On 29 October 1975, disgruntled inmates caused extensive damage to Maitland Gaol in a few short hours.
A Commission of Enquiry into the riots was undertaken and to aid the investigation, a scale model of the Gaol was built by then Detective Sergeant 3rd Class E. J. (Ernie) Kelly of the Orange Scientific Investigation Section. After taking initial photographs of the site, Mr Kelly began work on the model in early November 1975, finally completing the task on 20 March 1976.
Mr. R. Blackmore, Stipendiary Magistrate, commented during the hearings, “I personally found it to be of the greatest assistance in understanding the evidence…one can only envy the skill and admire the patience of the builder…and he is to be commended.” His Honour Judge Torrington added, “…the model has served the interests of justice tremendously as it made clear the views I have now come to concerning this case.”
Ernest John Kelly joined the police force in 1955, working his way through the ranks, eventually retiring in 1985 as Detective Sergeant 1st Class (OIC) of the Scientific Investigation Services. He received the Peter Mitchell Award in 1978 for “Most Outstanding Performance of Any Phase of Police Duty”.
Sometime after the enquiry, the model was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and in 2001, was donated by them to Maitland Gaol for future display in the then fledgling tourist attraction. Being made of Balsa wood, the model has sustained substantial damage over the past 33 years and is in desperate need of restoration before it can take its rightful place as the centre piece of the Maitland Gaol museum exhibits.
Staff at the Gaol have successfully tracked down Ernie Kelly but health issues have hindered his desire to refurbish the model himself. Maitland Gaol is keen to seek corporate sponsorship of the model restoration project and organisations interested in discussing a sponsorship package are urged to contact Gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482.