Australia's glitzy Pacific paradise image belies its low-rent past. Amid the Australia Day sizzling of fireworks and barbies remember that the nation began as a dumping ground for British eurotrash.
The shipped-in bogans various thugs, thieves and scumbags convicted of everything from stealing snuff to murder, were forced into labour. They slaved away in the heat until their sentences typically seven years each ended, or they dropped in the dust.
Either way, they left some solid, imposing traces destined to win recognition. On 31 July 2010, 11 convict landmarks were added to the World Heritage List.
In light of that success, here's a loving long-weekend look at some key listed landmarks that laid the nation's foundations. Advance Australia!
A stroll from Circular Quay, Hyde Park Barracks was built to house up to 600 riffraff from Georgian Britain by convict-architect Francis Greenway. Established in 1819, the landmark is Australia's oldest institutional building and one of the British empire's most complete convict barracks.
Now it serves as a museum of Sydney's social and architectural history. Plus, it moonlights as a venue for banquets and wedding ceremonies.
Sydney Harbour's biggest island, Cockatoo, sits at the junction between the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. Established as a prison in 1839, it was manned by British Redcoat troops, who made the inmates quarry sandstone, build their own gaol, even imagine forge their own prison bars.
Much of the prisoners' handiwork survives. So does the memory of legendary Cockatoo Island prisoner, bushranger (or highwayman) Captain Thunderbolt, who did two stints there. In 1863, with the help of his squeeze Mary Ann Bugg, who swam to the island, Captain Thunderbolt escaped. Ashore, he embarked on a murderous crime spree.
Catch a ferry to his old haunt and you can do a tour and visit a designer bar housed in recycled shipping containers. If you really want to soak up the atmosphere, camp overnight under the cranes and chimneys.
Completed in 1836, Old Great North Road owes its existence to legions of prisoners. Over 700 some in chains toiled on the 300km road linking Sydney to the Hunter Valley.
Less dour than it sounds, the road, which cuts through unspoilt bush surroundings, features spectacular buttresses, culverts (AKA fancy drains) and bridges: all built for nothing. By the time the convicts downed tools, people preferred to travel on coastal steamers.
Run down, the folly is closed to vehicles. Still, you can walk it within three days or bike it in one.
Until 1991, Fremantle Prison served as Perth's maximum-security prison. The limestone hulk on a hill was built during the 1850s to house a thousand inmates by convicts who doubtless often wound up inside.
The 75-minute Fremantle Prison tours "Doing Time" and "Great Escapes" highlight haunting sights like the "escape-proof" stone cell built for a bushranger and a gallows. The twice-weekly 90-minute torchlight tour offers a similar formula but with surprises if you have a weak heart, don't go.
One in four convicts sent to Van Diemen's Land as they once called Tasi was female. Bad girls wound up locked inside a swampland Hobart factory called Cascades, which was built in 1828.
The inmates did chores like spinning and sewing. Midwifery skills might have come in handy because 17 out of 20 children born in the workhouse died soon after birth. Women who died were tossed into an unmarked mass grave.
Clearly, Cascades, which did a stint as a madhouse, was a hellhole. Its bare-bones ruins include a matron's cottage the sole remaining original building and a memorial garden containing a water tank that the inmates pumped.
6. Kingston, Norfolk Island
One of Australia's harshest penal colonies stood at Kingston, Norfolk Island: a speck of land between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Kingston's now-ruined pink-stoned gaol was completed in 1847. Inside, everyday convicts from across the British Empire mingled with stubborn second-offenders from New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.
Designed to break hard cases' spirit, the gaol featured underground 'dumb cells' that allowed no light or sound. The dungeon deprivation drove inmates mad and cemented the sense of dread created by sadistic commandants. Outside, shackled wretches built roads and broke rocks.
Click here for more info on Australian convict sites.
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