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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Port Arthur Historic site, then to Fortescue Bay

[image]I packed early, intending to store my pack at the hostel while I visited the Port Arthur Historic Site. Unfortunately, the hostel operator was nowhere to be found. I waited till about 9:20am and decided to walk to the historic site and stash by pack there.
It was only a short walk around to the main entrance, where fortunately the visitors centre had some lockers big enough for my pack.

The entrance fee was pretty steep at $24. I skipped their displays about the life of a convict as a heap of other people had just gone in there, making it crowded. I wandered around the grounds for a while, checking out the church and the Broad Arrow Café memorial, before I was due for the guided tour. This is when it starte feeling like a weird theme park. the tour was about half an hour and briefly covered the main buildings. The whole area is quite strange, being very peaceful and quiet with big grassy expanses between buildings, so it is actually very different far from the original functioning Port Arthur, since only the stone and brick buildings remain, and not even all of those. This is because most of the buildings were burned in the 1890's in a bushfire, as 90% of them were wood.

At 11:45 it was time for the included cruise around the port. More theme park again. The views were nice though, they were asking $12 to visit the Isle of the Dead, and another $12 to visit the boys prison – I didn't bother. By this time I was starting to feel that better historic buildings could be seen for free just by walking around Hobart, and that Port Arthur was mostly just tourist trade hype.
The "model prison" which was modelled on quaker methods of not using corpral punishment (flogging), but using solitary confinement, was actually quite good. It had a roof and a recreated chapel, and hence was much easier to imagine what it was like for convicts. The cells were very small, just 1.3m x 2.2m with a hammock, stool, a bucket for water, another for waste, and a small high barred window. There was a punishment cell (as if solitary wasn't enough) which was completely dark – even with the door open it was virtually impossible to see anything. It would have sent anyone crazy. There were about 6 separate exercise yards, and prisoners got 1 hour a day on their own in one. The chapel was weirdest though – it had person sized 'boxes' so that prisoners stood in a box and could only see the minister, not any of the other prisoners in the room.
Some of the steps in untouched areas were interesting, worn down almost to a ramp in the middle.

I had some lunch at the restaurant, late, and managed to set out walking toward Fortescue Bay.
There wasn't anywhere very good for hitching, and I wanted to try to walk if it was still light. The road wasn't good for walking however, with narrow edges. My pack was [i]very /i] heavy – probably at least 25kg, it was the first time I'd carried all my stuff for a one way hike, and I was carrying a few things I probably didn’t need to. After about an hour, I came to Fortescue Bay Road, which is a dirt road, and confirmed with a man I met that this was the turn I wanted. After about half an hour of walking down this road, a 4WD stopped without me signalling, and the man inside offered a lift. I figured I might as well, as by that time it was obvious that it would be dark when I arrived (not that it would have been a problem, walking on a road).

The guy turned out to be the camp ground keeper, and talked about the fire that had gone through the area in summer. Last night I saw some photos of Cape Pillar, Cape Hauy, and the Totem Pole, and thought that it would have been nice to be able to go there, but the tracks were closed due to the bushfire. He told me that a lot of duckboard was burned out, and there were lots of dangerous trees on the tracks.

I paid for the campsite, and set up my tent. I discovered that I could have chosen a better site - The Bush Mill section on the south side, where I set up, had several fishermen who were car camping noisily. At least they went to bed early, but it was because they were getting up early.
The sunset was quite pretty, as it was through a pall of smoke, probably from more logging operations.

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