On our recent trip to Tasmania we visited Port Arthur historic site, a definite “must do” on anyone’s list visiting for the first time. It is officially Tasmania’s top tourist attraction.
It was initially used as a timber station in 1830 but is best known for being a penal colony. From 1833 to 1853 it was the destination for some of Britain’s worst criminals. It also housed re-offenders and problem convicts from other sites. It was harsh and brutal.
It was found to be the perfect spot as it is mostly surrounded by sea and just has a 30 metre isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, so easily guarded. It was heralded as being inescapable but a handful of convicts did escape and one poor unlucky man, who thought he could get past the guards in a kangaroo skin, found himself being lined up in the sites of the guard’s guns, but not because they knew it was a convict but because they were half starved and wanted to eat the kangaroo. He realised this and quickly lost the guise and gave himself up.
For the prison staff and their families the contrast was extreme. At first glance you would think it was a lovely village with houses, gardens, parks, vegetable patches and fruit trees. Sitting on a harbour, it is a pretty scene.
Looking deeper you see the cells that housed the convicts and especially the Separate Prison System that had prisoners isolated and forced not to speak. Some could not tolerate the harshness and committed murder to which the punishment was death, just to escape its hostile shores.
Unfortunately violence reared its ugly head again on 28th April 1996 when a crazed lone gunman went on a shooting spree and massacredquite a few people throughout the site. Today there is a quiet memorial garden set aside beside the old cafe where he started his killing spree. This serves as a monument for the 35 people that were killed. 35 people were killed in cold blood with 23 being injured. It will never be forgotten.
“Death has taken its toll
Some pain knows no release
But the knowledge of brave compassion
Shines like a pool of peace.
May we who come to
Cherish life for the sake
of those who died
Cherish compassion for the sake
of those who gave aid
Cherish peace for the sake
of those in pain.”
Because of this act, our Prime Minister at the time brought forward new gun control laws that are amongst the strictest in the world.
A heritage listed site with a colourful history.