Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Swansea, Tasmania (30,8,07)

Some time ago, in August in fact, I was in Tasmania. I took a lot of photos and a lot of them have showed up here, but I ran out of steam before finishing the task. Since I am about to go on another jaunt, I thought I'd at least get it finished before going.

I had been in Hobart, and had plans to have a look around the city in the morning. Somehow, sleep was very hard to come by; not because I was in a dorm or because there was a lot of noise about, but because my brain just would not settle. It decided to compose a book review, then construct arguments prosecutors could use to close down arguments trotted out by defence lawyers when their client has committed crimes high on P (where that came from, I have no idea). Around 6 I thought I’d get up and read, or watch TV and finally caught some sleep. Maybe that lack of sleep is why I left Hobart without taking the photos I wanted, and without coffee. I grabbed my bags, went out to the car I had to move before the parking meters were switched on and, without even thinking about it, just left town. I did have a pretty gruesome coffee at a McCafe but otherwise headed straight to Port Arthur.

I don’t know - maybe it was because the weather was so fantastic, or because the buildings were near ruins (they had walls but no roofs), or because the prison was actually built as a flour mill, or because I’m simply not sensitive but the old prison at Port Arthur struck me as quite benign, certainly a much nicer place than Fremantle jail.

From a distance, it looks positively palatial

This looks more like it - this is the inside of the punishment wing

And the normal wing does not look like prisoners had a whole lot of space (these are the vestigial internal walls)

Here is the psych ward

And, of course, you could have no prison organised on modern principles (as this one claimed to be) without a chapel, but that raised the problem of how to have men held in solitary confinement join together in prayer

All in all, the spot was a very pleasant one this is the Governor's residenceand this is where some ship's captain lived

I think one of the theories was that it was improving for men, even prisoners, to live and work in a nice environment, but if they did choose to leave, then there would be some sort of threat to suggest they think otherwise. Apparently there were lots of escape attempts, but no-one ever made it - Port Arthur is on a promontory, so one either had to swim for it or go up the road, which was guarded by some very fierce dogs, deliberately kept hungry.

It is sad that the prison has been allowed to fall in to ruins: this is claimed to be a deliberate choice made, for the sake of authenticity. But I've been to Fremantle, which is still fully intact, and man, that's a truly forbidding and spooky place.

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