We came back from the Isle of the Dead…….

Heading to Port Arthur is always with mixed emotion.  I love the incredibly rich history so dark and sinister, the ghost stories, the gardens and those beautiful decaying ruins of crumbling stone yet it is a place which holds fast to unimaginable hardship and suffering.

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This beautifully preserved open-air museum is one of Australia’s most historic UNESCO World Heritage listed convict sites.  Originally established in 1830 as a timber station, Port Arthur soon became a penal colony where convicted criminals endured unimagined conditions of brutality and torment.

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To walk through the grounds is a humbling experience for this is a terribly human place, the foundations of which bare witness to grief, sadness and a brokenness of spirit made even more so by the terrible events of 1996.

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Formerly the Broad Arrow Café, this area is now a memorial site with gardens and a peace pool. 

April 1996.  A lone gunman entered the grounds and murdered 35 people and wounded another 25.  Known as the Port Arthur Massacre, this horrific mass shooting, the worst in Australia’s modern history, led to fundamental changes of our gun laws and altered Australia’s innocence forever.

I am unsure of the oppressive curses Port Arthur labours under but for all its death and suffering, it is a mortal place to be.

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The lovely gardens of Port Arthur are true to their era and the orchards, old homes and vegetable patches are tranquil places for reflection.

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Accessible only by boat, The Isle of the Dead is a tiny island cemetery adjacent to Port Arthur.  The site holds 1,646 recorded graves of those buried between 1833 and 1877 although it is estimated 2,000 plus lost souls are interned there.

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There are two separate burial sections on the isle.  One for convicts, most laid to rest in unmarked graves, while on the higher point of the island are the graves of officials, military and civilian officers and women and children.

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Since I last visited, a walk-way has been erected on the island so as not to ‘walk’ upon the resting souls………

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In the early 70’s, my grandparents took a trip to Tasmania.  They were on a coach tour of the entire island and part of their tour included a day trip to Port Arthur.   When they returned they bought back some really great photographs of their trip – I didn’t even know they owned a camera.  They also returned with lovely gifts which included a  necklace made from strands of apple seed, a silver apple charm and a tee-shirt which I wore to death the print of which read ‘I came back from the Isle of the Dead’.  I remember I missed them being away and they sent me post-cards which I still have but I wish I still had my old tee as they no longer print these for sale in the Port Arthur gift shop.

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The Isle of the Dead is a deeply moving site and guided walking tours can be taken of this diminutive islet.  Without question do a tour as the guides are extremely knowledgeable and the stories they share are captivating.  I highly recommend you pay the small extra with your ticketed price for entry to Port Arthur and head over.

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Of course I would put my own mother in leg irons for a photo…….

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Port Arthur is profoundly beautiful but sometimes, that beauty can be very ugly………..

‘If you light a lantern for another, it will also brighten your own way’…..Nichiren

The road to Hoi An, the beautifully charming UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, is well travelled.  Wrapped in exquisite layers of grace and tradition the town is essentially a living breathing museum with its whimsical mustard-yellow Japanese merchant houses, crumbling buildings, tea-houses, lanterns, Chinese temples, lovely Vietnamese tube houses and stunning French colonial buildings.

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With its cut-through canals and water-ways this lovely town, a labyrinth of alleyways and lanes, dates back to the 15th century and it was once a thriving Southeast Asian trading port.

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Centrally located in Hoi An, this graceful and very pretty little wooden bridge was constructed by the Japanese in the 1590’s.  Centuries may have passed yet little has changed on this gently arching span which has become a major tourist attraction for the town.

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Whilst in Hoi An, you can leave the traffic snarls behind as cars and motorbikes are banned from the central part of town.  There is a welcomed pace here and apart from the rickshaw and push-bikes, the good old foot falcon is the best mode of transport.

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On almost every corner, little charcoal burners heave under the weight of pork and chicken skewers.  The smell of cooking meat is amazing and their accompanying salads are to die for.  You know how sometimes you think ‘that was a pretty rough day.  I won’t make it worse by having salad for dinner’ .  Well that is not the case in Vietnam as the salads are just divine.  Fresh, light and incredibly moreish with their coriander, mint and Vietnamese basil.  Nom du du bo kho is a favorite with its green papaya, dried beef, roasted peanuts and fish sauce dressing.

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The local beer is cold and it is cheap and it best accompanies the inexpensive hawker food on offer and of course you always know what I always say about street food……..EAT IT!   So hunker down on those tiny plastic squat chairs and enjoy.

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This elegant town does have its touristy side such as the rustic and over-crowded market stalls.  Everything and anything is sold under low slung awnings but just go with the flow and enjoy it all for what it truly is.

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The lovely lanterns of Hoi An…….

I find lanterns breathtakingly romantic and in Hoi An, I fell in love with the way they adorn the cities’ alley-ways and lanes.  Traditionally hung on the full moon, it is said lanterns bring good luck to a home.  How could such serendipitous warm beauty not soften the coldest of hearts.

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There is often a good tired which comes from travel and I was, after my time in Hoi An, in sleeping swan pose before I knew it.  Unfortunately I was still on the bus at the time!   Headed for our next destination, I dozed on and off during the 3 hour long ride occasionally waking to watch for the comfort the acres and acres of green rice fields seemed to bring.  I watched for the locals with their flocks of runner ducks and buffalo and I waited for the motion of the bus to dip beside forests so I could see the tops of the tallest of trees and glimpse the ocean occasionally.

Sometimes my thoughts strayed to ‘home’, but where is home for me.  I have always believed it is that place where I live at that moment.  The place where I unpack my life and where I lay my head and where I can enjoy the serenity of just standing still.  It is where I am always willing to meet myself and where I often fail spectacularly especially on the journey of looking after myself.  It is a place where I always fall in love with something.  Where I am trying to live my best life by having less and having more – less friends, less possessions, more kindness, more compassion and to be more rich in the time I devote to something I love.  It is the luxury of a moment alone in the ocean, finding a book at my local library, finding a piece of sea glass along with a perfect coffee and the joy of a late season summers day.  Most of all, when fortunate enough, it is the place where I am able to hang my lantern…….xx

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