The Port Arthur massacre cuts an indelible scar into the already
blood-stained history of one of Australia's harshest penal settlements.
For all the suffering in Port Arthur's past and present, this historical site of ruins are strangely beautiful, with sandstone buildings set in 45ha of open grassy, parkland.
The one-time "model prison" is set in a typically picturesque Tasmanian backdrop of a bay and islands - including the Isle of the Dead - and has become a drawcard for mainland and international tourists.
It is this seemingly idyllic setting that yesterday became the backdrop of the worst massacre in Australia's modern history.
The shootings occured on the site's busiest day of the week, when hundreds of families flock to the area, about 100km from Hobart, to view the landmark of Australia's penal past.
For all its beauty, the area was the scene of some of the harshest examples of the penal period when it was used as a prison from 1830 to 1877. It has been a tourist attraction ever since.
At its peak the settlement, isolated geographically by the Tasmanian Peninsula's land bridge of Eaglehawk Neck, housed about 1200 convicts and 1000 others.
Its founding penitentiary was overtaken in 1852 by the "model prison", which replaced the rule of the lash and other instruments of torture with possibly even crueller methods of correction.
This included prisoners being locked in solitary confinement to work in total silence, with the system extending to prisoners wearing masks whenever they left their cells.
Similarly inmates attended services together in the chapel - but they were segregated individually in boxes that faced only the chaplain. Any wavering and prisoners faced imprisonment in darkness and silence on bread and water for up to 30 days.
The crimes for which the prisoners were serving sentence included burglary, receiving, forging and uttering and unnatural acts, such as bestiality.
The Isle of the Dead is perhaps the strongest mute testament to the suffering at the convict settlement - it houses the graves of 180 non-convicts and 1769 convicts and paupers.
[image: "New Scars: Yesterday's massacre adds to Port Arthur's already blood-stained history." (20x8.25) ]