The text for The Old Prison is a poem by the famous Australian poet, Judith Wright. It reflects on the ruins of the jail at the historical settlement of Port Arthur, which is located on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Southern Ocean on the far south-east coast of Tasmania. Established by Governor George Arthur in 1830 and in service until 1877, the jail housed around 2000 prisoners, most of whom had re-offended since their arrival in Australia as convicts. The prison was virtually escape-proof, surrounded as it was by cold, shark-infested waters. There was only a narrow land access route and that was guarded by a line of ferocious dogs. Although it was planned as a ‘model prison’, it was more like hell on earth for the inmates, who had sentences ranging from several years to life.
Following its closure, the settlement became derelict and was largely destroyed by bushfires. In 1979 it was restored by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and has subsequently become a very popular tourist destination.
The Old Prison is dedicated to my husband Murray, as it was on his suggestion that I set the poem to music.