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Port Arthur Historic Site

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Natural Wonders

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Amazing Walks

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Unique Wildlife

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Stunning Coastline

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Amazing Locations

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1.2 Introduction

Welcome to the Tasman Peninsula

Tasman Peninsula is home to a great concentration of monuments to the convict transportation system: the system that for better or worse was the foundation of modern Australia. However, the convict history of the region is only part of the fascination of the Tasman Peninsula. Washed by the Tasman Sea to the east, and battered by the Great Southern Ocean to the south, the Tasman Peninsula is literally a corner of the world.

The Convict Trail Introduction

Time did not begin in 1830 when the convicts arrived or end when they left in 1877. The highest sea cliffs in Australia were formed at Cape Pillar over fifty million years ago, when the ancient continent of Gondwana split apart and molten rock gushed out of the earth.  Abel Tasman sighted those massive dolerite columns in 1642 – one hundred and thirty years before Cook saw eastern Australia - but human occupation of the Peninsula goes back millennia before that. There is now very strong evidence that the Tasmanian Aboriginal people have occupied this island for more than 30,000 years and that they lived on the Peninsula from at least 5,000 years ago.

Two elements of the natural world concentrate human endeavour in the region - the sea and the forest. Because Gondwanaland split here, the continental shelf is very narrow, which allows nutrient rich water to well up close to shore and provide good maritime resources. The sea provided the original inhabitants with their livelihood and it was the sea that granted access to the region throughout the convict era and up to the mid-twentieth century.

Being exposed to both easterly and westerly weather, most of the Peninsula is well-watered, and despite nearly two centuries of exploitation, still heavily forested. Timber was what drew Europeans to the Peninsula: Port Arthur was settled as a logging camp and the first free settlers made their living from timber. Through the twentieth century economic activity centred on clearing the forest and planting orchards - forestry remains an important industry to this day, though orcharding, sadly, is not. Tasmania used to be called the ‘Apple Isle’ and the Peninsula was a very important region of apple and pear production, but the major market for the fruit was lost when Great Britain joined the European Union in 1965, and the industry suffered a severe and rapid decline. Agricultural activity now centres on beef cattle and chicken-meat production. One Peninsula family, the MacDonalds of Glenila farm were Australian pioneers in the modern chicken-meat industry.

Tourism and holiday-making have been central to the Peninsula’s economy since the late nineteenth century, based not only on the historical residue of the convict system, which is so important to Australia’s heritage, but also on the spectacular, rugged scenery. So, as you follow the Convict Trail around the Tasman Peninsula, you follow in a long tradition – holiday-makers have been coming here for over a century whereas the convicts were only here for fifty years.  Do take your time to enjoy this extraordinary corner of the world.

James Parker