An Introduction to World Heritage: Port Arthur and the Coal Mines

Most Tasmanians know something of the extraordinary history of Port Arthur and that visiting the historic site is an absolute must during any visit to Tasmania.

Fewer people – before they visit – know about the rich variety of experiences that await them, experiences that bring the amazing story of Port Arthur to life. Visitors can discover the many stories of the place through a variety of interpretive experiences, including guided tours, a harbour cruise, audio tour, multimedia presentations, furnished houses, museum displays, a convict study centre, an interpretation gallery and immersive, high-tech audio installations at the Dockyard and Separate Prison.

 

Port Arthur Historic Site - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

Port Arthur Historic Site – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

The sheer scenic beauty of the place is another of its appeals – the boulevards of towering oaks and English elms, the charismatic ruins set amid expanses of lawns and convict-era gardens contrast the natural bushland setting on a stunning harbour and the harsh discipline of its past.

Port Arthur Historic Site - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

Port Arthur Historic Site – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

It is a big site – around 40 hectares – and it’s important to allow time to fully appreciate it. Port Arthur’s Experience Passes allow visitors to get the most from their stay in the area. Three levels of daytime experience passes – Bronze, Silver and Gold – combine various experiences and catering options; visitors choose the one that corresponds with the amount of time they wish to spend at the site. The After Dark Pass combines the site’s famous lantern-lit Historic Ghost Tour with a delicious meal at Felons Bistro.

Spending at least one night on the Tasman Peninsula will allow time to visit the fascinating Coal Mines Historic Site at Saltwater River, about a 25-minute drive from Port Arthur, and to explore the stunning sea cliff coastal scenery of the area.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is the best-preserved convict settlement in Australia and among the most significant convict era sites in the world. Together with the associated Coal Mines Historic Site, home to Tasmania’s first operational mine and another integral part of the colony’s penal system, Port Arthur combines history and scenic beauty with innovative interpretation to tell the stories of the harsh discipline and determined industry of the settlements during the convict era.

The Penitentiary across Mason Cove - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

The Penitentiary across Mason Cove – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

It is a place to discover Australian history and connect directly with some of the origins of contemporary Australian culture. For more than forty years, until its closure in 1877, Port Arthur was a penal settlement as well as a military and industrial centre, encompassing mining, farming, timber cutting, boat building and many other trades.

Today, it stands as powerful testimony to the people who were incarcerated and who worked and lived at Port Arthur during the convict era and the important contributions they made to the development of Tasmania. It is the physical embodiment of a powerful and fundamental component of Australia’s history.

Visitors are encouraged to discover that history and the many stories of the place. They can interact with the Site in a range of ways, through a variety of innovative interpretive techniques, ranging from guided tours, furnished houses, museum displays, a convict study centre, interpretation gallery, as well as our new high-tech audio installation at the Dockyard.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is a wonderful place to explore, with more than thirty historic buildings, ruins and restored gardens are spread about the 40 hectare site, in a parkland setting with avenues of European trees set amid wild and beautiful scenery and native forest.

The Site offers excellent visitor services, including cafes, a gift shop, transport for those with limited mobility, restrooms, museum, interpretation gallery and a visitor information centre. Every visitor receives a 36 page colour guide book (available in English, Chinese, Japanese, French or German), and interpreters are welcome and accommodated on guided tours.

Port Arthur boasts a deepwater harbour and is becoming an increasingly popular stop for cruise ships as they head to and from Hobart.

There is a lot to see and do – over 30 historic buildings and ruins to explore and a range of guided tours and other activities. Spending at least one night in the area will allow time to visit the fascinating Coal Mines Historic Site, about a 25 minute drive from Port Arthur near Saltwater River, and to explore the stunning sea cliff coastal scenery of the area.

Coal Mines Historic Site
Situated on the Tasman Peninsula near Saltwater River, the Coal Mines Historic Site was Tasmania’s first operational mine. Developed both to limit the colony’s dependence upon costly imported coal from New South Wales, as well as serving as a place of punishment for the “worst class” of convicts from Port Arthur, the mine was operational for over 40 years.

Today, the Coal Mines offers visitors the chance to discover among the uncrowded ruins and scenic vistas a different perspective on Tasmania’s convict history. It is a great place to explore on foot, with a number of tracks and paths around the extensive site. There are signs and displays to guide you around and inform about the history of the Site. A printed leaflet about the Coal Mines is available from the Visitor Centre at the Port Arthur Historic Site.

The Coal Mines - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

The Coal Mines – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

The Coal Mines site is approximately a 1¼ hour drive from Hobart and a 25 minute drive from Port Arthur. A visit is a fascinating adjunct to any visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site. Entry to the Coal Mines Historic Site is free.

Management of the Site was transferred from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service to the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority in late 2004.
Walking options around the Site range from a few minutes to several hours. There are basic picnic and toilet facilities at the Site, but it is not staffed.

How to get there
The Coal Mines Historic Site is located on the scenic Tasman Peninsula. From Hobart, take the Tasman Highway A3 to Sorell and turn right onto the A9 for Port Arthur. Just after Taranna, turn right on the B37 and continue to Premaydena. At Premaydena, take the C341, signposted to Saltwater River, to the right and follow the signposts to the Coal Mines Historic Site.

Both the Port Arthur and Coal Mines Historic site, plus the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, located in South Hobart, are managed by statutory body the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority. The three sites are among eleven sites around Australia that constitute the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Five of these Sites are in Tasmania.

Port Arthur Historic Site
Arthur Highway, Port Arthur TASMANIA 7182
1800 659 101
reservations@portarthur.org.au
www.portarthur.org.au