Nowhere in Tasmania will you find greater evidence of the appalling conditions that Tasmania’s convicts were subjected to than here on the Sarah Island on Tasmania’s west coast.
Although it only operated as a convict site for 11 years, Sarah Island’s reputation as the most brutal in Australia was justified as men were put through a living hell of logging the Huon Pine in the harshest of environments. Stories of misery, escape and cannibalism have been turned into books and films, including that of the notorious Alexander Pierce who tried to escape not once but twice and was eventually hanged for eating his fellow escapees (it is said that body parts were found among his person when he was captured).
Like all things Tasmanian, brutality comes with breathtaking beauty and a visit to Sarah Island can only be done as part of a daily cruise down the Gordon River from the little town of Strahan. The cruise is operated by two separate companies. Both voyage through Macquarie Harbour, which is up to six times the size of Sydney Harbour, and down to the lower reaches of the mighty Gordon River with its extraordinary reflections. This allows ample opportunity to marvel at the vastness of the temperate rainforest, the ancient and protected Huon pine, whose precious shipbuilding qualities were the scourge of the convicts’ miserable lives, the birdlife and serenity of the region which has been the subject of misery and environmental battles for two centuries.
Back on dry land, your guides from Sarah Island will engage you in a delightful play, The Ship That Never Was, which is acted out every evening on the esplanade in Strahan. For sheer entertainment value, it is well worth the 90 minutes of your time but beware - you might get asked to put your acting skills to the test.
Photo Credits: RACT Destinations