WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER WHITE BEACH
The day was quite warm and sunny, so it was perfect for exploring.
We retraced yesterday’s route to Premaydena, then turned west on the Saltwater River road, headed for the Coal Mines historic site, with its ruins of the convict establishment there.
Once, this was, as the name suggests, a coal mining operation, initially worked by convicts. It began in 1833, three years after Port Arthur was established as a place of secondary punishment for the worst of the convicts and those who offended again in the colony. Saltwater River received some of the worst from Port Arthur!
In 1833, all needed coal was shipped from NSW – a costly exercise. The Coal Mine here was the first mine set up in Tasmania. Mining here actually continued beyond the convict era, until about 1877.
The settlement here had convict accommodation, plus that for the necessary overseers, military and administration. There was obviously mine infrastructure as well, such as jetties for shipping the coal.
Parts of several buildings still exist. I first visited here in the summer of ’69/70, rather by accident, as Port Arthur was the focus of tourist activity in the area, then. I was surprised to find such a substantial set of ruins open to all comers, with no supervision or direction. Since then, there has been an attempt to prevent further deterioration of the ruins, which I am pleased to see.
It is a very photogenic area, with the superb bay in the background. Like other places in Tasmania, there is the juxtaposition between the idyllic natural environment and the unspeakable degradation of much that occurred here in the convict era.
We wandered around, exploring. It is possible to venture into the ruins. We went into the solitary confinement cell block and inspected the very small cells there – which were underground, then.
Ate our picnic lunch, sitting on the grass, looking over the bay.
Walked to Plunkett Point, where the main jetty used to be. John gathered some mussels from the rocks there, for fishing bait. Then we followed tracks up the hill to where the mine shafts were – it was underground mining. Up here there was an old boiler – steam power was eventually introduced here.
Followed another track back down to the ruins.
We then drove up to the ventilation shaft, a little distance away, and walked up to the top of Mt Stewart, the highest point. We encountered a large tiger snake beside the track, but it slid slowly away. The effort was worth it for the views.
By now, it was getting late in the afternoon, so we headed back.
On the way, we noticed some interesting looking houses for sale, right by the sea, at the little nearby Saltwater River settlement. Found them later, in a real estate guide we picked up. Some were $180,000-$200,000, which seemed rather tempting. However, there is no reticulated water supply on the Tasman Peninsula – it is all tank water – which is rather off-putting. But it would be a glorious area to live.
Tea was the salmon I bought yesterday, pan fried, with salad. It was beautiful and worth the cost.