Just outside the imposing east-facing brick walls of Goulburn Jail, men are encouraged to see life’s positive outlook.
Overseeing a team of up to 10 inmates who are mowing grass around the centuries-old graves of St Saviour’s Cemetery is Kevin Twadell. He can recall times in his younger years when life looked a challenge.
This included before he joined Corrective Services, when he was working for the then government-owned railway workshops and had lobbied a transport minister not to allow them to be privatised, which would disrupt the livelihoods of about 50 families.
“We staved off privatisation for a couple of years and then it came to the crunch where everybody was looking at redundancy. I chose a career as an overseer,” Kevin said.
“I didn’t think I would ever work in a jail,” he said. “I probably had the same feeling as a lot of other people did, I didn’t want to go inside the four walls. But I was 39 years of age – I think it was the best thing I probably ever did,” he said.
Now a senior overseer, community projects and external grounds maintenance for Corrective Services, Kevin’s goal is to support the inmates he works alongside, and to draw on his experiences to help them understand life need not be as bad as it may seem.
The inmates are showing the trust placed in them is well placed as they enjoy the freedom to join a community project outside those four walls. “The test is not on until they are out in the community, that we have made the right decision in who we select, how we select them,” Kevin said.
He said if the trusted inmates had any trade skills related to grounds maintenance they could put these to use, and they could acquire skills and enhance their prospects for parole, rehabilitation, reintegration into the community and a job.
“That’s our end goal, to try to minimise as much as possible them coming straight back to jail (after their release),” Kevin said.
One of the inmates managing his mental health inside the jail and aftermath of drug abuse told Kevin the work program was exactly what he needed rather than going down other options within the jail. “To me that’s a positive,” Kevin said.
Maintaining a cemetery has become something of a family tradition for Kevin. Before bringing the family to Goulburn where he began to look for work opportunities, his father Henry had worked for his grandfather Leslie Twadell who was a sexton at French’s Forest Cemetery in Sydney. While there, Henry became a stonemason, carving sandstone. (These days Kevin adheres to rules prohibiting the use of whipper snippers or brush cutters around the graves, to avoid damaging sandstone.)
Henry volunteered to mow all the long grass at St Saviour’s Cemetery soon after the family arrived in Goulburn in 1978, and Kevin was put to work pushing a mower around the old graves for his dad.
Following school Kevin went to Sydney where he became a mechanic before returning to Goulburn where he worked for Neville Newton at Goulburn abattoir and later a stint with the railway for nine years.
These days his team of trusted inmates has taken a load off the voluntary Friends of Goulburn Historic Cemeteries. Heather West from the friends group said the inmates were making an enormous contribution on a ride-on mower and other equipment. “Our elderly volunteers can concentrate on the lighter weeding and garden maintenance,” she said.
Friends group volunteer Linda Cooper added: “Four years ago we thought we would never get to the end of this,” gesturing across the spread of graves, grass and the occasional weed. Daphne Penalver said if all the work had been left to the friends group they would have felt overwhelmed.
Except for two pines trees, little of the original vegetation stands to soften the old cemetery’s stark, stained graves. The friends planted hardy lilac trees at the rear of the cemetery and continue to pull out any emerging blackberry or tree of heaven that appears. They clean up the holes of a resident wombat and trim the trees.
And so life rolls on among the pioneer graves, with lessons for us all about the choices we make.