Travel to Port Arthur

Port Arthur Port Arthur Port Arthur
Port Arthur

Separated from Tasmania by a narrow neck of land surrounded by shark-infested waters, Port Arthur was sold as the ‘inescapable prison’. Stroll the landscaped Victorian gardens, and you’ll find it hard to imagine this was once a reviled prison that held 1,100 convicts at its peak. Port Arthur began life in 1830 as a small timber station and from 1833 until the 1850s some of the colony’s most hardened criminals came here to work. Today you can examine their indentured handiwork on a forty-minute guided walking tour of the site’s many buildings, ruins and restored houses.

Follow the Convict Water Supply Trail past the reservoirs, aqueducts, mills and water wheels left over from the flour mill built in 1843. Explore the dormitory rooms, messroom, library and Catholic chapel of the penitentiary it was converted to in 1857.  Imagine the salty boat-building enterprise of the dockyards, which employed over 70 convicts at its peak. Walk through the wards, kitchen, baking room, laundry and morgue of the hospital built in 1841 and 1842. See the 80-cell Separate Prison, where prisoners were kept hooded and in silent isolation. Begun in 1848, it symbolized what was seen as a new, gentler approach to imprisonment, where psychological punishment replaced floggings. In reality, Port Arthur was just as brutal as other penal settlements and many of the convicts suffered mental illness as a result of isolation. In 1864 an asylum was built to house them.

For many, the only escape was death. Today you can cruise to the Isle of the Dead, where everyone who died inside the prison was buried. Do a guided tour and learn about the convicts, soldiers and civilians who were a part of Port Arthur, their lives commemorated in the 1,646 graves. Or hear about their eerie apparitions on a lantern-lit ghost tour. Legends tell of cells with ghostly screams and empty rocking chairs that move.

Take a trip to Point Puer Boys Prison, the British Empire’s first boy’s prison. Around 3,000 boys aged between 9 and 16 were subject to Puer’s stern discipline and harsh punishment. Today you can walk amongst what remains of the buildings they built, all in a bush landscape little changed since the 19th century.

By the 1870s the number of convicts had dwindled dramatically, and those left were too old, sick or insane to be of any use as labour. The last convict was shipped out in 1877 and the site was renamed Carnarvon. During the1880s, people brought parcels of land and forged a new community in and around the old site. In 1895 and 1897, devastating fires ripped through the area, gutting many old buildings. Despite this, the township continued to grow, attracting many tourists fascinated by the area’s history.

Today you can be one of them, walking amongst the memories of a long-gone prison where freedom was a distant possibility. With a Convict Trail drive and regular coach services between Port Arthur and Hobart, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for escape.

People

The Australian people are well-known for their attitude towards their lives and living life to the fullest.  Australians are fun loving, courageous, talented, devoted and adventurous.  The culture and lifestyle is diverse and reflects liberal democratic traditions and values.

Language

Australia has no official language, it is largely monolingual with English being the de facto national language.  Australian English has a distinctive accent and vocabulary and there is an abundance of slang and colloquialisms.

History

Before the arrival of European settlers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples inhabited most areas of the Australian continent. They spoke one or more of hundreds of separate languages and dialects, and their lifestyles and cultural traditions differed from region to region. Their complex social systems and highly developed traditions reflect a deep connection with the land.

The first recorded European contact with Australia was in March 1606, when Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon (1571–1638) charted the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. Later that year, the Spanish explorer Luis Vaez de Torres sailed through the strait separating Australia and Papua New Guinea. Over the next two centuries, European explorers and traders continued to chart the coastline of Australia, then known as New Holland. In 1688, William Dampier became the first British explorer to land on the Australian north west coast. It was not until 1770 that another Englishman, Captain James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, extended a scientific voyage to the South Pacific in order to further chart the east coast of Australia and claim it for the British Crown.

Britain decided to use its new outpost as a penal colony. The First Fleet of 11 ships carried about 1500 people – half of them convicts. The fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1788, and it is on this day every year that Australia Day is celebrated.

About 160,000 men and women were brought to Australia as convicts from 1788 until penal transportation ended in 1868. The convicts were joined by free immigrants beginning in the early 1790s. The wool industry and the gold rushes of the 1850s provided an impetus for increasing numbers of free settlers to come to Australia.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 through the federation of six states under a single constitution. The non-Indigenous population at the time of Federation was 3.8 million, while the estimated Indigenous population was around 93,000. Half of the people lived in cities, three-quarters were born in Australia, and the majority were of English, Scottish or Irish descent.

The founders of the new nation believed they were creating something new and were concerned to avoid the pitfalls of the old world. They wanted Australia to be harmonious, united and egalitarian, and had progressive ideas about human rights, the observance of democratic procedures and the value of a secret ballot.

One of the first acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which limited migration to people of primarily European origin. This was dismantled progressively after the Second World War. Today Australia has a global, non-discriminatory policy and is home to people from more than 200 countries.

After 1945 Australia entered a boom period. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Australia in the immediate post-war period, many of them young people eager to embrace their new lives with energy and vigor. The number of Australians employed in the manufacturing industry had grown steadily since the beginning of the century. Many women who had taken over factory work while men were away at war were able to continue working in peacetime.

The 1960s was a period of change for Australia. The ethnic diversity produced by post-war immigration, the United Kingdom’s increasing focus on Europe, and the Vietnam War (to which Australia sent troops) all contributed to an atmosphere of political, economic and social change.

In 1967 the Australian people voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum to give the federal government the power to pass legislation on behalf of Indigenous Australians and to include Indigenous Australians in future censuses. The referendum result was the culmination of a strong campaign by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It was widely seen as a strong affirmation of the Australian people’s wish to see their government take direct action to improve the living conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia today is an independent nation within the British Commonwealth. The British Monarch, although constitutional head of state, plays no active role in the administration of Australia’s government. Australia’s current prime minister is Julia Gillard, the country’s first female leader. The capital city is Canberra, while Sydney is the largest city.

Currency

The official currency is the Australian dollar (AUD), which is divided into 100 cents

Weather

Australia experiences mild temperatures year round. The northern states are typically warm tropical and the southern states are cooler and sometimes snowy.

From December to February is Australia’s summer and wet season in the tropical north. The Winter (June to August) is commonly temperate with sunny days in the northern states and snow in the southern mountain regions.

Health Requirements

Vaccinations are not required unless travelers are coming from, or have visited a yellow fever infected country within six days of arrival.

Visa Requirements

A tourist visa - usually issued as an electronic Travel Authority (ETA) - is required for all US citizens traveling to Australia for a stay no longer than three months.  Possession of a confirmed and onward or return ticket to a place where entry is authorized and sufficient funds to show support is required.  Conditions apply to approval - so please ask your destination specialist for details.

Tipping & Porterage

Tipping is not as entrenched a custom at is in the US, however, generous donations by American visitors have changed the expectations of many in the industry.  Generally, a 10% tip at finer restaurants is sufficient, and taxi drivers only expect a top if they assisted with luggage.

Credit Cards

All major credit cards are accepted in Australia, particularly MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club.

Money

Currency is Australian dollar denominations:
Coins: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1, $2
Notes: $5, $10, $20, $50, $100

Electrical Appliances

240 volts, 50 cycles A.C. is the standard.  Most hotels have a 110 volt 20 watt A.C. outlet for electric shavers only in the bathroom.  A convertor from volts is required for all other appliances as well as an adapter to suit South Pacific plug shapes.

Water

Drinking water in urban Australia is safe for drinking from the tap or faucet. In rural areas it is suggested that water be treated before drinking or use bottled water.


Related Destinations

Cradle Mountain National Park
Devonport
Freycinet National Park
Hobart
Launceston
Port Arthur
Strahan - West Coast

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This Destination

Port Arthur

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