He’s the boss of a high security prison in regional north Queensland—the first Indigenous person to run a correctional centre in Queensland; has three decades of policing and correctional experience in Australia’s Outback and the Top End and he’s a fan of 80s synthesised pop musicians Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Meet the colourful and charismatic Michael Macfarlane, General Manager (GM) of Lotus Glen Correctional Centre.
Michael’s journey to GM began many years ago as a hospital orderly – where he can still vividly recall working in an operating theatre carting body parts. He then spent time in the Western Australian police force working in remote areas before going on to become Superintendent of a remote prison in the Northern Territory and Superintendent of a unique prison in the Kimberley.
Grounded by work and life experiences, Michael’s holistic worldview influences the decisions he makes during the day-to-day running of the Lotus Glen Correctional Centre. Describing his role as “like a Mayor”, helps those unfamiliar with life behind the wire to understand its operation and its magnitude. Overseeing a high security prison, low security farm and small community-based work camp is no small thing.
“To me you’re the mayor of a small town,” explained Michael. “You’re responsible for everything from food, water and electricity through to sport activities, building maintenance, finance and of course safety. Oversight of all these things is what’s required.”
The mayoral analogy extends beyond the physical to Michael’s values and beliefs. A strong advocate of community, you’ll often hear Michael reminding himself and his staff that “the person you look after today may be your neighbour tomorrow”.
It is Michael’s second role as a general manager. The first time was as GM and superintendent in the Northern Territory correctional system. If you could add a marker to his career achievements it would be during his time in the Kimberley Region where he became highly regarded and respected for his stewardship of a life-skills model for Indigenous inmates.
“You start with basic life-skills and work your way up from there” he explains, adding “the prisoners learn about healthy eating, how to take their medication and the basics of how to cook and clean.
“It might sound silly to some people but for those that have been brought up sleeping in a creek or sleeping rough for most of their lives—they don’t have those skills.”
The responsibilities that come as an Indigenous man working with a largely Indigenous prisoner population are ones he doesn’t take lightly.
“For Aboriginal people, it’s easier to bounce off other Aboriginal people. They’ll do the basics—but if you want to get down in to the meaningful stuff they like to talk to someone who has an understanding of culture.
“I’ve had opportunities throughout my career and my life. Now is the opportunity to give something back. I always look at what I can do, not what I can’t do.”
For the past six years, Michael was involved in a unique build at the West Kimberley Regional Prison in the Far North of Western Australia. Based on Aboriginal culture, the correctional centre was built as a town and operated a self-care model with a focus on life-skills. It’s his best work yet, he says.
“When prisoners would first come in, they’d have their heads down. After a couple of months they’ve got their heads up, they’ve got their pride with them.
“Seeing people leave with realistic skills that are lawful is great to see.” He explains, “like when I get home I want to be able to cook for my kids or I want to give my wife a bit of a hand.”
And mentors–he said there’s been many. In particular Phil Brown, the first Indigenous Superintendent of a prison in Australia, was his role model during his time in the Northern Territory. But it is to his mum that he heaps the greatest praise.
“When I was growing up. Mum always said I’d end up in jail. Well I did, and I’m running it.”