Port Arthur

Hi all!

Today we are happily settling into Nubeena. We met Eddie and his famjam (which are honestly starting to feel like an extension of my own family) for coffee at the cafe next door, which is also a bakery, pizza place and fish and chips place. Even more all in one than down to The Goose! They had eggs, bacon and hash brown type breakfast, which looked super delicious. And for the first time since I’ve been gone, I got a straight up blueberry muffin. Oh, it’s nice to be back to basics for a bit.

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Our main adventure today was Port Arthur. So, as I am sure you are aware, many people were transported to Australia as punishment for crimes in Britain. Little did I know, that Canadians and Americans were also sentenced for transport back in the day! Only some ended up in Van Dieman’s Land, which is what Tasmania used to be called. People could be transported for things as simple as stealing a loaf of bread. The idea was that if they were a good little convict, they could return to their homeland after their sentence (which could be like 8-12 years ish).

However, if they weren’t a good little convict, and they reoffended, becoming a career criminal, or committed crimes against the Crown, or did something really bad like murder, they ended up in jails within Australia, such as Port Arthur. Basically the “worst of the worst” convicts.

Geographically, it made an excellent site for a prison, as there is only one way in and out the Tasman Penninsula. It is full of hills and rough terrain, with the Southern Ocean on the other end. After one escape attempt, they went as far as placing a “dog line” across Eagle Hawk Neck, which was literally a line of tethered savage Bull Mastiffs, which would attack anyone trying to escape. The line even extended using pontoons into the water.

Then we come to the prison itself. Oh my. Definitely a grim memoir of the very grim history in these parts. The whole site is sloped down to the harbour. The mindset was that of surveillance, and this was reflected in the engineering of the site. The church is at the highest point, with God watching over everything. Next down the hill is the Commandant’s House. Then the civilian row, which was built about 10 years into the use of the site, where the married military crowd and medical staff resided. Next you had your single military barracks. The convicts were at the bottom of the slope, the dregs of society.

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The contrast between the classes is reflected everywhere there, and it’s just sickening. The entire place is convict-built. They even made each individual brick used in the construction. The commandant had this beautiful garden with a fountain. The civilian homes were immaculate, as their wives and children would be dragged out to not only perform their wifely duties, but also to work as nurses and seamstresses at the same time. When they weren’t working, they couldn’t really do much, as they could only socialize within their own social class, which had limited options, and it’s not like the kids could roam free in the yard with a bunch of convicts running around.

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So there was the housing for the regular convicts, but then there was this thing called the Separate Prison for the troublemakers.   Solitary confinement in cells approximately 5-6 ft x 5-6 ft. Forced labour during waking hours. They got an hour a day in a solitary exercise yard. Absolute silence at all times. They were allowed to read, and were encouraged to pick up trades. The punishment cell is a little bigger than the regular cell, but entirely dark and cold with thick sandstone walls. Scary. In the Separate Prison, the men had no names. They were assigned a block and a cell number, which became their new identity. Buried in unmarked graves across the harbour.

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So this was what I learned about this Sunday. Some pretty grim miserable stuff. Eddie reminded me we still use solitary confinement and long terms of inprisonment for small crimes in today’s society. Gives you even more to think about.

Enough with this now though, if I don’t have your hearts in your boots! We went back to the cafe for supper, same table, for a burger and chips. I can now order a cheeseburger with the lot and chips with chicken salt. Tomato sauce on the side. And almost sound like a local.

We did also buy good groceries today. The guy at the grocer was not impressed when I described the most giant sweet potato I’ve ever seen as “the size of a small child”. Not even kidding, you could have cradled it. Oh well. His loss to be not in on the smiles, lol.

Sarah

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