To Sarah Island first of two photo files and blog
To Liberated Sarah Island
The two fast cats you see tied up to Strahan dock both lead sheltered lives taking visitors across the expansive waters of Macquarie Harbour to explore Hell’s Gate, where we entered, Sarah Island and the Gordon River and we will come across both of them in our two day adventure.
We had waited for the twin troughs of a low pressure system, that had held Tasmania between their scissor-like grip for 48 hours, to move east before our much anticipated southern Macquarie Harbour expedition could begin.
The evening before Rob and I had gone for a shore side walk and found a resort where we knew we could buy the two black and white charts you see of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River drawn by local architect and businessman Trevor Norton. The lady there was aghast when she heard about the cost of a permit to visit the Gordon, as if it was not the normal way of things. She suggested we take ourselves up there on an experience now and pay later if necessary basis, so that is what we did.
Just before we set off a little blue penguin surfaced beside Zoonie, a complete surprise to us to see one so close to human activity.
There was a stiff breeze against Zoonie as we motored south, the air full of the excitement of adventure. We do not often have people aboard to share our lives on Zoonie, as you know, and memories came back from when we were traversing the Panama Canal and had Jane and Paul from Nora J and the two young Canadian doctors on board for a couple of days and how we asked them to stay for an extra night because we were enjoying their company so much.
We knew Ken and Bron well by now after twelve days cruising with them in Vanuatu and found our foursome to be an easy and thoroughly enjoyable group.
After five hours of motoring I turned Zoonie into the bay that has Sarah and her two outlying islands at the head, the first, Small Island where free women were housed in a cave to do the island’s laundry and nurse the sick and the second a graveyard for the many convicts who died here. We made our way carefully for the single little buoy that we could pick up provided there was enough room around it for Zoonie to swing. The depth gauge dropped to .9 but as the tidal range was about half a metre we figured Zoonie would be fine even with just one foot beneath her. There was a modern jetty to the west of the island but the grey cat was tied up there and as we motored ashore in the tender we saw the group of visitors making their way back to it having returned the colourful sunbrellas to the box at the conclusion of their visit; we had the island to ourselves.
What struck us first was how tiny the island was to be the scene of so much suffering. Only about 700 yards (1400 metres) long and 200 wide. The first thing tasked to the convicts was to clear it of vegetation, including the valuable Huon Pines, many of which can still be seen in the water and were used as the slipway base for the shipyard. In clearing of course the island was then exposed to the strong winds brought by extreme weather systems, so a windbreak fence was built right across the north side of the island (!)
That was the second juxtaposition, the barren landscape of history compared to the varied heights and greens of today’s vegetation. It is a beautiful natural and diverse garden now, silent and peaceful and as far as the local aborigines are concerned, haunted.
Visitors have been coming here through curiosity for over a hundred years and I wondered what impression the Victorians took away with them. The beauty of the surrounding area must have made an impression, the natural waters of the harbour and the mountains in the distance, especially on a clear blue day such as we had. Walking by the ruins of the main buildings, showing the precise care with which they were erected and have withstood the test of time, I imagined Bill streaking past in his attempt to shock the doctor’s wife, causing a ruckus of cheering and merriment I hope and then of course the dragging of re-offending convicts to the post to be flogged, sometimes to death for misdemeanours such as allegedly telling a lie, shoving a fellow prisoner off a jetty and of a more entrepreneurial type, selling brooms and bringing soup to the settlement to sell.
The little pink berry is an edible peppercorn and left a dry sensation in the roof of my mouth.
We thought we had finished our wandering after an hour or so but then saw we had missed the path to the prison buildings, old and new so decided we shouldn’t miss those. The new one, clinging to the rocky cliff reminded me of a Scottish castle and the prisoners found it quite comfortable, but read the story of the aborigines imprisoned underneath for no crimes apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.