Move to rescue iconic Old Dubbo Gaol

THE GRANDSON of one of the last wardens at the Old Dubbo Gaol has moved to ensure the heritage item has a rock-solid future.

Dubbo councillor Ben Shields said the city's "second-most important tourism facility" had deteriorated to become "rough around the edges" and he was concerned visitor numbers were falling.

The famous Benjamin Stokes, an animatronic model loved or feared by generations of children, had disappeared from his post on Macquarie Street, Cr Shields noted regrettably.

He urged his colleagues at the most recent meeting to give the council-owned attraction that "set (Dubbo) apart" its due.

Cr Shields' motion was for the council to set up a special committee focused on the Old Dubbo Gaol to give advice to the community services director on asset management, marketing and other relevant topics.

He also moved that the advisory committee comprise the mayor and two councillors, the general manager, the director of community services, the business support manager and one community representative.

Cr Shields said Old Dubbo Gaol staff provided unique shows for its visitors, but it was not getting enough attention.

"Some will know my family history with the Gaol - my grandfather was one of the last wardens," he said.

The comment prompted laughter and Cr Shields issued a rejoinder.

"I point out I was born well after it was closed, unlike some," he said.

Cr Greg Matthews said he would support the motion but also asked staff what works had already been done.

Community services director David Dwyer said improvements had mainly been to the office space - there had been no amenities for staff.

They now had hot water and change rooms, Mr Dwyer said.

He reported there was more works to be done and that the council was looking at making an application under the Community Building Partnership Grants program and for two other grants.

Before the vote Cr Shields delivered a message to the wider community.

"The Gaol is a tourist attraction and has great historical value, it sets us apart," he said.

"Everyone living at Dubbo should go to a tour of the Gaol, full stop."

The Old Dubbo Gaol was a courthouse lockup in 1847, was proclaimed an official jail in 1859 and closed operations as a penal institution in 1966.

Officially re-opened as a tourist attraction in 1974, it was the venue for one of the evening functions at the recent Local Government Association of NSW annual conference.

Cr Shields returned to the cause at the conference.

"I've been to 13 local government conferences and 13 social dinners and that would have to be the best social dinner I've been to," he said.

"The actors at the Old Dubbo Gaol were fantastic, the meals provided were fantastic, the scenery, the atmosphere was just great.

"I think it's actually something council should look at doing more in the future, that is, hiring out the Old Dubbo Gaol to functions and events."

faye.wheeler@ruralpress.com

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