscious awkwardness to disappear? Over a hundred years ago when Australia faced the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, mask wearing and vaccinations were seen as the pathway out. Intense interstate rivalries over case numbers and widespread complaints about […]

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