Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First few days in Tasmania

We left Melbourne Sunday morning for an hourlong flight to Hobart, Tasmania, and after a wait of almost two hours finally got our rental car. For accommodation, we had booked two nights with ATC (Affordable Travel Club) hosts Kevin and Heather near Hobart. They had other commitments Sunday, and it was most convenient for us to show up later in the day. In the meantime, Kevin had suggested we visit Richmond, a Georgian village not too far from the airport. This is also the Coal River Valley wine region with about 30 vineyards, and we stopped at one of the first in the area, Coal Valley Vineyard for a most welcome lunch after that long wait at the airport. Richmond is indeed most picturesque wth many stone buildings intact from the early 19th C. The village was once strategically located between Hobart and the Port Arthur penal settlement, and was bypassed when a causeway was built in 1872...the town remains much as it was 150 years ago. 

Port Arthur was our destination on Monday...we arrived at 11:45 and didn't leave until after 6 pm and could have stayed longer. This World Heritage Site is a significant part of the British settlement story of Australia. It was first established in 1830 as a timber camp with convict labour. Shortly thereafter it became the prison for repeat offenders from all of the Australian colonies. The iconic Penitentiary...

...was originally built as a granary and converted into a prison with 136 cells for "prisoners of bad character" on the lower two floors and space for 480 "better behaved" convicts on the upper floors who also had hot and cold running water.
We joined a very informative 40 minute walking tour at the outset, and learned that this place was on the cusp of prison reform in the British empire. In the early to mid 1800s, British society was undergoing a huge upheaval due to the industrial revolution. Unemployment was rampant, and living conditions in the slums of London, Manchester and Birmingham was intolerable. People were desperate. There was an attempt at reform, education and training, as well as discipline and punishment, "a machine for grinding rogues into honest men". Port Arthur was a prison for men (the women convicts--about one in four were female--were housed elsewhere such as at the "Female Factory" in Hobart which we have yet to visit.) Medical care and treatment was top notch for the times, and there was a hospital for treating respiratory ailments and an asylum for the mentally ill. The hospital was destroyed in a bushfire in the late 1890s... was the church...

Convict transportation ended in 1853 because authorities realized that people were committing crimes in order to gain free transportation to the gold fields! The penal settlement served out its final days as an asylum and finally closed in 1877. Many of the buildings were dismantled or destroyed in bushfires in the late 19th C, but tourists started coming in the early 20th C; this has been an important destination since then. Having convict ancestry used to be undesirable but in the last several years public sentiment has swung the other way. 

We also visited the Isle of the Dead where around 1100 people are buried. On our tour were three cute little 8 year old girls from Sydney who asked very smart questions such as " Is the headstone actually on his head?" And the guide replied very appropriately, suggesting they think of a headstone as similar to a headboard of a bed. We were told about a convict who learned about stone masonry while incarcerated and developed his signature style, that of a rope decoration around the edges of the headstone. 

Other stonemasons were not quite as adept and obviously ran out of room, didn't put spaces between words and made spelling mistakes.

After leaving Port Arthur we visited the Remarkable Caves just 15 minutes south, where some foolish young women gave me the heeby-jeebies as they balanced precariously on the edges, taking selfies...

The cave is quite remarkable...looking like the map of Tasmania...

On Tuesday we drove north-west to Bicheno for the next two nights. Nearby is a colony of fairy penguins (aka Blue penguins) and we were lucky to see them returning to their burrows that night just after dark. These were photographed in a beam of red light.

1 comment:

  1. Great to meet you both today at my gallery in St Marys. Love your work with ties, especially the blue commission design. It shimmers!