We hired a car and set out through the rain for points South of Hobart today.
Our first stop was an unscheduled emergency stop down a deserted side-road, occasioned by Declan turning a funny shade of green. Once he had walked off his travel-sickness, we found ourselves to be outside a lovely cafe that served the best savoury scones on Earth. A truly serendipitous moment.
Onwards we ploughed to the tesselated pavement; which honestly was more of a tesselated walkway. The adjacent blowhole proved equally anti-climactic by providing a mild splash instead of anything like a spout of water.
So by the time we reached the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park we weren’t expecting a lot – and so were very pleasantly surprised by what we found. We got to get very up close and personal with Devils and with Quolls. our conclusion, however, was that Tasmanian Devils are a sadly ill-favoured bunch. They look just like over-grown rats with bad tempers. Theer only endearing quality from an audience-pleasing point of view is their propensity for random and frequent violence. Several times a minute they would seek out an opportunity to open up their cavernous and sharply-toothed jaws and try to clamp them shut upon snout of a neighbouring Devil. All accompanied by a high-pitched hissing, squealing sound. The result is that their faces are a mess of scars and cuts – which does nothing for their appeal.
In stark contrast, their cousins the Quolls have got cute down pat. They have a lovely speckled fur, an inquisitive little nose that twitches as they explore and bright button eyes. The Quolls you want to hug; the devils you want to run from – and that may well explain the general ambivalence about the poor Devil’s fate.
Declan had been insisting as we drove down, that Tasmanian devils were cute. His argument persisted until he saw them tearing into a haunch of wallaby when he exclaimed “Oh, that’s not cute!” and promptly transferred his alliegance to he Quolls.
Onwards again we headed into Port Arthur. Once the model of a modern penal colony, Port Arthur was the place the British Empire sent its hard cases. Rather than trying to whip them into submission, it aimed to play with their heads through solitary confinement. The results were impressive: It did nothing to stop recidivism, but it did shift a lot of prisoners out of the penal system and into insane asylums. We were stunned by the story of how these people were treated in the 1800s – and by how similar the treatment meted out to prisoners in Iraq and, more horrfying still, prisoners in NSW today is.
Port Arthur has some lovely buildings, built by convict slave labour and now slowly eroding away. But, as time goes by, it’s not only the sandstone and bricks that are eroding away. The rough edges of both prisoners and he system are being polished off into stories of romance and heroism that probably do historical reality a great disservice. I get the feeling that both the prioners and the jailers were largely akin the Tasmanian Devil but that these days they are bring portrayed as Quolls.