Beaconsfield Mine

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Holidaymakers enjoy an amazing range of tour options, from traditional scenic sights and weird special attractions like ghost tours in black hearses, to rewarding historical tours.

It’s fascinating to visit Port Arthur, south of Hobart, and marvel at the inhumanity of early colonialists who confined prisoners to cells like horse stalls.

An expanded display just opened tells the convicts’ miserable story: allocated a number, their names no longer used, they spent 23 hours a day in frigid or steamy cells. Outside, they were masked to prevent contact with other inmates. Sometimes they suffered even grimmer punishment, held in total darkness and silence for up to 30 days.

Tourism Tasmania is proficient at highlighting the island State’s historic locations and demonstrates its inventiveness again with another new tour opening next month, the Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre: a display telling the story of the dramatic 2006 rescue of trapped miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb.

Russell and Webb spent an astounding two weeks trapped a kilometre underground after a rock fall; the world held its breath as their extraordinary saga unfolded. The new, much larger, heritage centre is adjacent to the working mine where the pair was trapped. It mixes old and new features, incorporating a museum and two National Trust buildings more than a century old that extracted ore from two shafts between 1877 and 1914. Before 2006, the museum attracted 20,000 visitors a year. Fascination with the mine cave-in and the miraculous outcome has since seen figures double to around 40,000 – and many more can now be expected from next month.

Visitors will be able to see a faithful replica of the rock fall area where the caged miners waited for rescue. But to reach it, they’ll have to crawl through a tunnel underneath rocks! Half way through the tunnel visitors can stand up in a viewing space and look into the cage – for an amazing 14 days, Webb and Russell’s own Tasmanian “prison”. Visitors gain an insight into what conditions underground were like during the rescue.

The two miners worked closely with the display designers, whose credits include work for Canberra’s National Museum. Todd Russell says he’s impressed, and his kids are looking forward to seeing their dad’s ordeal graphically explained.

The display also portrays a wider underground mine environment and recognises the people involved in the rescue and innovations used in retrieving the two men. There are stories of how the community united in crisis and coped with an intrusive media influx, and its journey to recovery after the traumatic event. The official opening’s scheduled for early next month with modest entry fees for adults, pensioners and children of $11, $9 and $4; family entry is $28.

Tasmania has many other events planned for the coming spring school holidays, see www.discovertasmania.com and www.eventstasmania.com

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