Welcome to my place . . . Hobart, Tasmania
Visit the Famine sculptures unveiled by President Higgins before taking a bushwalk up Mount Wellington
Philip Lynch: “More than 12,000 female convicts were sent to Tasmania – over half of them were Irish.”
Originally from Finea, Co Westmeath, Philip Lynch snared foxes as a schoolboy. He now lives in rural Tasmania, where he works as a nurse. He is a regular, if by his own words “somewhat melancholic”, contributor to Irish Times Abroad.
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit Hobart?
Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art is a must-visit. Mona, as it’s known by the locals, was built by a multi-millionaire professional gambler. It’s a remarkable semi-subterranean structure. You can easily spend a day exploring its nooks and crannies and the provocative and eclectic art on display. Unsurprisingly, Mona has overtaken the ruins of the Port Arthur Penal Settlement as the island’s top tourist destination.
The top three things to do in Hobart, that don’t cost money, are . . .
Australia’s second oldest city is a modest-sized place with a population of about 200,000. It is located on the estuary of the River Derwent. Easily explored by foot, its hilly terrain demands a reasonable level of fitness. There is a tourist bus, but it’s more fun to wander around.
I’d suggest a stroll around Salamanca Place. Located in the heart of Hobart, Salamanca is indeed the clichéd tourist precinct. But what a fabulous precinct of pubs, galleries, cafes and bookshops and narrow cobblestone walkways. Its sandstone buildings offer more than a hint of Tasmania’s early settlement times. Featured prominently nearby are four life-sized bronze Famine sculptures, which were unveiled by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins when he visited Tasmania last year. Modelled on descendants of Irish women convicts (and a child), the accompanying text is a sobering testament to the hardships endured by our Irish forebears.
Battery Point is also worth checking out. A short walk from Salamanca, replete with narrow streets, tiny cottages and Georgian mansions dating back to the early 19th century, it remains steeped in the era when Tasmania was populated with convicts and ex-convicts.
Drive up 22km to the summit of Mount Wellington or Kunanyi (to use its Aboriginal name) and take in the view of the city and beyond. Standing over 1,200m above sea level, its peak is often snow-capped, even in summer. There are also scores of bushwalks that criss-cross the mountain. In recent times, a somewhat ill-conceived plan to construct an aerial cable car up the face of the mountain has continued to raise its ugly head. But so far, the idea has failed to win the public support and the mountain looms large and unspoilt over the city.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Hobart?
Hobart has plenty of chic restaurants, but for my money, you can’t beat the fish and chips on offer at the fish punts at Elizabeth Street Pier in Constitution Dock – the finish line of the annual St Stephen’s Day Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Open 364 days of the year, these punts offer a tempting variety of locally-caught fish at a reasonable price.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Hobart’s place in history?
The ruins of the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart are worth checking out. The factory/prison was built in 1826 to incarcerate female convicts who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land during the first half of the 19th century. More than 12,000 female convicts were sent to Tasmania – over half of them were Irish. Most had committed petty crimes. As they reached the end of their sentences, they were “offered opportunities” to become servants or wives. Only scant ruins of the factory remain, but there’s an eerie atmosphere that still lingers.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Hobart?
You can’t leave the island without sampling the whiskey on offer. A bottle of any Tasmanian whiskey won’t disappoint even the fussiest connoisseur.