Sunday, July 13, 2014

In my Father's Footsteps - Port Arthur

Have I said how much I like blogging?  I love blogging.  It's hard to explain why and I know some people just don't get it.  That's okay but I just wish I understood it better so I knew why I like it so much.  It's something to do with reflection or the ability to stop and look at things more closely.  I really value that.  Anyway - enough philosophy.  Why do you like blogging?

So today I could blog forever about our holiday to Tassie but I'm not really sure which blog is the right forum for that so I may do a more extensive blog on my old blog Luvvies Musings.

Today I just wanted to share some old and new photos.  While I was in Tassie I received an email from my father saying the following:

See you are at Port Arthur today-hope you enjoy it - its a grizzly part of our convict history but now a lovely site I think. I was there years ago with the RAN. We anchored in the bay for a coupe of days. Left it in a pretty foul state too I seem to recall - in those days war ships did not contain their own waste systems!

So when I got home I checked out his old photo album again.  Now I've said this a thousand times but it is so bizarre to me that we can look at the same photos over and over again and then suddenly see them with new eyes.  Because I hadn't been to Port Arthur before when I looked at the album previously I didn't recognize the photos in the album as being of Port Arthur.  They aren't labelled as such and whilst my father probably told me a thousand times "That's Port Arthur"  those words went in one ear and straight out the other.  So to open the album on my return was a delight.  How things have changed or haven't as it were....

So I just thought I'd share some then and now photos.


Now I'm imagining this photo was taken off the Tasmanian coast...maybe the Tasman Peninsula.This was taken on board the HMAS Vengeance in I think about 1953 or 1954.  My father was completing his National Service.  This from the National Archives website regarding National Service:

In the context of the intensification of the Cold War in Europe, Communist insurgency and success in South-East Asia, and the declaration of war in Korea, the Menzies government sponsored the National Service Act 1951. The legislation provided for the compulsory call-up of males turning 18 on or after 1 November 1950, for service training of 176 days. Trainees were required to remain on the Reserve of the Commonwealth Military Forces (CMF) for five years from initial call up. Men could nominate the service in which they wished to be trained. Those nominating the Navy or the Air Force were considered only if they volunteered for service outside Australia. The first call-up notice was issued on 12 April 1951.

Between 1951 and 1959 over 500,000 men registered, 52 intakes were organised and some 227,000 men were trained.

In 1957 National Service with the Navy and the Air Force was discontinued. Registration remained compulsory but the intake to the Army was cut to almost a third (12,000 trainees) by instituting a ballot for selection. On 24 November 1959 Cabinet decided that National Service call-ups should be terminated and that arrangements for the January 1960 intake would be cancelled.

You can see some great footage of the HMAS Vengeance here on the AWM website.  

Back to Port Arthur.  I loved visiting Port Arthur.  I was so impressed with it as a tourist destination.  I know the Opera House is hard to beat but I completely think this ranks a close 2nd in terms of places you have to see.  The history is absolutely palpable.  

Caspar and I took the cheapest tour available at $35 a head I think (though he did get a student discount).  That included a 30 minute harbour cruise and a 40 minute walking tour.  Such good value! Yes I wish we could have done more but to do so I think would involve staying a night down there which I would highly recommend if you have the time.  The pass is valid for two days so it's really excellent value.

To get a sense of the size of the site check out the map here.

After our guided walk, we ate our packed lunch in the little courtyard off the Coffee Shop at The Asylum. (first used 1868)


This is my father's photo of it back in the day.  It's been restored a bit now to include a Museum, a Convict Study Centre and the Museum Coffee Shop.

Being a librarian I couldn't resist taking a photo of the Library Subscription register from 1864.



My father was obviously impressed with the Soldiers' Memorial Avenue dedicated to soldiers from WW1.  I was too but didn't take a photo unfortunately.  Now I wish I had so we could compare photos.  Here's his photo.


I'm not sure if the sign is still there.  The site is enormous and takes a bit of walking around. Cas and I barely scratched the surface.

After lunch we raced down the hill and went to the ferry dock.  Here is the view from Mason Cove of The Isle of the Dead (first used 1833) on the left and Point Puer Boys' Prison on the right (first used 1834).  Can you believe that the youngest boy here was just 9 years old????



The ferry ride was great - once again we had a talk throughout to highlight points of interest.  Some people got off at The Isle of the Dead for a special tour.

Here's a view of the ocean just past Point Puer.



After our cruise we visited the Memorial Garden which was very sobering.  Then we walked over to The Commandant's cottage.  I must mention at this point that The Penitentiary which is possibly the most iconic part of Port Arthur was being fortified and so was entirely surrounded by scaffolding.  This may have disappointed some people but I wasn't too worried.  There was so much else to see.  They gave us very nice free postcards of The Penitentiary (first used 1857) at the ticket office I think as some sort of compensation for the work that was being done at the time.  

Near The Commandant's cottage (first used 1833 and which was possessed of some very find coffin chairs - why didn't I take a photo???) is the Guard Tower (first used 1835).  It obviously impressed my father when he was there.


Here are my photos of it today.  The first photo is the walk down from the Commandant's House and you can see the Guard Tower just peeking out on the left of the photo.



View from inside tower looking back across to ferry terminal


Rear view of the Tower

View of Tower from Officer's Quarters

From the Tower we hiked up to the Church (first used 1837) which really captured my imagination.  It captured my father's imagination too.  Here are his photos.




Here are our photos on the day.

Caspar wondering why his mother lugs around so much stuff
According to the Vistor Guide we were given, up to 1100 people attended church services here on a Sunday.  Convicts were curtained off from the view of the free.





So you can see that not much has changed from 60  years ago.  We arrived at Port Arthur at about 11:30.  It takes about an hour and a half from Hobart to get there.  A beautiful drive - roads that weave and wind their way around the Peninsula.  A bit of road work going on too in what is I guess the "off season".  My heart went out to those who had to travel that road nearly 20 years ago - emergency vehicles, media vehicles and the like.  It must have been very challenging in so many ways.  

We stayed there til about 2:30pm.  You can only take so much history in one go and you get a bit knackered walking around - especially in the cold.

Cas and I were so impressed with all the people who worked on the site.  The grounds are huge and it must take a veritable army to maintain them.  The guides were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and welcoming.  They had some neat ideas in terms of making history accessible for everyone including kids.  On our arrival we were each given a playing card which linked us to one of the convicts who had been sentenced there so we could discover their story - it was called the Lottery of Life.  When I went to the loo shortly after our arrival I overheard one little girl saying excitedly to another "I can't wait to find out which convict I am."   A simple idea but it worked well.  I was given the Ace of Hearts but am ashamed to say I can't remember who I was. 



On our way home we stopped to check out the Tasman Arch and the Devil's Kitchen.  Well worth the views.




I can't recommend Port Arthur highly enough.  It's a must see as far as I'm concerned if you ever get the chance.  Definitely worthy of its World Heritage Status and an international tourist attraction of which we should be justly proud although as my father says, the subject matter is rather grim.

8 comments:

  1. Your photos and your father's are just gorgeous, Alex.

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  2. Oh Nancy thank you so for saying so. You are very kind. I wonder what camera my father was using at the time. Of course I was just using my mobile phone. It seemed silly to take my little digital camera. Cas keeps pointing out that my mobile camera has more megapixels than my old Olympus with 5 megapixels. The mobile phone camera has 8 megapixels I think.

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  3. Great post Alex - love the contrast between then and now!

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  4. Thanks Shauna - I can't believe that it's sixty years since he was there last and I bet he can't either!

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  5. I really enjoyed your post Alex, particularly the comparison with your father's visit all those years ago. I find it a bit grim as a place though despite it being beautiful.

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  6. Hi Anne - don't you think it's amazing how intrepid our ancestors were? To have traveled all the way to Australia and then some. I just loved Tasmania.

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  7. A national treasure. Loved seei g the photos from two eras. I want to go back and look at mine now.

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  8. Thanks Jill. I'm sure I must have been told but I still got a bit of a shock when we got up to the church and found that it was just a shell of its former self. As I was listening to the guide tell us about it I was convinced it was as it was all those years ago - intact. How about you?

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