While walking through the historic World Heritage-listed Port Arthur site in Tasmania, I took these photos, wondering what the people who lived here in years gone by saw when when they stood in the same spots. If they chanced to look out a window, did they feel hope or despair? Empowered or trapped? I wondered about their stories – what they would write if they were given the chance to tell their stories. I imagined hearing their voices, clamouring to be heard.
“My heart sickened at the human tyranny that surrounded us.” Mark Jeffrey, convict
For more than 40 years, Port Arthur operated as a convict settlement. Life for convicts was gruelling. Many worked on timber-cutting gangs. Punishment was harsh, from physical punishment like floggings to mental punishment like solitary confinement to allow for contemplation of sins.
The convicts sent to Van Diemen’s Land were most likely to be poor young people from rural areas or from the slums of big cities. One in five was a woman. Numbers of children were also transported with their parents. Few returned home.
Here’s the door leading into the punishment cell. It was pitch black inside the cell … and tiny. Imagine being led into this place, knowing what was to come.
Looking through to the exercise yards – one hour a day was allotted to each convict. They had no company.
For the free settlers at Port Arthur, the view would have been somewhat different. Pretty. Inspiring.
Looking towards the stunning Government Gardens. Free families would meet and walk through these gardens.
And looking through and out of one of the churches.
The site also has another significance for many Australians. On April 28, 1996 a man armed with “three high-powered firearms and a large quantity of ammunition” drove to Port Arthur. By the end of the day, he’d killed 35 people and injured more.
The memory of that day lingers on.
“Death has taken its toll
Some pain knows no release
But the knowledge of brave compassion
Shines like a pool of peace.
May we who come to this garden
Cherish life for the sake of those who died
Cherish compassion for the sake of those who gave aid
Cherish peace for the sake of those in pain.” Memorial plaque at Port Arthur.
What do you see when you look out the window? Do you see hope? Despair? A future? Doubt? Tragedy? Pain?
Do any of these images inspire you to write?