Happy birthday to Kamila on her first birthday. She is such a pretty little lady.
Today we set the alarm for 8:00am. We didn’t dally over breakfast and showers and were on our way by 9:15am. We have a big day ahead of us.
We had intended to take the scenic coastal route but only got as far as the start of the gravel road at Shelley Beach (just south of Orford) when we came to a sign advising us the road ahead was closed because the bridge was out.
So, we turned back to Orford and took the Wielangta Road track south. Russ thoroughly enjoyed his stint of 4WDriving over gravel roads – the gravel roads in Tasmania are actually in pretty good condition, and the scenery was very pretty.
We rejoined the tarmac road just before Copping and turned due south through Murdunna and Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman Peninsula, west on to Taranna, through Mayadena and onto the Saltwater Road until we arrived at the Convict Coal Mines main carpark area, then we had our lunch.
The Convict Coal Mine Circuit was very interesting. Established in 1883 the Coal Mines site near Lime Bay provided a local supply of coal to the Port Arthur colony, the coal previously having been shipped from NSW.
The Coal Mine Site was used for 15 years, from 1833 – 48, as a convict probation station. It served as a place of punishment for the ‘worst class’ of convicts from Port Arthur. Re-offending convicts from Port Arthur and elsewhere in Van Diemen’s Land suffered additional hardship under ruthless overseers in this isolated work camp.
The site is of such cultural significance to Australia and to the World that it has been formally inscribed onto both the Australian National Heritage List and UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010.
The circuit is a fascinating and informative stroll through gentle bushland where visitors can roam the ruins without cost or crowds and takes in the most interesting sites including underground cells and many building ruins.
In the time of the convicts all the vegetation was cleared in order to harvest timber, provide land for gardening, and to allow access for mining. It also made for easier surveillance of the convicts.
At the peak of the population at the station there were 576 convicts, 27 military personnel, 125 civilians (which included 14 women and 90 children).
We did not venture out to see the adit and main shaft of the coal mining area itself.
All that is left above ground of the main settlement are the crumbling sandstone walls of many buildings. Below the site a number of punishment cells provide an unnerving insight into what conditions were like below the surface of the station,
The site comprises of over 25 substantial ruins as well as the remains of coal mining activities. The Prisoner Barracks ruin was originally two large stone buildings that housed up to 170 convicts within a fenced compound. However, underneath the barracks are the remains of 16 solitary confinement cells which created dark, soundproof and poorly ventilated environments.
The archeological remains of over 100 Separate Apartment cells built to segregate the convicts at night are also evident.
There was also a chapel, a hospital, bakery, store and officer’s quarters plus jetties and tram tracks for transporting the coal.
Visiting the Coal Mine Site is a very different experience from the extremely popular Port Arthur Site which has paid entry, guided tours and crowds in large numbers. Port Arthur Site is Tasmania’s most visited attraction.
Here at the Coal Mine Site, you can stand quietly in one of the tiny, dark cells and reflect on what it might have felt like to be imprisoned here. It feels more like visiting a remote scenic spot in a National Park than a major historic site, but then you remember the pain and suffering experienced by the men who were sent here to what would have been a grim and harsh place.
The mines were worked by a method of leaving a column of coal to support the roof of the mine, known as the ‘pillar and stall method’. Winding wheels brought up baskets of coal that were then upturned into carts. A system of inclined tramways utilised the natural hills of the landscape to carry coal from the shafts to the jetties and onto the cargo vessels.
During the operation of the mine, it produced 60,000 tonnes of coal.
Men worked for two 8-hour shifts a day in the low, hot, damp tunnels of the mine.
Other convicts were employed in infrastructure development and the operation of the station. Quarries provided sandstone for buildings, and bricks from local clay were made and fired on site. The quarries still show pick marks where convicts mined and extracted the stone by hand for the buildings.
A lime kiln still exists and provided lime for the mortar used in the building process.
Shoes were made on site, and pits used for tanning leather are still evident.
The Coal Mine Site is significant because of its important role in the anti-transportation debate. The Probation Station became infamous for its immoral activities. The colonial administration and the Tasmanian community considered the place as among the worst penal station for homosexuality.
The Coal Mines were officially closed as a Probation Station in 1848 on ‘moral and financial grounds’ although the mines continued to be worked privately until 1877.
On the way back we visited several geological sites of interest.
Tasman’s Arch is a tall, natural bridge in the sea. It is what is left of the roof of a large sea cave or tunnel and was created by wave action over many thousands of years. This arch will eventually collapse, and another Devil’s Kitchen will be formed.
The Devil’s Kitchen is a deep trench without an arch that has also been carved out by the waves of the Tasman Sea. The eroding rocks in the area are siltstone.
The Devil’s Kitchen consists of two hollows on top of each other, resembling a face with a giant maw (neither Russ nor I could see this in the structure). Local legends say that the Natives considered the cave to be inhabited by evil, cannibalistic spirits with soot on the outside (black marks we could see) marking the presence of cooking fires – hence the name.
We also went to see the Blowhole but found this to be a very disappointing experience as there was no hole where water was forced through from below, just the actions of waves in a confined area.
However, the Tessellated Pavement was another matter.
The isthmus connecting the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of Tasmania is covered in a pattern of regular saltwater pools. Although these depressions look distinctly man-made, they are the result of a rare type of natural erosion caused by the salt deposited from the waves.
Occurring near seacoasts on flat rock which has broken into regular blocks, the effect is known as a tessellated pavement for its resemblance to Roman mosaic floors. It takes two forms.
The depressions are known as pan formations when the saltwater wears away the centre portion of the stone into pool areas.
The opposite effect is known as loaf formations when the edges of the stone are worn away leaving a rounded crown that resembles rising bread.
Tesellated pavement formation is extremely rare and found in only a few places on Earth.
The geology involved is not related to either The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland or Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, which were formed as basaltic lava cooled and fractured.
Tesellated pavement occurs as sedimentary rock erodes.
We took an alternate 4WD track home trough Nugent and Wattle Hill, and then onto the Tasman Highway. This way we avoided having to go through Sorell and heavy traffic and some roadworks.
We came back to the van for a cuppa, Russ to have his SCAN, and then headed to the Fish Van for tea. Russ chose the Seafood Basket and raved over every mouthful. I had grilled flake with chips, and it was both fresh and tasty.
We have a very cold breeze blowing but it was mostly sunny for the day. However, when talking to mum on the phone for our weekly catchup it started to rain. The heater is on and working well.