Postcard from St Helena

Since we're in Brisbane at the moment, we decided recently to do some more "tourist" things. The latest was a visit to St Helena, an island in Moreton Bay that used to be a high security prison, and is now a national park.

We caught a 44-year old boat from a jetty on the river just behind the refinery close to the port. The price included morning and afternoon tea and lunch. It's a leisurely hour-and-a-bit trip to the island, and once there we had a choice of the long or short tour. We chose the long one and walked past the lime kilns, graveyards, past the old boiler and up to the remains of the stockade.

It's a beautiful place now, so very quiet. Few people, 2 cars that clearly don't get much use and wallaby's hopping past us. Everything on the island was built by the prisoners who were mostly the major crims from Brisbane from and after the 1860s. You get some idea of what life must have been like 150 years ago though. Two prisoners were chained to the lime kiln because there weren't enough warders to look after them, bare-knuckle fights were occasional entertainment for warders (the loser was charged with fighting, while the winner went back to his cell), and the punishments were brutal for the time, and unimaginable now.

Even though the island is only 8km off the coast, only 3 prisoners escaped. The currents, sharks and mangroves stopped most. Particularly the sharks. Prisoners walked the coastline throwing blood and offal into the sea.

Within two years of being established, the prison broke even, not much later it was making a profit. Their best year brought in the equivalent of $1.5 million in todays money.

Before the Europeans arrived, local aboriginal people hunted and gathered food from the island, and 6000 years ago, it was connected to the mainland.

It's a beautiful place and well worth a visit if you're in the area.

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