The good lady wife and I planned a visit to Port Arthur as part of our family vacation to Tasmania. We were accompanied by our youngest daughter, a thirteen year old. I was sceptical about visiting Port Arthur all too often the hype is greater than the destination and thus disappointing the travelling tourist and lightening their wallet. So alarm bells rang when I learnt I had to pay an entry fee of $75.00 ( AUD ) (01/2011)the three of us to visit Port Arthur, whilst not a fortune I have felt let down by these type of tourist attractions before, hence my apprehension. I reluctantly parted with my cash before I was once again called a scrooge by my family members. Armed with camera, tripod and bag of photographic gear we went forth and stepped back in time.
Once you make your way through the visitor/reception centre and onto the grounds of the historic Port Arthur site the first thing that captures your mind is the extraordinary vastness of the area. The second striking feature that greets you, the iconic Penitentiary.
The Vast grounds of the Port Arthur Historic Site
For the travelling photographer Port Arthur is a feast, Architectural, Landscape, Seascape and maybe even some creative portraiture amongst the historic buildings. Even the flower power shooter is well catered for as Port Arthur boasts some remarkable gardens. I took 16 gig of memory space via 3 different cards and shooting in RAW+JPEG fine and found myself deleting shots that I didn’t think quite made the mark, to conserve memory space. Although it must be said I did shoot mostly 5 shot bracketing sequences due to the poor light on the day, in the hope of some HDR creations at some point in the future.
A tripod proved invaluable for indoor shots and even though on the day we visited, it was quite busy the staff members where not fazed by me setting up a tripod indoors. Even outside a tripod was essential due to bracketing sequences and the finicky lighting condition. It was a warm but heavily overcast day that threatened to unleash masses of water but thankfully the rain held off.
Various windows and doorways found around Port Arthur
Some of the Buildings to be found at Port Arthur
Inside the Commandant’s House
Within the Surgeon’s House
For the average visitor Port Arthur seems to offer more than a history lesson. It gives an in depth and detailed view of how people lived in a bygone era. Traditional heavy construction methods of the time add to the rich and optically pleasing environment. The manicured and well cared for garden really help to give the whole place an authentic feel.
The knowledge of the brutal treatment measured out to prisoners during their day to day activities of ship building, forestry, brick and shoe making maybe somewhat lost in the timeless beauty of Port Arthur.
First Sighting – This first sight prisoners would see of Port Arthur
However visiting the separate Prison soon snaps the mind back to the brutal reality of the time. One form of punishment superseded by another torturous form, the Silent System or Model Prison. A psychological punishment that often left long term side effects as a consequence of the cruel practice of being hooded and living in mandatory silence. This was the reality for those prisoners in the Separate Prison. Non the less Port Arthur was one of the biggest penal system in the British justice systems and was heralded as world leading for it’s time.
Within in the Separate Prison
The Separate Prisons Chapel, the only place separate prison inmates could make a sound
It was pleasing that both my wife and daughter thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Port Arthur neither are particularly interested in colonial history however being in the midst of this living time warp seemed to appeal immensely. To my surprise there wasn’t the usual ‘when are we going’ that often falls from a bored 13 year olds lips. My wife whom really doesn’t care one tiny little bit for photography found it easy to find something to occupy herself whilst I set up for that next killer shot.
If I could advise potential visitors to Port Arthur, of one thing allow plenty of time as there is a multitude of things to see and do. We allowed a day including travelling time and we found ourselves rushing towards the end of the day to see everything.
The bottom line: Don’t think twice about paying the entrance fee its very much value for money.
A personal and pictorial account of an Australian Icon destination. Port Arthur Tasmania