Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Darcy Dugan the Artist - and the Riot

Maitland Mercury, Monday 14 December, 2009

While taking part in Oral Histories research conducted by Maitland Gaol staff, a former Senior Overseer in charge of the gaol’s saddlery for more than 20 years, has refuted claims that infamous con-man and escapee Darcy Dugan was a central figure in the 1975 riot that saw inmates cause extensive damage before being tear-gassed and the ring-leaders shanghaied.

Dugan was, at the time working in the saddlery, manufacturing an assortment of horse blankets, medicine balls, soft ball bases and hospital / ambulance stretchers. On the morning of the riot, Darcy presented the OIC with a “sick pass” and was allowed to return to his cell in B Wing for the remainder of the day. The riot began, in Darcy’s absence, around midday. The Overseer believes that “Darcy knew something was going on, but wanted no part of it”. He also recalls that Dugan, who later in life gained some renown as a landscape painter “wasn’t much good really, till Ricky Robinson gave him a few tips”.

Ricky was an Aboriginal inmate transferred to Maitland from Grafton. Noting Ricky’s artistic talent, the Overseer commissioned him to adorn the saddlery walls in exchange for tobacco rations. Other inmate artists, including a professional art forger were also assigned to the task. Of the 5 artworks completed, 3 bare the signature of Ricky Robinson. The largest, a mural covering the southern wall of the building, features a horseman chasing brumbies over an expansive outback landscape. The water-damaged and restored mural, was, according to the Overseer, painted over another mural depicting an early settlers’ homestead scene, which for some unknown reason didn’t meet with Ricky’s expectations.

It is planned that in the not-too-distant future, visitors to Maitland Gaol will be able to view the growing collection of inmate artworks, including those by Robinson and Dugan, held on site. Anyone with prison-made artworks who would be interested in loaning them to the gaol for a proposed future exhibition are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or email info@maitlandgaol.com.au


  1. I was an imate in Maitland 1974 - 1976 and was in the riot from start to finish,you are correct in saying that Duggan played no part in the riot but the "sick pass" part is untrue. The imates were assembling on the basketball court in front of C wing to return to the cells for lunch. We refused to return to the cells until our grievences were heard, no-one wanted to hear them (it was mainly over the price of tobacco and prison wages).Once the guards knew we were fairdinkum they left, locking us in the yard which is a good thing because we were now isolated only to one side of the prison. The damaged to B wing was done because we were bashed running the gauntlet from one end of the gaol to the other with baseball bat sized wooden battons not the rubber trungens displayed to the media after the fact, striped naked overnight before another beating before being transported to 13 Wing of Long Bay. During the day the guards kept asking if anyone wanted to return to their cells they could, without punishment Duggan was one of the first to return to his cell. I was a cook and was locked in a C wing by the guards before they left the yard, the lock was broken to release me not long after the riot started by a mate if he had not done that I could have perished in the fire. I payed him back when they let the tear gas loose because one of the cannisters hit him on the head, he was also asthmatic and was having trouble breathing. There was only one way out through A wing gate and they were only letting a few through at a time the first dozen really got a beating I can remember jumping over downed prisoners in my dash down to the pig pen holding cells next to B wing I was moving pretty quick only got hit two three times down the gauntlet but was last into the yard and got caught between the gate and bars. Prisoner 520 B Wing

  2. The above post by 'Anonymous' has incorrectly spelt Darcy Dugan's surname "Duggan". The correct spelling is "Dugan", as in the original blog post.