A main highway in Tasmania is much the same as a main highway in any country. If you want your trip to get interesting, if you want to see bridges with history, beautiful scenery and gaols that housed convicts in the 1800’s, you’ve got to take the scenic route. So that’s what I did.
After a night in Swansea I was sent off by my Bed and Breakfast hosts with an itinerary of places to see. Swansea is not unlike small town New Zealand (where I’m from) with wide streets, weatherboard homes and friendly locals. The walking tour around gives you an insight into whaling and convict history of the area, and highlights the colonial architecture that I didn’t notice at first.
A few k’s south of the town, if you have your eyes peeled, you’ll find the Spiky Bridge, built by convicts in the 1840’s. The ‘spikes’ and the ‘built by convicts’ make you want to stop and see what it’s all about. The fact that it’s well built and quite interesting makes you want to stay a while and think about how difficult it would have been to build way back then. Then you’ll wonder about the spikes… Some say it was to keep cows from falling off the edge, some say the convicts did it to get their boss in trouble. You can choose which story to believe.
The next stop on the way to Hobart was Richmond, another town with a detailed convict history. Richmond Gaol pre-dates the more famous Port Arthur penal colony by nearly 10 years. It’s quite easy to romanticise convict history in Australia, without really meaning to. It’s not that you’re being disrespectful, but you tend not to think about specifics when you talk about it. A visit to Richmond Gaol will bring you crashing down to earth with a giant thud. The Flogging Yard is stark, the only other outside area for prisoners is barren but for a single almond tree, I suspect grown by accident over design.
Most rooms are dank and musty and they spark your imagination into visualising what life must have been like here. And then you see the solitary confinement cells. Stepping into one of these incredibly tiny cells that are pitch black with the doors closed for just a minute, gives you an incredible sense of isolation… and convicts could sometimes be locked in them for a month. Richmond Goal is definitely worth a visit just make sure you know it’s not one of those uplifting tourist attractions before you go.
Richmond has another piece of convict history that isn’t quite so grim. Richmond Bridge is the oldest bridge that’s still in use in Australia. Built by convicts housed in Richmond Goal in the 1820’s, the arched sandstone bridge spanning the Coal River, was heritage listed in 2005. The grounds around the bridge are a great place for a picnic or to stretch your legs before you hit that scenic country road and head to Hobart.