Little Convict – Yoram Gross

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Produced by legendary Yoram Gross, renowned for other Aussie kids classics like “Dot & the Kangaroo” & “Blinky Bill”, this one sticks out as a personal favourite of mine & not just because it stars an shamelfully unloved Aussie legend, Rolf Harris.

While overly romanticised & a little too gentle in the storytelling, it still needs reminding that this was more or less intended as an introduction to the convict era, for the youngest of children.

Very Australian & just a great film. Check out the full movie on Youtube!

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Newcastle Bogey Hole

"The Bogey Hole"

Ordered to be built in 1820 by convict labour, it was to be a private-use sea bath for Lieutenant Colonel James Thomas Morriset, who was the then Commandant of Newcastle.

The small bath nestled below the cliffs of King Edward’s Park became a public place of recreation in the 1860’s after being enlarged slightly. The council has just finished a new access path & steps making the infamous & sometimes trecherous walk down the cliff edge, a bit less exciting, but alot safer

The word “Bogey” is actually derived from the local aboriginal word meaning “to bathe” & has been a well loved spot for all Novacastrians and tourists alike for the last 150 years!

Clarence River Bridge, Grafton

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There is something about Grafton for me… It has real character, that I expect from a large Australian country town. Grafton was settled as a town and later declared in 1885, a city, to supply the large, lush farming district along the Clarence River. This bridge is without doubt (in my mind ) the ‘show piece’ of the town and is quite a unique bridge in Australia also, as in addition to the upper, reinforced concrete roadway, it has a lower level, with a railroad and two pedestrian footpaths. It brings the district together, both economically and socially as well as providing the obvious passenger and goods transportation along the east coast via the railway. There is no other option as you enter the town but to cross here over the “Bendy Bridge”, which actually has two corners at either end as you drive over, which also makes it terribly treacherous for locals at time when there is an approaching bus or semi!

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Completed in 1932, one of the most vital and significant links in the Sydney-Brisbane railroad and hailed as a great feat of engineering, of “Australian and Imperial importance”. It is also of a quite unique design as it has one of the largest known Bascule spans (84ft), which is the way the bridge opens to let larger river traffic through. The rail road then follows a elegant, arched viaduct through the town, creating, once again, a very unique streetscape throughout Grafton city.

What I love about this bridge is that it actually looks fairly neglected, due to the rust, and stains over the steel. I am quite sure it isn’t though, as this bridge is as important to the local community as fresh drinking water.

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Trial Bay Gaol and breakwall, South West Rocks, NSW

When I first saw photo’s and understood where it was located, I was quite bemused by this place. When I had recently visited Trial Bay and the Trial Bay Gaol, I still had this feeling, but also impressed and proud (as is often when you research Australian history) that government and people, would actually tackle a task of such scale. I was also very confused as to why on earth would they put a Gaol, so far from any decent population centre and next to the beach! No criminal deserves to wake up with the sounds of the ocean and watching whales pass by now do they…

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In the 19th century one of Australia’s busiest shipping routes was Sydney to Moreton Bay (Brisbane). Some 90 ships and 243 lives were lost along the East Coast, of NSW by the mid 1800s, so something had to be done urgently.Trial Bay, named after the ship lost out to sea nearby, was thought to be the perfect spot. It’s geographic location and deep bay made it ideal for ships to stop off, resupply and take refuge from southerly storms on an often treacherous voyage from Sydney to Brisbane. There was no doubt of the suitability of Trial Bay, but all it needed was a break wall to prevent waves interrupting the boats at bay. The small settlement of nearby Arakoon was tipped to be one of Australia’s most prosperous cities once this 1.5km wall was constructed.

This venture needed a much bigger workforce than the small farming communities around the Macleay River could supply, so it was decided to build a gaol, for the specific use to house convicts for the construction of this huge wall. Once construction on the gaol began in 1877, they met with difficulty, dressing the strong local stone. Even with a large team of contract labourers and skilled stonemasons, it would take 9 days for a mason to finishing dressing the stone. The Gaol was finally completed some years later in 1886. It sounds like such a bizzare concept to me, to build such a grand gaol, just to build a seawall. It is the only large scale gaol built for a public works project in Australia and was only ever used to house well behaved convicts approaching the end of their terms and in the years to follow, the prison more or less had an open door policy and minimal security. The only escapes they had in years to follow were for small misdirections (people getting lost or late on day release) Not only were these well behaved convicts not going to risk eventual release by escaping, but they would surely perish (or have trouble with native aboriginals) while trying to escape the region.

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-Gaol upon completion, with superintendents homestead in the foreground (now a coffee shop)

After a few engineering debates and a budget issue, construction on the wall began in 1889. Progress was slow, not only due to the quarrying of rock, but constant storms, gales and wash-aways. After 10 years, it was only one seventh of what it’s final length would be. In 1903 and after a change in engineering methods, holes in the wall between larger rocks were filled with smaller ones. After yet another large southerly storm, they accepted defeat and the break wall was left as a 300meter long mess and was abandoned before the year was out. The last few years of construction were in vain really, as with the use of newer style ships (that could be anchored out to see during storms), it made the break wall an unfortunate waste of time, effort and all at an astronomical cost, of a total of £150,000! (Along with 500,000 tonnes of quarried granite!)

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– Original planned length of break wall

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– The very cool, creepy mess that remains

So with the government giving up on this failed task by the end of 1903, the building remained dormant for the next decade or so. When until the outbreak of World War 1, it was used to house a little more then 500 men of German descent as Prisoners of War. Since it was impossible to intern all those of German descent in Australia, the men were usually academics, teachers, craftsmen and religious leaders and declared as ‘enemy aliens’ of the Commonwealth. They lived a fairly peaceful, easy going life here considering the circumstances in the remoteness and beauty of Trial Bay. Six months before the end of The Great War, they were moved to Holdsworthy army barracks in south western Sydney. It was a major concern, having the Gaol so isolated from any real help or support and with German war ships occasionally looming off the east coast, a possible attempted rescue by the Germans was not worth the risk.

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Four years after the war, Trial Bay Gaol was completely stripped of every that wasn’t bolted down and also many things that were, in a mad cash grab from the government to claim back as much as they could from any losses. For years the old gaol remained dormant, till shorty after it became a popular destination for tourist (most of whom had absolutely no idea what this place ever was or why it was there) and in the years to come would be declared a public reserve, before being restored in the late 50’s. Now, it’s is still an amazingly eerie, awesome place to visit and camp.

It’s a bit of a recurring theme in Australian history and just like the Charlotte Pass Chairlift story I did recently, it is a very similar story of a great expense and engineering venture failing absolutely miserably. History though, wherever you are can often be like that. It can be quite depressing when you look at it like that though, so best we don’t! 🙂

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Grafton Anglican Church

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The best thing, I feel, about religion is that they built churches. Whatever the religion, whatever the country, shrines, temples & churches were built to worship some kind of god or holy being & there is no doubting that they make the work a better place & a much more interesting to travel. I’m not a religious man, but no doubt you will find me quite often in a church, no matter where or what religion to admire the building, the passion & the serenity you always find in them, no matter how busy the world is outside.
In the last few hundred years of Australian (European) history our placing of many churches around the country side is akin to the English & The Scots. Sometimes they are very grand, sometimes literally tin sheds.
This one I stumbled across while wandering Grafton, on the NSW north coast, definently is one of my favourites now. Very much like some English churches I have seen, but also had a uniquely Australian feel to it. Not to mention a huge, ornate, medieval style timber ceiling, which I believe, is its most awe inspiring, closely followed by the amazing stained glass windows scattered around the church, dedicated to past residents.

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