Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tasmania, part 2: Tasman Peninsula

We spent yesterday and today exploring the Tasman Peninsula. Yesterday we started by spending some time near Eaglehawk Neck, at a place called Tessellated Pavement.

It is known for the strange rock formations at the coast. As can be seen in the above photograph, they look oddly rectangular, as if they were man-made, but their shape is due to a natural though rare form of erosion.

This is a botany blog, so here is a plant: Plantago triantha (Plantaginaceae) growing on the rocks at Tessellated Pavement. By the way, when I need to identify Tasmanian plants, I use a fantastic online recource provided by staff from the University of Tasmania. It is a fairly standard usually dichotomous analytic key but it contains lots of images and buttons that can be clicked to obtain further information, making it much more versatile than a printed flora. Also, the characters used are generally very straightforward, with a focus on what can easily be ascertained even by a non-scientist. If you ever need to find out the names of Tasmanian plants, give it a try!

And this is the view from the Eaglehawk Neck Lookout at the turnoff to Tessellated Pavement. Apart from the above "pavement", this beautiful coast shows many other interesting shapes of erosion...

...such as arches. This is the Tasman Arch a bit to the south of Eaglehawk Neck. Look at the size of the Eucalyptus trees on top of the arch - this thing is massive.

Today we had less luck with the weather than yesterday, so it was perhaps good that we spent less time outside. We visited the ruins and museum of the former convict colony at Port Arthur, pictured above.

In a way, it is really quite a depressing place. Although at the time seen as a major advance because it gave criminals a chance at rehabilitation through useful labour and perhaps an education (as opposed to simply hanging them), it loses some goodwill once you read about the conditions under which the convicts had to live. With dangerous work conditions (mostly tree felling and mining), insufficient nutrition given the hard physical work, and apparently often cold and moist accommodation, one could also make the case that many of them were simply worked to death, often dying from accidents or respiratory diseases like pneuomonia. And that is before one realizes that some of the convicts were transported to the colony for ridiculously small offenses. The separate prison where all inmates were kept in solitary confinement as a matter of routine practice was basically just one massive, sadistic, psycho-torture chamber.

Port Arthur was also the site of the worst mass murder in recent Australian history, an event that prompted the country to enact stricter gun laws. It is interesting to note that the Tasmanians have also enacted a form of damnatio memoriae: as far as I can see so far, museums, travel guides and memorials all carefully avoid mentioning the name of the murderer.

Finally, at the end of the day we visited Remarkable Cave. (The Tasmanians have some of the most matter-of-fact place names in the country, although for me nothing beats Useless Loop in Western Australia.) What is so remarkable about it is that it supposedly resembles the shape of Tasmania. We could not quite figure out from what angle that is supposed to work best, so judge for yourself.

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