Port Arthur & the convict trail, TAS

In 2011, Dave’s parents came to Tassie for the Easter break. We spent Easter on The Tasman Peninsula at Storm Bay Guest House in Nubeena and our days exploring the convict trails of the peninsula. We stopped first at the Cole Mines Historic Site, then Port Arthur Historic Site.

The Coal Mines Historic Site and the Port Arthur Historic Site are two hugely significant Australian Convict Heritage Sites. The Coal Mines site is less than an hours drive away from Port Arthur and much less known. The website describes it as:

Tasmania’s first operational mine, established as a much-needed local source of coal, but also as a place of punishment for the ‘worst class’ of convicts.

The Coal Mines formed part of the system of convict discipline and punishment on the Tasman Peninsula. During its busiest years almost 600 prisoners with their jailers and their families lived and worked at the Mines. While the underground workings are no longer accessible, you may visit the picturesque ruins of houses, barracks, offices and punishment cells.

The Port Arthur Historic Site. It is the best preserved convict site in Australia and one of the country’s most visited heritage attractions. I got this from the Port Arthur website:

Port Arthur was a key part of the colonial system of convict discipline. Remote, harsh, with no chance of escape, this was the perfect destination for hardened, repeat offenders. But Port Arthur was much more than a prison.

As you walk within the Site, the powerful, personal stories of convicts, soldiers, free settlers and their families will reveal themselves to you. Port Arthur’s tale is told in many ways. It will stay with you long after you have departed.

Port Arthur is a place that every Australian, and all international visitors with a wish to understand more of Australia and Australians, should visit.

I had never been there before, so was really looking forward to exploring the historic site. Two things surprised me a lot about it. The first was that there was so much to see. You could probably spend days there. I’ve been a couple of times since then and still haven’t seen everything. I got this map from the website to demonstrate how huge it is.

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The second thing that surprised me was seeing a number of families just out for the day at the site; lying on the grass, having picnics, or chucking a footy/frisbee around. Initially, I thought that it would be a really sad place to visit. I mean, it is. It’s a former convict settlement known for strict physical and psychological punishment, and in 1996 the site of the horrific Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed – many at the site itself.

There’s no denying that the site is sad and it leaves you really glad that the colonial enterprise moved past those types of penal systems. But I kind of expected to leave feeling only that. I didn’t expect to feel a little uplifted by seeing Tassie families (some maybe even the descendants of prisoners who were at Port Arthur, who knows?) engaging with their history. They are here, and Tassie is the amazing state it is today, because of the sacrifices and hard work of their forebears and I think there’s something a bit special about seeing people going to the site just for a day out.

Anyway, I’m probably waaaay over-analysing the visitors at Port Arthur, but I just thought I’d share my thoughts. I guess I kind of just fell into the trap of expecting Port Arthur to be freeze framed in the 1800’s and kind of locked there, but interestingly it isn’t. It has meaning and relevance to people today and they give it value as a place to take their family on a day out. Archaeologists on the site itself are still making new discoveries, which I find really fascinating.

Here’s some photos of the Coal Mines, Port Arthur and the start of our Easter trip… To see the rest of our Easter trip in 2011, where we went to Mt Field and Mt Roland click here.

3 responses to “Port Arthur & the convict trail, TAS

  1. Hi, lovely post and great photos. Just a small point, the Coal Mines site is just 25 minutes’ drive from Port Arthur, not hours away. Cheers.

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