Wonders of Australia – Day Sixteen – Saturday 24 October 2015
Weather – Sunny, mid/high teens
A late start to the morning meant I woke long before my alarm went off. It seems Mt. Wellington has its own tablecloth.
I had had the front desk check on my Port Arthur with Salamanca Market day tour with Gray Line and found that I wasn’t on their list for pick-up, so they arranged to send out a van for me. Since it was Saturday, the Port Arthur optional included a visit to the Salamanca Market and for some reason they expected me to show up for the Port Arthur tour from there. This is why it’s good to check. Avoids confusion.
The pick-up got me at 8:30 and rather than take me around to other hotels, they dropped me right at the market so that I got to check it out before it got really busy. The pickup for Port Arthur wasn’t until 11:15 so I had two and a half hours at the market.
The Gray Line van shows up and I hop aboard. We had to wait as a Polish couple’s backpacks were retrieved from the office. They had left it on the morning transfer thinking they were taking the same bus to Port Arthur. (Always a good idea to ask the bus driver before leaving anything behind!)
There’s only about a dozen of us going and we’re in a smaller van. Our driver is Sue and she’s a hoot. Once we’re all aboard, she fiddles with her mic, gets it on and looks at us, saying, “who wants fries with that?”
As we go over the bridge she gives us the story of the collapse and then points to Mt. Wellington. It was originally named Table Mountain but in 1832 was renamed in honour of the Duke of Wellington who had defeated Napolean at Waterloo in 1815. At 1269m, it’s not the highest mountain in Tasmania. It is number forty-nine. The highest is Mt. Ossa at just over sixteen hundred metres.
We pass the airport and drive through the rolling hills towards the Tasman Peninsula. We pass through Dunnally which was the site of a bush fire in 2012 and with the only road out of the town cut off, the residents were forced to evacuate to the beaches. People as far away as Hobart just left work, got in their boats and saved the people stranded on the beach.
We cross over a causeway to Forestier Peninsula. This causeway is the point at which they can restrict the movement of the Tasmanian Devils between the mainland and the peninsulas. This is important as the devils that live on the peninsula are free of a facial tumour disease that affects the devils in the rest of Tasmania.
We arrive at Port Arthur at one and Sue notes that there used to be a tram at the top of the hill that was used to transport passengers and material to the prison. But it wasn’t powered. At least, not by steam. The convicts pulled it up.
Once at the top, I imagine it would only need a slight push.
At 1:30, we get a walking tour that takes us towards the main buildings. There’s a model of the prison as it was.
We walk in from the lower left and the walking tour spends most of the time on the big lawn in the centre as she points out the buildings. The church is to the far right. The barracks is the largest building just to the left of the centre of the photo.
Port Arthur is one of eleven sites making up the Australian Convict Sites and is Tasmania’s leading tourist attraction. It was named for George Arthur, the Lieutenant-governor of Van Dieman’s Land (the original name for Tasmania).
The settlement started as a timber station in 1830 and the prison was opened in 1833, at first receiving Britain’s most hardened criminals. Contrary to popular belief, convicts weren’t sent over for stealing a loaf of bread. There was only one case of that. The inmates were subjected to harsh conditions and punishments and even food was rationed depending on behavior. It also imposed the silent treatment which involved placing a hood over their heads and requiring the inmates to remain silent. The treatment often led to the development of mental illness among the inmates and an asylum was built next to the prison. The treatment was so harsh, it’s believed that some prisoners committed murder just to receive a death sentence. Of the 1646 graves on the site, only 180 belong to staff and support personnel.
The prison did experiment with using the inmates for work including ship building. The products they produced were actually better than what the UK could produce. The facility was shut down to ship-building as a result and they were only permitted to do maintenance and repairs on ships.
The prison was touted as escape-proof and was built on the Tasman peninsula which helped isolate it from the mainland. The Eaglehawk Neck is an isthmus only thirty metres wide and half starved dogs were chained on a line from one coast to the other. It was called the Dog Line. The administration even spread the rumour that the water around the peninsula was infested with sharks, though almost all of the inmates were unable to swim anyway.
Despite this, there were escape attempts, including a successful one that meant swimming through the waters. In another attempt, a man found a kangaroo carcass and thought it would be a good idea to cross the Eaglehawk Neck wearing the carcass. How he thought he’d get by the half-starved dogs remains a mystery. How he thought the half-starved guards would not think kangaroo would be like hitting the lottery also remains a mystery. The guards took shots at their perceived feast and the inmate gave himself up.
By then, it was already attracting attention as a potential tourist attraction even before it closed and it attracted tourists for the next century. In 1979, the site received funding to develop and preserve the area.
In 1996, Port Arthur and area was the site of Australia’s worst mass murder and one of the world’s worst mass murders committed by a single individual. Thirty-five people were killed by a man who believed a property dispute with neighbours had led to his father’s suicide. He believed they had purchased land out from under his father and they were his first victims. The café where many of murders were committed in Port Arthur was closed down and a new facility built. There is a memorial to those who died but the guide never mentioned it and I never saw it. Some good did come from the event. It led to sweeping gun control laws that strictly controlled automatic and semi-automatic weapons. There have been no mass killings in Australia since the laws were passed.
Our guide pointed out each of the main buildings. This was the barracks that was first built as a flour mill but there wasn’t enough water to drive the wheel so it was converted into a barracks.
He was sentenced to death but it was changed to exile. He escaped from other prisons and was eventually sent to Port Arthur where a quarter of the inmates were Irish. To avoid O’Brien inciting rebellion among the Irish inmates, they kept him in the house. They were willing to release him but O’Brien had refused, but changed his mind after three months.
There is a church with no name that was built by the boys imprisoned there.
Our ticket includes a ride on the ferry to the Isle of the Dead (but not for a tour of the island). At three, I boarded the boat and it first stopped at Point Puer. This is the site of the boy’s prison where some three thousand boys were incarcerated.
About one thousand graves of the prisoners, staff and support personnel are buried there. The free were buried in a separate area in the northwest corner of the island. Convicts were not permitted headstones at first but some from after 1850 are present. There are only two structures on the island – a hut for the gravedigger and a shelter for the mourners.
Granola bars. Highly recommend them.
From here, we head to see the Tasman Arch. On the way, we pass through Doo Town where every house has a name with Doo in it. We see Just Doo It, Much A-Doo and others.
We stop at the Arch and have a few minutes for photos.
It’s about an hour back to Hobart and as we approach the airport, Sue just happens to say ‘that’s the airport’ and enters the round-about that can take us to the airport or to Hobart. As we enter it, the Polish couple say they want to go to the airport.
Sue was like “what?” but she keeps going around in a circle, skips the Hobart turnoff and goes back around to come out of the roundabout heading for the airport. She’s confused cause the couple didn’t load any luggage onto the van. She pulls up and asks them if they’re sure they want to get off. They pick up their small backpacks and say yes.
So, off they go. We really hope it wasn’t something lost in translation and could only assume they had just come for the day and left their luggage on the mainland.
We’re back on the highway and she asks us for our hotels. When I say Wrest Point, she laughs and says there’s always one.
Cause the hotel is on the far side of the city. So, I get to do the grand hotel tour of Hobart as we drop everyone off and I’m back to the hotel by 6:30. I check on my morning transfer and order room service and sip on Hartz sarsaparilla while I get packed up for the flight to Adelaide tomorrow.
Somewhere in the process, I lost my metal luggage lock which had followed me since 2009. It’s probably in the Wrest Point Hotel’s lost and found now.
Go to Day Seventeen
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