“Dog Screws’’

“6 years in hell’’

“Bob Marley lives”

“Murri Not 200 years, (from) The Beginning”

Often angry and desperate, sometimes humorous and sardonic, the graffiti at Boggo Road Gaol paints a picture of the lives of those incarcerated at one of Queensland’s most notorious prisons.

For Belinda Costanzo, a PhD candidate at Griffith University, her study of prisoner’s graffiti has been a fascinating journey providing a rare glimpse of life on the inside.

“So much of what we as researchers know about prisons is shaped by official accounts such prison records, correctional statistics, prison census data and governmental inquiries,’’ she said.

“But graffiti gives us an insight into lived experiences of prisoners and it can also tell us many things about life outside the prison environment.”

Spanning the politically turbulent 1970s and 1980s through to the prison’s closure in 1989, Belinda’s research included analysing newspaper articles, government reports, biographies, institutional records as well as the graffiti.

She identified three main themes within the graffiti: resistance, identity and coping.

Resistance: characterised by symbols including swastikas, anarchy signs, clench fists, Indigenous flags and images of weapons. As well as images, writing included words such as ‘liberty’, ‘triumph’, ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘dog’.

“Resistance was expressed either as institutional resistance as a whole or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ resistance. The latter can be seen in graffiti relating to land rights and Expo 88,’’ Belinda said.

Identity: expressed in ways of existence (by recording of names and dates), and possessions with words and/or images relating to sports and music or objects like motorcycles and cars. Relationships were also expressed consisting of hearts and/or words.

Coping: Characterised by humour and drugs.

“Graffiti expressing humour is likely to reflect the ability of prisoners to laugh when faced with adversity, while graffiti referring to drugs indicates withdrawal from their oppressive environment.

“When analysed within the historical, social and political context, these images are given a ‘voice’ and provide a narrative of prison life in Queensland. They show that prisoners were not just passive actors or completely separated from the social issues on the outside.”

Belinda will start Boggo Road Prison graffiti tours from October 26. Bookings at: http://boggoroadgaol.ticketleap.com/graffiti-tour/