History lesson: Lavender and Australian Convict Sites

I know, the title is not optimal and what on earth does lavender have to do with Australian Convict Sites? Ehm… nothing, I guess. But as Marcel is busy writing our blog posts about the campsites and all the hikes we (or he) is doing, I wanted to write about some of our cultural activities.

Bridestow Lavender Estate

On our way to the Bay of Fires, we visited a lavender farm: Bridestow Lavender Estate. Its plantation is supposed to be the largest commercial lavender farm in the world. Before you access even the car park, you have to pay an entrance fee of $10 per person (about 6,16 €). This includes a guided tour, which is given every hour.

The tour was super interesting and we learned all about the history of the farm starting in 1921 when a perfumer from London (CK Denny) migrated to Tasmania with a packed of French Lavender. Tasmania – and in particular the region he chose – seemed to be quite perfect, especially because lavender don’t seem to need that much rain. Wildlife don’t like the lavender plants, so they are no natural hazard. Only weeds have to be taken care off, because lavender don’t seem to like it that much.

Unfortunately it was super dusty, so the color of the lavender was not as beautiful as we had hoped

We visited also the production facilities and learned, that the harvesting technology invented by Denny and also the distillation process is basically the same as it was in the 1920s. Just to be sure, the guide added “No computers here”. As someone who studies informatics, I thought this was fascinating. She explained also the different ways they make use of lavender: extracting the lavender oil or drying the flowers. They also produce different products at the site (in a relatively small building, I may add), such as Bobbie the Bear, which is a lavender filled heat pack. In their shop they had a really big one – I fell in love immediately.

But because we are traveling for several month and my backpack is already filled to the bursting point, I had to leave all the cute little Bobbies in the shop. Instead, we had some lavender ice cream, which was really good.

To build a bridge to our next cultural visit, there is another lavender farm at Port Arthur, where we had a quick break and another lavender ice cream on our way to the Part Arthur Historic Site.

Port Arthur Historic Site

In the past, the British Empire made use of Australia to get rid of their convicts. The Australian Convict Sites are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and constitute of 11 penal sites. One of these sites is “Port Arthur” that contains more than 30 historic buildings. The day entry pass costs $39 per person (about 24,35 €) and includes a 40-minute guided tour and a 25-minute harbour cruise.

The Penitentiary

Before we decided to spend that much money on entrance fees, I had searched online a bit. I had read already a bit about this prison and that they moved away from physical to psychological punishment, but seeing the architecture that made this possible was a quite remarkable experience.

One of the buildings at Port Arthur is called “The Separate Prison” and according to the brochure, it was

designed to deliver a new method of punishment, of reforming the convicts through isolation and contemplation. Convicts were locked for 23 hours each day in single cells. Here they ate, slept and worked, with just one hour a day allowed for exercise, alone, in a high-walled yard.

The guide told us, that physical punishment like flogging did not lead to criminals changing their behaviour as hoped. To the contrary, when a convict would not make a sound while being whipped, they would earn respect from other convicts, who were forced to watch. The physical punishment could therefore even increase someones rank among the other convicts.

This is why the convicts in the Separate Prison where isolated at all times, they were not allowed to communicate with each other and only to the guards when they had to pass essential information.

Solitary confinement cell

On the very rare occasions, when they were allowed to leave their cell, they had to wear a hood. Even in the prison chapel, it was made sure that they couldn’t even see each other. Each prisoner had their own cell and could only see the priest in the front.

Chapel

I asked Marcel to take a picture of me being in one of those cubicles, as it’s otherwise not really visible, how little of the body is not covered.

This felt creepy – but it got worse. In the Separate Prison is a punishment cell – so-called “dark cell” – which is surrounded by meters of thick concrete wall and in there it is completely dark and you hear no sound whatsoever. According to another brochure a prisoner could be locked in this cell in total darkness and silence for several hours or up to 30 days. Only after 3 days, he was taken out for an hour of exercise each day.

View into the Dark Cell
Exit door of the cell into a corridor (double sound protection); you can see the thick walls on the left and in the front.

We went in there and I had my phone with my just in case I needed light. My gosh, the flashlight of my phone almost made no difference, when we went in. As if the cell swallows up every tiny bit of light. I shut-off the flashlight, Marcel closed the door and you could hear and see NOTHING. Absolutely nothing!! This didn’t even change after our eyes had adapted after a while. Just pure black nothingness. I can’t imagine being in there for more than a minute, let alone being in there and not knowing when they might let you out. This must have been pure torture.

The included harbour cruise went across The Isle of the Dead, where around 1100 people where buried between 1833 and 1877, as well as Point Puer Boys’ Prison. The boys that were sent to this juvenile reformatory were between 14 and 17, but the youngest was 9 years old. The guide told us that he was sent there because he had stolen toys.

Similar to Alcatraz, Port Arthur didn’t need prison walls – it was a natural open air prison.

Although I felt uneasy looking at these relics of the past (and watching other visitors who posed smiling for Instagram pictures in front of the buildings ??‍♀️), I am glad that we visited Port Arthur.

Culture, History, Lavender, Tasmania, UNESCO
4 days in Narawntapu National Park
Tasmania’s East Coast (Part 1): Bay of Fires

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