Recognition of Tasmania's Unique Convict Heritage by UNESCO Paves the Way for 'Convictourism'

Aug 31, 2010, 11:52 ET from Tourism Tasmania

HOBART, Tasmania, Aug. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- Tasmania's compelling and extraordinary convict heritage has been officially recognised by UNESCO. It was announced on Saturday, July 31, 2010 that 11 Australian convict sites, five of which are located in the southernmost state of Tasmania, are to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Tasmanian sites are Port Arthur and the Coal Mines Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula; the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart; Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island; and Woolmers and Brickendon Estates near Longford. The other six sites are in New South Wales, Western Australia and Norfolk Island.

The close proximity of the convict sites in south and eastern Tasmania and the ease of access to some of the best-kept and most complete records of convict history anywhere in the world today gives Tasmania an opportunity to develop its 'Convic-tourism' product.  Visitors to Tasmania will be able to follow the convict trail and trace their ancestors back in time.

Thousands of penal sites were established in Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

They housed tens of thousands of men, women and children condemned by British justice, often for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, to transportation to the convict colonies. Each of the sites had a specific purpose, in terms both of punitive imprisonment and of rehabilitation through forced labor to help build the colony. The properties that now form part of the World Heritage List present the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labor of convicts.

Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula is perhaps Australia's most famous convict site. It operated as a penal station for secondary offenders until 1877, by which time it had been developed into a major industrial complex and had turned from flogging, using the dreaded 'Cat O' Nine tails' to a form of psychological punishment based on the system used at Pentonville in London.  Its 60 or so buildings and picturesque landscape offer visitors a challenging mix of both beauty and horror and have helped the site become one of Tasmania's most popular tourist attractions and probably the best known site of the 11 included in the listing.  

"The listing is great news for our tourism industry, and will allow us the opportunity to build an additional dimension to our visitors' experiences," said Felicia Mariani, Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Tasmania.

"When you ask people what comes to mind when they think of Tasmania, the first thing they usually mention is our wilderness. This is not surprising given that over half of our state is ancient World Heritage Wilderness, national parks and forest and marine reserves. And, given our history and rich colonial heritage, it is fitting that our State has now received recognition for these five important convict heritage sites. It can only add further to our reputation as a world-class destination."

The 34th session of the World Heritage Committee was held under the chairmanship of the Minister of Culture from Brazil, Joao Luiz da Silva Ferreira. The meeting opened on July 25 and continued through to August 3. A total of 39 sites have been considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The inscription of the convict sites are Australia's 18th World Heritage Listing.

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SOURCE Tourism Tasmania