We lost some of our group last night as we head into the day tour portion of the trip. However, I still had the majority of my posse as we headed out of Hobart at 7:30 and towards Port Arthur. First stop on the way though was Richmond, a small town which hosts the oldest bridge in Australia, built by the convicts who were living in the gaol just a stone’s throw down the street. The prison also happens to be directly opposite a bakery that hosted some truly gorgeous looking cakes and pastries.
About an hour down the road, we had another short stop, this time at a Lavender Farm. This was less interesting, but Tasmania is famous for it’s lavender so it makes sense to stop and have a look. Frankly I was much more interested in a dog that lived opposite the fields – he was extremely friendly.
Port Arthur was the prison colony built to replace Sarah Island, and is built on part of Tasmania that is only connected to the mainland by a tiny land bridge, making it very easy to defend and hard to escape. Over the years the number of buildings grew, until it eventually shut down and became a functioning town…which was then forced to relocate when the government realised its history (and tourism) value.
The first building I went to go see was the Seperate Prison, considered to be one of the most horrifying buildings in Australia. It was a building that probably drove many of its prisoners insane. Based on another prison in Pennsylvania, prisoners were kept locked in their cells 23 hours of the day, even eating in their rooms. When they were allowed out, they were forced to wear masks so they couldn’t make out anyone’s facial features, and absolutely no talking was allowed – even the guards used sign language. It wasn’t so much a prison as it was an isolation experiment.
The only time they were allowed to see another human face was when they were in the chapel. Each pew was separated by a swinging panel that blocked your neighbour from view, and there was a barrier in front which was so tall most average sized men could only have their eyes above it – their neighbours were hidden, but they would be able to see the priest.
But the worst room in this prison was their punishment cell. A true sensory deprivation chamber – it’s pitch black, and not even half the size of a normal cell. They’ve restored it so one can experience the punishment (bar the inevitable mould, slime and rats that may have inhabited it) a prisoner would have faced in here. I gave it a shot – lasted maybe 2 minutes before I had to get out. There’s no adjusting or getting used to it – there’s no light. If one had dragged me into this room unconscious and locked the door, I would have thought I’d gone blind when I’d woken. Prisoners had to face 24 hours in this cell.
Ironically, this punishment may have very well resulted in it’s neighbouring building’s construction. Port Arthur built an Asylum, and was one of the first places to actually try using kindness on those considered insane. In hindsight, many of the patients (who were elderly and had spent most of their lives in prison) were clearly suffering depression or dementia.
There was also a pauper’s hall, as many prisoners would leave after their sentence, only to find no work in Hobart, and eventually returning as paupers in their old age. Port Arthur actually accepted responsibility for these men, and created what was essentially a prototype for the modern Nursing Home.
Other buildings of note include the commandants house, which has some impressive history. Originally a four roomed home (which have now been refurbished to show how the commandant would have lived), it was eventually extended several times, including several decades when it was a hotel and later, a boarding house. Another is the cottage on top of the hill, which once held a political prisoner who refused to leave without a full pardon, which spent several years as a YHA hostel (and still has the symbol on the side).
I really wanted to see the right side of the grounds as well, as it was home to the third most haunted building in Australia, and the church remnants. However our tickets also included a boat cruise, and thanks to the time constraints (we only got about 3 hours here) I only had about 20 minutes before it started. Regardless, I took my chances and bolted up that hill.
Very nearly killed me, but managed to get up the hill and check out the Reverend’s home (which is now a museum regarding much of Port Arthur’s life when it was a village) and see the church before bolting down and getting to the harbour.
Frankly, I rather wish I hadn’t bothered. I was of the impression that the boat would let you off at the different islands – however you can only do that if you book a tour of said island in advance. Otherwise, it’s just a boat going round in a circle on the water. Waste of 20 minutes I didn’t have to waste. To be honest I really needed at least another hour – it’s not hard to understand why a lot of people recommend two days to see Port Arthur.
When we landed, I was short of time, so checked out the Penitentiary in greater detail, and stumbled across the memorial garden. Much to my astonishment, I learned that there was a mass shooting here in 1996 – where 35 people died in the cafe which no longer stands. I’d never even heard of this event…
On the way back, Jerry drove through one of Tasmania’s most interesting little villages called Doo. For whatever reason, every house in this town has a name that includes the word ‘Doo,’ so you had the fun of hunting them down and finding your favourite. One’s that stick in my mind were ‘Doo-me,’ ‘Cockadoodle Doo’ and ‘Dr. Doolittle.’
Afterwards, we stopped by Pirate’s Bay, which has a pretty beautiful landscape, and the area is home to several interesting features, such as the Tasmanian Arch, and the Devil’s Cauldron (sea caves that have collapsed and created a stream of water that appears like a bubbling cauldron). The final stop was the blowhole, which is similar to the Devil’s Cauldron, but the rock tunnel hasn’t collapsed yet. However, most people were more interested in the ice cream/fish cart right next to the car park. Which in the tradition of the area, is named ‘Doo-licious.’
For some of the group, this was the last night, as they were only on the 6 day tour, so to say goodbye, we all headed out for a proper meal out. One girl said she knew the perfect place and took us to Brunswick Bar (ironically going back to another girl’s hostel).
Unfortunately, there was a big event on, so we struggled for a table, and I was a little panicky at the prices. It was way out of what I could afford. Eventually I went for a starter…which actually worked out for me, as the guy on the till wasn’t used to the new menu and actually mistook it for a main dish, giving me a lot more food for a lesser price! Afterwards, we had to say a tearful goodbye to those leaving, and cling to what was left. After tomorrow our number will be down to 7…