Southern Tasmania’s European history dates back just over two centuries. The presence of the past is strong everywhere you travel, from the convict-built sandstone warehouses of Salamanca Place to the World Heritage historic sites of Port Arthur; from 19th century country homesteads to the walled remains of the Cascades Female Factory, where convict women were imprisoned.
Port Arthur Historic Site
Recently inscribed on the World Heritage register, the focus of the Port Arthur Historic Site is the fascinating complex of buildings at Port Arthur itself, where you’ll learn the stories of the men who were sent here to work as timber-getters, brick-makers, leather-workers, boat-builders – this was Australia’s first industrial site. The visitor centre provides an interactive introduction – but there’s more to the wider historic site than you’d think. A short drive away is the Coal Mines Historic Site, a place of cruel punishment for the worst offenders in the penal colony. Here, visitors can wander freely to discover the horrors experienced by the convicts who crawled through underground tunnels, hacking out coal.
There’s so much to see and experience in and around Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula that it’s a good idea to spend at least a couple of nights in the region – you will miss many highlights if you try to cram in a Port Arthur visit on a day-trip from Hobart.
Cascades Female Factory
In the shadows of Mt Wellington in South Hobart, the remains of the Cascades Female Factory is also part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Behind high stone walls, female convicts waited to be assigned as domestic servants; returned to give birth to their babies; or were punished for offences.
This early pastoral holding near Pontville just north of Hobart features some of the nation’s finest examples of colonial rural architecture. The Georgian homestead and the magnificent stables were built by convicts using locally-quarried sandstone.
On a walking tour of the property you’ll gain insights into country life on an early rural estate – and you’ll admire the amazing commitment of Anne and David Kernke, the current owners and custodians, who are working hard to make ‘Shene’ one of the nation’s finest heritage sites.
Established on the rich alluvial farmlands along the Plenty River near New Norfolk, ‘Redlands’ was developed from 1819 into a model farm with extensive and innovative irrigation systems, created using convict labour. A cobblestoned village grew up, with houses and pickers’ huts, barns and stables. Some of the estate’s dams and water-gardens became the Salmon Ponds, where fish eggs from Scottish rivers were brought to hatch. The salmon did not thrive but the ancestors of every trout in Australian waters originally came from this place.
Peter and Elizabeth Hope have owned and cared for ‘Redlands’ since 2008 – today they are distilling a fine single-malt whisky from barley grown on the property; and baking sourdough bread in a convict-built wood-fired oven that pre-dates Port Arthur.
Chris Viney is a writer and Independent Marketing & Advertising Professional