As we drove south from Sorrell evidence of the tragic fires that plagued this part of the country in January became more and more evident. Fences burnt here a house completely destroyed where its neighbour appeared to escape unscathed. Lots of trees had been burnt along the road and many were cut off low to the ground. The township of Dunally was probably the worst affected with many houses, the school and police station decimated; across the road from the Police Station the service station was unaffected. The fires do not appear to have reached Eagle Hawk Neck Township although there is a patch of burnt forestry along the water to the west of the neck itself.
Once we were set up we drove back to Port Arthur to the Visitor Centre at the Historic Site (http://www.portarthur.org.au/) to check out the lay of the land. We purchased our tickets for tomorrow as we intend to spend the day exploring the site. While we were at the Centre we had lunch then headed north to see the sights of Eagle Hawk Neck.
Our first stop was at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (http://www.tasmaniandevilpark.com/) where we were lucky enough to arrive in time to see the feeding of the devils and witness their behavior during feeding and the eerie calls. We saw three different groups of devils and took lots of pictures; we also saw kangaroos and bird life kept at the park. There is no entry fee to the park but there is a compulsory donation required to gain entry.
Next we visited the the Federation Chocolate Factory at Taranna (http://www.federationchocolate.com.au/), visiting their timber museum and sampling some of the chocolates and truffles made on site. We purchased a few supplies then drove on to Eagle Hawk Neck to explore the “Dog Line” and the Officers’ Quarters Museum at the Neck (http://www.think-tasmania.com/dog-line/).
When the convict settlement was operating at Port Arthur a line of eighteen ferocious dogs was established across Eagle Hawk Neck to prevent the convicts escaping at this narrow point. If a convict approached the line the barking of the dogs would alert the guards to the possible escape and allow appropriate action to be taken. There is a brass statute of a chained dog and his kennel near the road to mark the location of the line. The Officers’ Quarters at the dog line is now the only remaining military building in the area and has been developed into a museum.
We moved from here to the Ocean Cliffs Lookout for some lovely sights of the cliffs south from the neck. Then we visited the Blow Hole in the Tasman National Park near Doo Town (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doo_Town,_Tasmania); however the sea was quite flat and the action at the blow hole was virtually nonexistent. Doo Town has many houses with Doo in the name such as Doo Nix, Thistle Doo and the like; quite a novelty.
While in the area we also visited Tasman Arch and the Devils Kitchen (although because of the calm sea there was little cooking in the kitchen) situated in the Tasman National Park (http://www.discovertasmania.com/activities__and__attractions/wilderness_areas/national_parks_and_reserves/tasman_national_park). We also travelled several kilometres down a dusty gravel road to Waterfall Bay to look at magnificent granite cliffs towering above a deep blue inlet.
Then back to camp for the day to begin a new adventure tomorrow.
Saturday morning dawned a little damp; there had been some rain overnight but the sun was making an effort to appear and promised a reasonable day. We set off for the Point Arthur Historic Site arriving at 9:00am just as the doors to the facility were being opened by the staff.
The tickets we had purchased entitled us to an audio tour device and we collected these and our ticket lanyards and prepared to explore the complex with cameras, lanyards and audio device and headsets hanging around our necks; add a couple of backpacks to complete the outfits. The first order of business was an introductory guided walking tour at 9:30am so we gathered for this activity with a number of other visitors and listened while the guide introduced us to the site and gave us a potted history of the establishment.
Our walking tour was not very far in distance but lasted 30 minutes during which time it started to drizzle and we donned our showerproof jackets. Over time we have learned that you take the weather as you find it when touring and if you don’t come prepared you may pay the price. We moved off further into the complex inspecting the ruins of the Penitentiary (initially constructed as a flour mill then converted to the jail), the Law Court, the Guard Tower, and the Officers’ Quarters (Tower Cottage).
A cruise to the Isle of the Dead (http://www.portarthur.org.au/index.aspx?base=1930) was part of the package and we hastened to the wharf to catch the ferry at 11:00am to the island. Around 1000 burials occurred on the island during the 40 odd years it operated as a cemetery with all but 9 of the convicts, lunatics and paupers buried in unmarked graves. Nine headstones, mostly erected in the later years of the operation, mark the graves of convicts but there are sixty or more headstones marking the graves of military and civil officers and women and children who died at the settlement.
Upon returning from the cruise and tour of the island, we inspected the Dockyard which was once a productive shipyard. The remains of the Lime Kiln and the Clerk of Works’ and Shipwright houses are also at this part of the island. After inspecting the ruins of the Broad Arrow Cafe and walking through the memorial garden (constructed following the mass shootings at the facility by Martin Bryant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_%28Australia%29) on 28th April 1996 where some 35 people were killed and many others injured), we returned to the Visitor Centre for lunch.
After lunch we visited the Policeman’s Residence (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/30122507) which was erected in the mid 1930’s; then toured through the Commandant’s House (http://www.portarthur.org.au/index.aspx?base=1483). By this time the drizzle had become quite insistent and we had the hoods of our jackets pulled up over our caps to keep dry. We had a look at Smith OBrien’s Cottage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Smith_O%27Brien) and walked past the ruins of the Hospital and Paupers Mess on to the Asylum Study Centre Museum and Coffee Shop where we sheltered for a while from the persistent rain.
As we walked to each spot on the guided walk (http://www.portarthur.org.au/index.aspx?id=10283) we were able to press a number on our audio devices to hear a commentary relative to the particular spot – very informative and entertaining. We walked on through the drizzle and explored the Separate Prison (http://www.portarthur.org.au/file.aspx?id=7157) and then on to the orchard where we were invited to each pick an apple from the trees – not sure what variety and still to do the taste test.
From the orchard we moved on to Civilian Row which has the houses of the various civil officers necessary to run the establishment particularly after the departure of the military in the later years of the operation of the facility. The shell of a magnificent church built by the convicts at Port Arthur (http://www.portarthur.org.au/index.aspx?base=1480) was the next building to be explored. This building sits on a hill overlooking the whole complex. The final building we looked at was Government Cottage – used to house visiting dignitaries (https://open.abc.net.au/projects/now-and-then-14tm2sh/contributions/government-cottage-port-arthur-historic-site-89Mz1wV) overlooks Government Gardens (a reconstruction of the original gardens at the penitentiary).
The penal settlement at Port Arthur closed in 1877 and many of the original buildings were dismantled or destroyed in bush fires. Other buildings were sold by the Government of the day and a small town – Carnarvon grew on the site. However the history of the site and various tales of convict life proved to be of interest to the general public and tourist began visiting the site soon after the closure of the penal settlement. By the early 1920’s a number of the convict period buildings had become museums and the settlement was again named Port Arthur.
Despite its bleak history Port Arthur is a very interesting place to visit and well worth spending some time exploring – we enjoyed our visit despite the inclement weather.