Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Place of Violence - Past and Present

The Boy and I travelled 60km from Hobart, out to one of Australia's most significant heritage areas, Port Arthur. Here lied many historic buildings which have fallen over time, but the ruins still remain.

Port Arthur was where the most dangerous criminals (convicted in Britain and Ireland in the 1800's) were sent when deported to Tasmania, Australia (then known as Van Diemen's Land). It was generally those convicts who had reoffended after being sent to Australia who were sent there (as you may know, Australia was settled in order to house all of Britain's criminals!)

The many ruins of Port Arthur

The biggest ruin, being the Main Prison

One of the old Colonial Houses, where perhaps doctors or officers lived on site.

The psychiatric ward of the Prison. Here, they demonstrate where the beds would have been at the time when the Prison was in full operation.

A view across some of the ruins (and the bell tower, which has partially been restored).

The view across the water...

The "Separate Prison", where the British Prison system trialled new forms of prisoner management, including rehabilitation and reskilling of inmates.

The dark and dreary Separate Prison, where some cells had large pieces of machinery placed in them, so prisoners could work while incarcerted. The Boy and I loved this part of the site, and spent at least an hour looking through each of the rooms and trying to imagine what an existence it would have been...

Letters from loved ones...

The Port Arthur Church

Walking back through the grounds.

One final moment to reflect....

....sadly, in 1996, Port Arthur was the scene of a devastating massacre, and Australia's worst massacre in post-colonial history. 33 people were gunned down and another 21 were severally injured when one man entered the tourist area and unleashed what could only be described as demonic madness. Unfortunately, a place of such terrible crimes in the 1800's became a place of a more recent terrible crime, one I know that I will never forget. I was 16 at the time, and death and violence was (until that point) quite foreign to me and to many other Australians, who had become used to the quiet and relatively safe existance were shared on our island home. Since Port Arthur, we have of course become more accustomed to atrocities - the Bali Bombings, September 11, and others - however, the Port Arthur Massacre will always be a part of my memory, because it was the first time I ever questioned God and why he would allow such a horrible incident to occur. I have since grown older, wiser and sadly, to a fair degree, desensitised.

The one thing the Boy and I noticed was that Port Arthur, as a tourist site, has done a wonderful job at both preserving the dignity of those who died by not creating a further tourist attraction because of the Massacre. Yes, it had a beautiful rememberance garden, but it has been kept quite separate from the tourist area itself. The community asks that people respect the fact that the pain still exists for many of its residents and workers and I was pleased to hear and see people respecting that wish.

When you travel to Port Arthur, you realise just how devastating such a tragedy would have been. Its a small community, and there are many outlying towns around Port Arthur who would have had at least someone local killed or injured, or directly affected by what occurred.

Its a reminder of what humans can do to each other. On a positive note, it shows that even in the face of adversity, a town can rise from the ashes.

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