I’ve been advised NOT to miss Port Arthur when visiting Tasmania. In fact, you can say I was strongly advised to make this trip to Port Arthur to know Australia better. Now, I’m NOT a big fan of jailhouses, penal settlements and con history, but Australia’s convict heritage is truly one for the books. In a manner of speaking, it is AUSTRALIA. 





There are over 30 buildings, ruins and restored houses spread over land some 96 kilometers southeast of Hobart.  It is Australia’s Alcatraz. Except that the convicts who settled here were non-Australians, many shipped all the way from Great Britain. Yup, them European convicts settled here in Port Arthur and pretty much “built” this former timber camp. Some of those who came were adolescents, even as young as 9 years old. What can a 9 year old do so wrong that’s deserving of this punishment away from his home? Quite a number of these law-breakers got truly harsh punishment for what may today be regarded as trivial offenses like stealing bread. As repeat offenders, they were classed as the hardest of British criminals. Here in Port Arthur, these convicts did hard physical labor. Escape is far-fetched but not impossible. But any escape attempts were punished with lashes. That is, assuming you survived the dog line in Eaglehawk Neck which connects Tasman Peninsula with Mainland Tasmania. Yet, that is nothing compared with the “silent punishment system” where they were put in solitude within a Separate Prison, and told to keep quiet. Hooded, without light and sound, many grew insane. Spirits broken. 







The preserved buildings here include the Commandant’s Cottage in the best part of the area. Overlooking the calm waters, the cottage stands in stark contrast to the Penitentiary and the Separate Prison.  For a while, it was turned into a hotel and there are reminders of such “modernity” in some corners of the former Hotel Port Arthur.








Other cottages and buildings include the Asylum, Catholic Church, Parsonage, the Medical Officer’s Cottage, the Chaplain’s House, the Accountant’s House, the Hospital, and let’s not forget the lovely gardens and jetty. The “ruins” in my book is a top attraction more than the “preserved” buildings.  There’s something about those walls, bare, roofless  and all, begging to tell some story.  The Penitentiary’s bars and brick walls. How many convicts have touched those, remembering a life they couldn’t get back to anymore?  How many have looked out from those windows, hanging on to every memory of a past life? 






This open-air museum needs a minimum of 4 hours to explore. It’s really an easy stroll but the place being so packed with dark history begs some really serious attention. And I’m not even talking about  the not-too-long-ago  Port Arthur massacre. (I leave you to Google that other dark history). No, you can’t miss this. Tons of negative vibes, I know, which typically drive me away. But this is Australia’s convict history.  So much to learn. So much to feel sad about. So much cruelty.