Port Arthur

While down in Tassie I visited Port Arthur for the first time. It was a clear sunny day, and it is a really beautiful place. The water, buildings and parks make it difficult to reconcile with the various miseries inflicted there.

I was a little surprised on the tour that its original conception were based on the Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham, essentially “a machine for grinding rogues honest”. It featured separation of different classes of prisoners based on their offenses which was novel at the time, and indeed the first boys prison in the British Empire. As a child at school of course I had learnt of the cruelty and of the dog line at Eaglehawk Neck, but not that it was in many regards an attempt at enlightened reform for its time.

Then of course there is the massacre, to walk through the hollow shell of what was the Broad Arrow Cafe its kind of hard to imagine over twenty people being shot there in a matter of seconds. The space seems so small and difficult to conceive how anyone could indiscriminately slaughter at so close a range. For me I can conceive how someone might do such a thing, long range, where the act is more abstract, but the relative confines of the Cafe were a surprise to me. I had imagined it as much larger.

Port Arthur is a worthwhile place to visit, beautiful with an oppressive overhanging history.


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