Spare Alex’s spinning soul and rename the jail

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Is it time to change the name of the prison and give Alexander Maconochie’s soul some rest? It’s another “Seven Days” with IAN MEIKLE

PENOLOGY hero Alexander Maconochie, the Scotsman with the surname that tests sub-editors, gets a lot of undeserved bad press because our toxic prison is named after him. 

Ian Meikle.

Which is a pity because the poor man died in Surrey, England, October 25, 1860.

More of Mr Mac in a moment, because this past week Winnunga Aboriginal Health Centre’s irrepressible CEO Julie Tongs, in sharing this column’s call for a public enquiry into the shameful state of the jail, has suggested the AMC be renamed.

“It’s not fair to the reputation of Alexander Maconochie, one of the greatest penal reformers in history, to have his name associated with the prison,” she said.

Adding that it was a “travesty” to suggest that the AMC reflects in any serious way the focus on human rights and rehabilitation that was a central feature of Maconochie’s reforms and former chief minister Jon Stanhope’s intent when he named the place as a nation-leading, human rights prison in 2008. 

These days it’s viewed as the worst clink in Australia for drugs and its disproportionate number of indigenous inmates. 

Alexander Maconochie… getting some bad press.

And so, said Julie, it was necessary to remove Maconochie’s name from the prison in order to “give his soul some rest from the constant spinning that it must be doing in his grave as a result of the way his name and memory are being misused”.

But what to call it? Hmmm, maybe the Shane Rattenbury Centre would better capture the prison’s reputation and the former corrections minister’s contribution to it (other suggestions welcome at 

And Capt Maconochie? Born in Edinburgh in 1787, entered the navy 1803 and saw service during the Napoleonic wars. In 1836, as private secretary to his friend, Lieut-Governor Sir John Franklin, Maconochie left England for Hobart Town. By 1840, he was superintendent of the penal settlement at Norfolk Island and left four years later for the Old Dart. During that time he formulated and applied most of the principles on which modern penology is based, though perhaps not as enthusiastically these days at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. 

Author Dylan Meikle with daughters Lucy, 10, left, and Maddison, 8.

WHAT better time to write a book than in lockdown? That’s what expat Canberran educator Dylan Meikle did while he moved from private schools in Vietnam to Singapore this past year. 

Conversely, what worse time to publish a book about managing kids in lockdown when the world is racing to embrace the freedom of vaccinations (and, please, an end to lockdowns)?

But “Learning in Lockdown” (published by Macquarie Publishing, the owner of “CityNews”) still has a market beyond the Lucky Country’s shores (ie America, Canada, South Africa, the UK, Europe… anywhere good English is spoken and still battling coronavirus). 

It’s a parental handbook for educating younger children grounded by covid. 

Dylan enlisted his sister Kate Meikle, known more locally as our “Mummy” columnist, to add some “parenting perspectives” to the theory. 

The result has been well received, for example Joseph Sharratt writing for “IndieReader” credited the authors as having “succeeded in crafting a fantastically simple but superbly useful guide for navigating the often frustrating and difficult world of home-schooling that the coronavirus pandemic has made a reality for so many.”

“The authors, who between them have a wealth of experience in the fields of education and parenting, do this by exploring the dynamics of home-schooling and its psychological impact on parent and child, as well as by providing lots of useful tips for making the home-schooling experience a rewarding and enjoyable one for everyone involved,” he opines.

“Importantly, it also takes the time to spare a thought for teachers, whose professional world has been turned upside down. As the authors point out: ‘No teacher ever entered the profession thinking: ‘I can’t wait to teach kindergarten online’!”

He gave the book 4.5 stars out of five. I’d give it 10, but they’re my kids. I really don’t know where all this passion for writing comes from, probably their mother.

“Learning in Lockdown” is available via Amazon, Booktopia, Dymocks and Angus & Robertson.


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Ian Meikle
Ian Meikle is the owner and editor of "CityNews".

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