A scene in Boy Swallows Universe has started an Australian petition.

As Boy Swallows Universe continues to attract praise from viewers everywhere, a petition has been launched to spearhead a museum and tour of one of the show's most iconic real-life settings.

ICYMI: The Netflix adaption of Trent Dalton's semi-autobiographic novel is set in '80s Brisbane, and follows Eli Bell as he juggles bullies, past trauma, crime and a seriously dysfunctional (but loving) family. The heartfelt and witty series stars Phoebe Tonkin, Travis Fimmel, Simon Baker and Anthony LaPaglia – not to mention Felix Cameron as main character Eli. 

While most of the characters have been fictionalised, Eli's mentor Arthur 'Slim' Halliday was based on Dalton's real-life childhood family friend and sometimes-babysitter, who famously broke out of Boggo Road Gaol. Several times. 

Watch the trailer for Boy Swallows Universe. Post continues after video. 

Video via Netflix.

The real Boggo Road Gaol closed in 2002, after 119 years in operation – and now, in the wake of the show's success, acclaimed author and operator of history tours, Jack Sim, has kickstarted a petition to 'Reopen Boggo Road Gaol Tours'.

The Boggo Road Gaol manager and Brisbane local is calling for the site to be turned into a museum, after earlier plans by the state government to do so were stalled after the pandemic and impending Olympic Games.

The hopes are for an official Boggo Road Gaol Museum to be established, which will display historic artifacts donated by the public and feature tours from former prisoners and officers.


The release of Boy Swallows Universe has further exacerbated the need for this project to go ahead. Fans will know the notorious gaol for its link to real-life criminal Slim, played by Bryan Brown in the seven-part series.

Slim was originally sent to Boggo in 1939 for housebreaking before he was sent back to jail in 1952 for the murder of a taxi driver. The convict would become infamous for the number of times he successfully broke out of the prison.

"He became known as the Houdini of Boggo road for his slipperiness," Sim told Mamamia.

"Trent [Dalton] as a kid had this man as his babysitter. His [step]father knew Halliday from jail and that's how he drifted into their circle and family. In my opinion, I believe he is arguably Australia's greatest jailbreaker.

"Every day was dedicated to trying to find a way to get one over the guards: to hide something and test the barriers and boundaries... If you made a list of the 100 most infamous prisoners in Australian history, Halliday is in the top 10."

Bryan Brown as Slim Halliday in Boy Swallows Universe. Image: Netflix.


Since the maximum-security prison opened its doors in 1883, it became known for accommodating the longest-serving criminals in the country. Its reputation was one steeped in fear, chaos and violence.

"In the 1980s, Boggo was the scene of some of the biggest riots ever seen in Australian prisons," Sim said.

"There's no doubt Boggo became Australia's most notorious prison. Prisoners going from Queensland to other jails were treated almost like gods because they survived Boggo. It was regarded as one of the most backwards, difficult, and violent places in the Australian prison system."  

Sim has been researching and writing about Boggo Road and the prison inmates that lived there for years. 

"I started working at the jail, collecting stories from our law offices back in the early '90s," he said. 

"My personal connection is that I've spent decades trying to keep these stories [alive]: I've researched and written scripts and employed people. I grew up in Brisbane, which had this terrible habit of saying it wasn't a very interesting place. But to me, it is a very interesting place and I found it strange that people were so disparaging of Brisbane. And I was always drawn to kind of horrible things."


Sim grew up with horror stories of Boggo Road's dark past being shared around the dinner table.

"As a child, there wasn't a single one of us who wasn't in absolute fear of the red brick walls of Boggo Road Gaol. It was a palpable and physical thing. It was a place that was shunned, despised, feared, and for people from Queensland – its infamy and reputation spanned generations." 

Given the heightened interest in the real-life stories that inspired Boy Swallows Universe, a tour and museum of the prison that housed Slim seems like an obvious next step.

"With the arrival of the Netflix series, we've just been swamped [with interest]," Sim said.

"The book was already an international bestseller, and on top of that, the Netflix series produced by Screen Queensland has now arrived."

The petition currently stands at more than 1,000 signatures with the initial aim of acquiring 1,500 petitioners.

"We're not unreasonable. We understand there the safety concerns and that the development has some challenges. But we're calling for the jail to be opened by the end of this year's school holidays. We need the certainty of an opening date and the public is asking for it in spades," he said.

"We've got the opportunity to capitalise off a really powerful piece." 

Feature image: Netflix. 

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