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New visitor attraction highlights sounds, sights of old Port Arthur dockyard

23/05/2007

The old dockyard at the Port Arthur Historic Site has been transformed into an exciting new attraction featuring innovative technology to add to the visitor experience.

The dockyard was one of the busiest and most productive ship building yards in Van Diemen’s Land and, with a new direction in interpretation, it now showcases another story in the complex history of the site.

It was officially opened today by Tourism, Arts and Environment Minister Paula Wriedt.

The dockyard project is the product of years of archaeological and documentary research and it shows the triumphs of industry that were achieved.

Archaeology manager at Port Arthur Greg Jackman said that over 15 years the dockyard produced 15 large ships and 140 smaller craft with convict labour used to carry timber as well as for the more skilled tasks.

It was one of only three dockyards in the British Empire that used convict labour to build both the yard and the ships. It is also the best preserved.

Until recently visitors to the dockyard could only gaze at two houses and an open grassy space. It was impossible for them to imagine the noisy, busy, smelly and productive space it once was.

The dockyard slipway now features a 35m sculpture of a ship by Tasmanian artists Ben Booth and Colin Langridge.

Ben and Colin said it was a great experience to be involved in such a large project.

They worked with an engineering firm to design and install the huge metal framework on site.

PAHSMA interpretation and collections manager Julia Clark described the project as an extraordinary achievement and praised historic site staff for their hard work.

“This is a proud day for everyone here at PAHSMA,” Julia said.

“We have a very precious legacy here. It was a complex site, full of noises and smells.

“This is a very innovative project. It seeks to reach different part of the visitor’s mind and sets a new benchmark in the field of interpretation."

There are few signs at the dockyards. A brochure provides the detail but the scene is set in sculpture and soundscapes.

Clattering hammers, rattling capstans and even a mother calling her children to bed take visitors on a journey back to the dockyard’s industrial peak between 1834 and 1848.

The sites of old boatsheds, steamers, a sawpit, blacksmith’s hut and overseer’s hut are outlined in rusting steel. Fences define former gardens.

Ms Wriedt said the Port Arthur dockyard is yet another reason why a visit the Port Arthur Historic Site is such a rewarding and rich experience.

“In addition to the history of hardship and brutality so often associated with Port Arthur, it tells yet another story about this very engaging and important place,” she said.

New visitor attraction highlights sounds, sights of old Port Arthur dockyard

There is minimal signage at the dockyard

New visitor attraction highlights sounds, sights of old Port Arthur dockyard

PAHSMA chair Barry Jones is filmed by the media as he welcomes guests to the official opening of the dockyard

New visitor attraction highlights sounds, sights of old Port Arthur dockyard

Artists Colin Langridge, left, and Ben Booth discuss their sculpture with Minister Wriedt