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Winter storms lead to new learning


The storms that lashed the Port Arthur Historic Site in July are likely to lead to new understanding of the impacts of weather events on heritage sites in coastal areas, information that will be shared.

Winter storms caused flooding and damage to areas on and around the foreshore of the Port Arthur Historic Site in early July. In particular, the sea wall was washed away in some areas and the penitentiary looked as if it was about to float away.

Heavy seas lifted the jetty at Isle of the Dead off its footing, the convict-era jetty in front of the Commandant’s residence had stones lifted out of the platform and hurled to the other side, Radcliffe Creek suffered some stone displacement, the Crane base lost its top stone and paths around the foreshore were damaged.

PAHSMA staff have been hard at work since the storms, cleaning up and starting to repair the damage. Urgent repairs to the Isle of the Dead jetty were completed promptly so it could be used, stones have been retrieved and replaced in the Commandants jetty; debris has been cleared from the Penitentiary and the access paths are all tidied up and back in action. This required an enormous effort by site staff to get the site as near to back to normal as possible in such a short period of time.

The sea wall has a number of areas where the wave action created significant damage, which is visible in the photographs. Instead of racing in and putting it all back as it was, we believe it is best to seek advice about the best way to proceed with repair and planning for the immediate future as well as the mid to long term. To that end, we have sought advice from a specialist in coastal erosion and water movement. Paths by the water’s edge in front of the Commandants will be opened when the sea wall is rebuilt to retain them.

The Penitentiary and Watchman’s Quarters (the buildings at the seaward end of the Penitentiary which were also flooded) are now being attended to. There will be a lengthy process of poulticing low lying masonry to remove the salts and cleaning out the salt laden material that inundated the interiors. The Watchman’s will require work to floors and electrics.

Experience to be shared

There is a significant body of research and work beyond the shores of Port Arthur directed on the impact of climate change on our coastal communities, infrastructure and natural environment.

While this event is believed to be a 1 in 40 year weather event, and as such has happened before and will again, it is believed that it will in future occur more frequently and possibly be more severe.

 In planning to limit the damage that similar events in future do to our long coastlines at Port Arthur and the Coal Mines, we will uncover questions and hopefully provide some answers; but we will most certainly be looking at issues not widely addressed to date.

We look forward to contributing the better protection of our cultural heritage on a global scale as befitting managers of Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Properties.

Winter storms lead to new learning

The storm lifted the Isle of the Dead jetty off its footings

Winter storms lead to new learning

Waves pound the sea wall at Port Arthur

Winter storms lead to new learning

Stones from the Commandant's Jetty were hurled across the structure

Winter storms lead to new learning

The guardhouse was almost washed away

Winter storms lead to new learning

The Penitentiary was inundated, with salt being a major concern