Taking on Tassie

Whilst travelling in Europe last year, I was asked a number of times about different cities and places in my home country of Australia.  What upset me about this was that I had never visited them myself and couldn’t talk about them.  Those who live in Australia, or have traveled there themselves, know that Australia is definitely not a cheap country to either live or travel in.

It’s a sorry state of affairs to find that it’s cheaper to travel overseas than to travel in your own country.  You could get a week in Bali for the same price as it costs for a couple of nights in the South West of Australia (Margaret River region) or a flight over to one of the other capital cities.  But that’s the way it is.

So while I was living in Melbourne and living so close to most of the other capital cities in Australia (I’m a Perth girl), I made the decision to make sure I visited them.

One weekend was spent in Brisbane checking out Southbank, bussing it around the city and hanging around Fortitude Valley, but didn’t really feel any great vibe there – I even tried to leave earlier (sorry Brissy).

Getting out and about in regional Victoria was awesome – Bendigo, Ballarat, the Yarra Valley, the Great Ocean Road, Daylesford/Hepburn Springs and the Dandenongs – beautiful country.  You can spend your times tasting wine and farm grown fruits, listening to the birds, soaking up historical vibe, photography views that stretch forever and watching the sun set through the trees.

I had a weekend in Sydney where I pretty much holed myself up in my hotel doing nothing cause – well I don’t like Sydney.  But I thought I’d give it another chance.

But the one place that I was so glad to have visited was the one place that perhaps gets mocked the most in Australia.  Tassie.

Tasmania was once a part of the Australian mainland – though probably around 10,000 years ago.  Today it lies a short plane or ferry ride from Melbourne so I jumped on a Virgin Australia flight and found myself arriving in Hobart a few hours later.  I had a week up my sleeve so I hired a car from the airport and started off in exploration of the east coast of Tassie.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I had no plan really other than where I would spend each night according to how much I wanted to drive.  I had chosen the east coast simply cause one of my best friends back in Perth called St Helens home growing up and knowing that the historic settlement of Port Arthur was also on the east side, it seemed as good a side to choose as any.

Arriving in Hobart city, I was struck by the lack of high rise buildings and the small town feel of the place – particularly because the capital cities of WA, SA, QLD, VIC and NSW all have relatively large city centres with skyscrapers, apartment buildings and financial centres.  Hobart in comparison, felt cosy, personal and homely.  Beautiful old colonial style buildings lined the streets, the waterfront looked beautiful and the surrounding hills were green and alive.

I headed to my hotel, an actual hotel (pub hotel), the Prince of Wales and checked in for my stay in Hobart.  Located in a historic precinct at Battery Point, the rooms were nothing special at all (think old school, man style hotel rooms), but I wasn’t here to spend time in my room and the area couldn’t have been more charming.  It was a short walk from Salamanca Place, Brooke Street Pier, Sullivan’s Cove and well, pretty much everywhere.

My time in Hobart started with a trip to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery down near the waterfront.  The tour starts in the old bond stores which were built in the late 1820’s to relieve pressure on the Commissariat Issuing Store across the road near Sullivan’s Cove.  It stored bonded goods (such as tobacco and alcoholic spirits), grain and other material needed to supply the colony.

Standing in this section of the gallery, I am reminded that if I was standing here 180 years ago, I would have been standing in water as this is where the waters of Sullivan’s Cove flowed before the land in this area was reclaimed.

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Further inside the museum there are many exhibitions, some permanent and some temporary.  The first I came across was “Our land:  parrawa, parrawa!  Go away!” which tells the story of the local Aboriginal people and their interactions with early colonialists following the invasion of Tasmania.

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Ningina Tunapri is an exhibition focusing on the lifestyle of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and includes some great displays of boats, huts and beautiful shell jewelry.

The museum is brilliant with loads of interactive displays and hands on exhibits so that you get the best learning experience out of your visit.

There were even some stuffed little friends – the thylacine (the long extinct creature also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, though there are still some unconfirmed sightings…) and the Tassie Devil (more on him later!).

Back in the car, I take a drive a little out of town to see the Cascades Female Factory.  It was the name of the place that got me intrigued enough to visit because I really hadn’t read much on the history of Tasmania.  Operating from 1828 to 1856, this is where women convicts were sent to be imprisoned and reformed, though many never left once they entered its gates, mainly due to illness and high infant mortality.

Australia was one of the few places in the world were women convicts were sent for incarceration.  The Female Factory was the primary site of imprisonment and it sought to remove female convicts from the temptations and influences of town in order to reform them.

It is Australia’s most significant history site associated with female convicts, and though there is not much left of the prison itself, the way in which the site is presented leaves a sad and hollow feeling inside.  With the beautiful misty Tasmanian hills in the background, it’s hard to imagine the sadness and hardship of the lives of those on the inside.

It was built to hold 700 women and their children, though at its peak, there were more than 1,200 incarcerated here.

After such a sobering visit, I drove around the streets surrounding the area, past the Cascades brewery rising out of the mist, pondering how lucky we have it today and feeling a little sorry for the harshness of life that abounded in these early Australian colonies.  I was sure there were plenty more of these history lessons to come in the week ahead.

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