The historic Coal Mines site was one of the first attractions we explored in Tasmania. We were still house-sitting in Geeveston, before the permanent move to Tassie, and we made the trek to the Tasman Peninsula from the Huon Valley. At that stage, we had absolutely no concept of the time required to cover the region properly.
Coal Mines: Tasman Peninsula Convict History
We landed at the Coal Mines first, en route to its more substantial cousin, the Port Arthur Convict Settlement. The drive to the Coal Mines takes almost half an hour each way from Port Arthur, and from memory there may have been at least some unsealed road involved. Perfectly fine I think, but unsealed. And once you get there, basic toilet facilities and a picnic table are all you can expect. And… no crowds!
We were the only tourists at the site the whole time we were there. And I say “the whole time” because we spent so long at the Coal Mines, we ate into the time needed to properly discover Port Arthur (both the town and the convict attraction). Given our time over again, we would book an overnight visit to the Tasman Peninsula.
Punishment of Hardened Criminals
Originally, Tasmania imported coal from New South Wales, which was expensive and inefficient. The mine, Tasmania’s first, was ostensibly developed to address that dependency issue, and make the colony more self-sufficient. But history would show that the Coal Mines were used to instil fear; it was somewhere the worst of the worst convicts were sent to work as a form of punishment.
It’s hard to imagine there could be a place with a worse reputation than Port Arthur for inflicting a harsh reality on convicts. But for over 40 years, if you didn’t tow the line at Port Arthur, you were sent to the Coal Mines. It was enough to break the soul of any man, even a hardened criminal.
These days, the actual underground coal mines are no longer accessible. But you can explore the sandstone ruins of the barracks, chapel, bakehouse, store and officer accommodation. Once the coal was extracted, it was carted along rail tracks for transport by sea, and you can walk along the scenic path to the location of the jetty.
We’ll go back to the Tasman Peninsula again one day, because there’s always new things to discover when you have enough time. In fact, on Facebook one day, we mentioned our intention to return to the Coal Mines. That prompted Think Tasmania readers Kim and Rod Prestedge to share with us photos from their own visit to the Coal Mines, taken during their campervan holiday. Hence this article was inspired.
Coal Mines in Tasmania are Where?
Entry to the Coal Mines Historic Site is free, and there are interpretive signs for visitors to learn about the history. The site is located near Saltwater River. When travelling from Hobart, turn west off the Arthur Highway about 9kms north of Port Arthur, and follow the signs. You can also access the site from Port Arthur via White Beach and Nubeena. More places to explore!
The Port Arthur, Coal Mines and Cascades Female Factory Historic Sites are all World Heritage Listed. The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority is responsible for all three Tasmanian experiences.
So the moral of this story, if there has to be one? In Tasmania, always allow more time than you think you’ll need. That, and take more photos. You never know when you might want them!
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