Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hobart, Australia

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 – Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Perfect day! Fabulous weather with clear blue skies with a slight breeze at 65 degrees
We set the clocks back another hour. When it is noon here, it is 8PM the night before in Delaware.

“An exile, saddest of all prisoners; who has the whole world for a dungeon strong; Seas, mountains, and the horizon’s verge for bars.” Lord Byron

We were up very early to see the approach to Hobart through the narrows. It was gorgeous! Sun rises approx. 6:30 and there were mountains on both sides of us with little towns scattered over the mountainside. Had breakfast in the room as we sailed in to port and disembarked about 9.

Hobart is the state capital and most populous city of the Australian Island state of Tasmania. Founded in 1803 as a penal colony, the city was more of a prison camp than a capital. A permanent detachment of 25 officers guarded the original 178 convicts. Population was approx. 205,500 in 2006. The city is the home port for both Australian and French Antarctic Operations. Mount Wellington is approx. 3850 feel high. From the General Post Office, it was here on March 8, 1912 that Roald Amundsen sent his telegram to confirm to the world that he had indeed reached the South Pole and returned safely. Other sites: Shot Tower, St. David’s Cathedral, Parliament House, Old Hobart Gaol (jail), Australia Antarctic Division (museum), Mercury Print Museum (their newspaper), Tasmanian Distillery and Museum, Transport Museum, Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Russell Falls and the Cascade Brewery (Australia’s oldest).

Hurried up hill to Avis to pick up the minivan and met the rest of the gang of five for our day trip to Port Arthur. It is approx. 60 miles each way and we found our way easily out of town -- over the Tasman Bridge on Route A3 and headed to the southeast of town. Beautiful drive on windy roads through Sorrell, the largest of the small villages en route to Port Arthur. We stopped to pick up our lunch/picnic and continued on down the beautiful road, passing beautiful bays with deep blue water, sheep, cows, horses, the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, many vineyards and much farmland. Gorgeous drive on a near-perfect day!

Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a small timber station in 1830. Originally designed as a replacement for the recently closed timber camp at Birches Bay, it quickly grew in importance within the penal system of the colonies.

The initial decade of settlement saw a penal station hacked from the bush, and industries, such as ship building, shoe making, smithing, timber and brick making established. In the 1840s there were over 1100 convicts. Soon a huge flour mill, granary and hospital were started and in 1848, the first stone was laid for the Separate Prison (solitary confinement). At that point, there was a complete shift in punishment philosophy from physical to mental subjugation. The site expanded as the convicts pushed further into the encircling hills to extract the valuable timber.

1850s and 1860s were years of remarkable activity with expansive tracts of bush being harvested to feed a burgeoning timber industry and large plots of ground were turned over to cultivation. They converted the old flour mill and granary into a penitentiary and workshops were built to house a steam-driven saw mill, blacksmith and forge and carpentry workshop. In the 1870s, the settlement began to dwindle as the convicts were either too aged, infirm or insane to be of any use. The last convict was shipped out in 1877. There were terrible fires in 1895 and 1897 which destroyed many buildings (there were 200 and are now just 30). With the settlement’s closure also came the first tourists. By the 1920s and 1930s, the area had three hotels and two museums.

Included in the price of the ticket is a guided tour of the prison and a guided boat ride out past the island were the boys lived, Point Pues. 3000 boys passed through this reformatory built exclusively for juvenile male convicts (ages 8-18) in the British Empire. It was renowned for its regime of stern discipline and harsh punishment. The Isle of the Dead is where over 1100 people are buried -- without tombstones or markers. The lower half of the island was reserved for convict, lunatics, invalids and paupers. Originally, no tombstone or other mark was to be placed on their graves, but some appear as regulations were relaxed after the 1850s. The high ground was reserved for civil and military burials. Pneumonia, dysentery, drowning, scurvy, whooping cough, scarlet fever, stroke, heart disease and childbirth were some of the reasons for death found in the medical records left behind.

Many examples were given of men and boys who, after stealing a seemingly small amount of bread, or other item, received banishment from England to Hobart, Australia, as their punishment. They were never to see their families again and suffered horrible punishments with whips, salt and sun.

As we walked in the beautiful warm sunshine and sailed on the crystal clear deep blue water around the bay and saw the remains of the prison buildings in front of us, it was very, very hard to visualize the prison and the oppressive atmosphere the inmates faced. Ghost tales are re-told on evening tours and I am sure you would leave feeling the spirits of the past.

“The model for Port Arthur was discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education. It was an ambitious experiment. Its methods seem cruel today, and many men were broken. Some were absorbed into other experiments, the beginnings of the modern welfare system or of the modern asylum. But some men did leave equipped for a future that they could not otherwise have dreamed of. All of the buildings are a monument to the trade training they received, from the production of the building materials through to construction.

Port Arthur is not just a monument to an ambitious but deeply flawed experiment that took place a long time ago. It has lessons for us today as we continue to wrestle with the need for punishment and reform within our criminal justice system.”

Upon our return to Hobart, we did a quick tour of Salamanca Place which consists of a splendid row of Georgian sandstone warehouses dating back to the 1830s, now converted into cafes, craft shops, galleries and restaurants.

After returning the car, we hustled back to the ship and missed a 4:30 concert by the Tasmania Police Pipe Band, but we were able to see them as they played a beautiful concert, complete with marching!, as we prepared to sail! In their kilts and bagpipes and drums, it was quite an event harborside! The group was formed in 1969 and have performed at ceremonies, community events and at international Police Military Tatoos.

Ate oriental in the buffet, did laundry, watched the production number of “CELTIC HEARTBEAT” and went to bed exhausted. What a wonderful day! I would definitely return to Tasmania to explore and relax.