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January 24, 2003
Guides conduct tours of the areas, and know their subject matter with eloquence and erudition. Perhaps they are reincarnated convicts relishing their freedom and are happy to recount their previous misery and brazen escape attempts. If you plan/manage to stay overnight in the area, ghost tours of particular spots are conducted during the evening. There is a short cruise included in the entrance fee, and those who wish to pay a little extra can stopover at the island cemetry, which is the final resting place of some of the convicts.
On the way home we were able to pick up fresh oysters at Taranna for a much more reasonable price than in Bicheno.
From journal Tasmania, Australia's Best Kept Secret
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
September 27, 2002
12,500 convicts served sentences here over 47 years and today the experience is recreated for visitors across 40 hectares of historic ruins and restored buildings. Come inside Port Arthur and explore history.
The Experience...by daylight
Our entrance ticket includes a 40-minute Historic Walking Tour that provides valuable orientation and background information. The settlement consists of 12 precincts documenting all aspects of society, from convict reform to civilian life.
Port Arthur was a thriving industrial town and used convict labour to build ships, grow vegetables and produce a range of clothing, timber and furniture products.
Our tour introduces many of the buildings whose recreated interiors and grounds capture the atmosphere of the day.
Also included is a half-hour harbour cruise. An informative commentary acquaints us with a small island where 1000 convicts are buried, mostly in unmarked graves. This is the Isle of the Dead.
At nearby Point Puer a boys’ prison was established in 1834, the British Empire’s first juvenile prison. Here they would learn a trade while quarrying stone. We learn that many were hanged for minor crimes - boys were considered adults at the age of seven and punished accordingly.
An exceptional interpretation gallery reconstructs convicts’ lives from actual events and surviving diaries. A playing card allocated to each visitor associates you with a real convict and a series of clever galleries then chart your "journey" through the settlement.
My guy was William Fraser, originally from Glasgow. In 1830, at 19, he was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to 7 years. Sent to work in the timber gangs, he was regularly flogged for loafing but eventually cheated his way to freedom two years before his time by forging official documents.
Lindsay is in charge tonight and he leads our group of 12 by lamplight through a 90-minute Ghost Tour of the site’s ghoulish highlights. There’s a full moon so it’s not too dark. I think that’s good.
The stories come thick and fast - sad, funny, curious and a little frightening.
At the surgeon’s house we visit the basement slab where experiments were performed. Creepy? Sure. But at the Separate Prison I feel sick. I have to get out, the air is electric, thick and chilling. By 1849 flogging became "unfashionable" and a new, crueler style of punishment was invented. The Separate Prison isolated prisoners in the cruelest way by solitary confinement and absolute silence. To reform their minds they said. Most of them went mad.
We didn’t go mad and now have a certificate to prove it.
Port Arthur is a world class historic site - make sure you save a day to visit. And a night, if you’re game.
From journal Australia's Great Southern Island (Way Down South)
August 26, 2002
It includes an award-winning exhibition called West Coast Reflections that documents 40,000 years of the West Coast’s colourful and sometimes tragic history, and a beautifully designed amphitheatre staging Tasmania’s longest running play – a true story you won’t want to miss!
Vanessa greets us with a smile, explaining the purpose of the centre and the exhibition,
"Its intention is to interpret history. The Southwest is a unique place, and the people and their stories deserve to be told."
Vanessa helps out at the centre and is a member of The Round Earth Company, a group responsible for staging the play "The Ship That Never Was" in the adjacent amphitheatre each evening. We decide to visit the exhibition and she explains that our A$3.50 ticket entitles us to return as often as we like.
Inside we are treated to a uniquely entertaining and educational journey. Funded by the Federal Government and on a A$1 million budget, three locals assembled this masterpiece; Robert Morris-Nunn was the architect, Richard Flanigan created the interior concepts and Kevin Perkins claims the inspiration.
In an hour we travel 40,000 years, from the first aboriginal communities to Australia’s most notorious convict settlement, the story of the piners’ search for valuable timber and the recent political turmoil of the hydroelectricity industry that divided a nation.
Interactive displays instruct, shock and amuse, encouraging involvment, and we marvel at the unique history of the area:
From journal Australia's Great Southern Island (The Wild West)