Hobart & Port Arthur

Tasmania in the winter can be brutal, but considering the winters I have seen in the northeast US and the Shenandoah Valley in my lifetime, the cold was a tad inconvenient. But next time (if there is a next time), come in the summer. There’s just a lot more to enjoy when the weather is warm.

We landed in Hobart and picked up a rental car on Sunday 19 August, and headed into town. With the magnificent Mt. Wellington coming into view, we entered the central business district of Hobart, capital of Tasmania.

That evening, at a friend’s recommendation, we walked to Salamanca Place, and had dinner at the Ball and Chain.

Fr. Kerry had a steak. I had the grilled trout.

The following day, we hit the road to explore Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsula. From Wikipedia:

“Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, in Tasmania, Australia. Port Arthur is one of Australia’s most significant heritage areas and an open-air museum.

The site forms part of the Australian Convict Sites, a World Heritage property consisting of eleven remnant penal sites originally built within the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries on fertile Australian coastal strips. Collectively, these sites, including Port Arthur, now represent, “…the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.” It is located approximately 97 kilometres (60 mi) southeast of the state capital, Hobart. In 1996 it was the scene of the worst mass murder event in post-colonial Australian history.”

That last reference to Port Arthur in 1996 being the site of the worst mass murder event in post-colonial Australian history is what compelled the Australian government to pass gun laws that put an end to what we continue to live with in the US. My soapbox. If we can’t come up with common sense solutions to this scourge ourselves, we should at least seriously study and consider what other communities have done. Or we suffer the heartbreaking and horrifying consequences of inaction. The freedom we so cherish and uphold is not worth somebody else’s needless death. Most of those who end up dead have never owned or fired a gun.

We took a walking tour and a boat ride on the harbor. And easily, what most caught my attention was the helplessness and hopelessness that the convicts (men and boys) suffered. A few were notorious and violent. But many were petty criminals back in England, tried and convicted for stealing food or shoes or clothing, or for evading authorities (for stealing food, etc.). And once exiled to Australia, there was no hope of returning. So many families never saw their loved ones again. It seemed rehabilitation was never the objective, just punishment. And if you served your time honorably, which was often a lifetime sentence, your chances of being released to become a productive member of society were slim to none. Some would reoffend just so they could return to the more stable environment of prison. And those who tried to escape were punished severely.

A few books have been written about life at Port Arthur … and the methods used to punish: beatings, withholding food, extreme isolation. They have ghost stories too. And their own Isle of the Dead, where some 1100 prisoners and a few guards and officials are buried. The island was closed for renovation when we were there. But we did see it briefly from the boat when we rode around in the harbor. And a boy’s prison that processed some 3000 boys in its time, among the youngest were children 9 years of age.

Well, after a depressing day … it was difficult to give a positive spin to the experience, we returned to the hotel and found a “hole in the wall” Italian restaurant–Da Angelo on Hampden Road. We didn’t book a table, so we got the last one up front where they took orders to go. And after we sat down, we saw them start sending people away … or asking them to wait an hour or more. We lucked out!

The day after, we headed to Richmond where the oldest Catholic church in Australia still stood … and a most interesting find.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018