Port Arthur is the site of Australia’s most infamous prison. From 1833 to 1853 it was the destination for the most violent of British and Irish prisoners, having the strictest security in the British Commonwealth’s penal system. It was at Port Arthur that a shift from physical to psychological punishment occurred with the implementation of the “Silent System”.
At Port Arthur prisoners were punished through sensory deprivation, being hooded and forced to remain silent. The theory was that this would allow the prisoners to reflect upon their wrongdoings. Many developed mental illnesses from the lack of light and sound. This resulted in the construction of a mental asylum next to the prison. The prison was closed in 1877 only to re-open 100 years later as a tourist attraction.
On the 28th April 1996 Port Arthur became the site of a shooting massacre when Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21. He is now serving 35 life sentences in prison.
Under the surface of its harbour the sounds of ferries and smaller boats dominate Port Arthur’s marine environment. This is a worrying trend across the world with ramifications for the health of our aquatic systems. Recent studies have shown that ocean background noise has doubled each decade for the past 60 years, preventing fish, whales, and dolphins from hearing their prey or predators, from avoiding dangers, from navigating or orienting to important habitat (Weilgart). Will the problem of under-water noise pollution be taken as seriously as it is now on land?
Positioned amongst such beautiful scenery it is hard to believe that Port Arthur was once the site of many brutal horrors. While walking around the harbour it is easy to be seduced by the romantic images of its forested hills reaching the water’s edge, and the old ruins of the prison buildings and churches. It is only when noticing the quiet that pervades the area that we can imagine ourselves into the past.