Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Entrance to Trial Bay Prison

Inside Trial Bay Prison

The failed breakwater

The German Monument

The town of South West Rocks from Monument Hill

Trial Bay Prison from Monument Hill

A baby's grave on Monument Hill

Smoky Cape Lighthouse

The steep climb up to the lighthouse

Beach to the south of the lighthouse

Beach to the north of the lighthouse

A view from our front door

The Settlers Cottage at Kempsey Museum


South West Rocks had been recommended to us as a nice area to visit, so here we were, twenty miles down the coast from Nambucca Heads. A big kangaroo was browsing on the short grass not far from our van so this camp site had the thumbs up from Sylvia. The main attractions of the area are walks through the nature reserves, Trial Bay Prison and Smoky Cape Lighthouse; tomorrow we will take in the sights.

The temperatures drop at night time and it had been a cold night but we were snug. I am the reluctant volunteer who gets out of bed to switch on the TV and the warm air setting on the air conditioning unit; then get back into bed for 15 minutes.

Our first journey of the day was to Trial Bay Prison. I had been impressed at Brisbane when I learned that a big windmill had been built by 'prisoners', and felt such a project at home could be a good thing for community service. Here they went one better. It took over 9 years to build the first part of the secure prison because they used local granite which was so hard it took several days to slowly chip one rough block of stone.

The prisoners here were re-offenders and the main idea was to teach the prisoners skills for when they returned to civilian life so they would get jobs and not re-offend. A harbour project was started. This necessitated a lot of stone blocks being dumped in the sea for a sort of breakwater to create a safe haven on a treacherous coast. Trial Bay Prison was only used for 17 years. A fierce storm ripped part of the coast away to the south and created a much better anchorage. The breakwater, which had already had some set backs, was reduced to half its length, and nearly all of the prisoners who had been discharged had re-offended, and were serving sentences in other prisons.

When the war started in 1914 the prison got a new lease of life. A number of people with German origins were interned, and a number who felt they were at risk were voluntarily interned. Up the nearby hill is a replacement monument to the 5 Germans who died during this time; 4 from natural causes and one drowned whilst surfing. During the war, two thirds of the Australians who fought were killed or suffered wounds; the original monument was blown up due to the anti German feeling of the time. The monument was replaced after consultation with Australian war veterans and paid for by the German War Graves Commission.

At the top of Monument Hill are graves of two siblings, aged 8 and 12 months.

We paid our £2.25 each and did the self guided tour, first watching the video to learn the history of the place. The stone work of this prison will be here for a long time. After the tour we spent time looking out to sea for a passing whale, or even a dolphin, then we set off on the walk up Monument Hill. This walk took us up a steep hill, walking between trees of about 10 feet high until finally coming out onto low bush type plants, probably the nearest thing they have here to moors. There were great views of the sea from the top of the hill, including the obligatory wonderful beach to the south with blue water turning to white as it crashed onto the beach. The path turned inland and took us back through the forest, passing the old powder buildings.

Lunch was eaten overlooking the sea from the picnic and camping area below the prison. We had the choice to do a long walk from a parking area on the way to the lighthouse, or to keep driving and eventually reach the lighthouse car park. Sylvia had told me that Smoky Cape Lighthouse was the highest elevated lighthouse in Australia; I kept on driving as far as I could go.

Now it is competition time. Who do you think named the cape from which the lighthouse takes its name? Yes, I believe you were right. On Sunday 13th of May 1770 Captain Cook sighted the cape; on Sunday 15 April 1891 the cape got its first light; nice to see they weren't in a rush. Our joy was complete when we found out that the cape even has a Captain Cook Lookout; and we did not see one whale or dolphin from the cape. Maybe the main events around here happen on a Sunday.

On the way up the steep hill to the lighthouse we spoke with George and Pam, who we might meet again when we tour by their home area. On the way down from the lighthouse we were speaking with a family on holiday from Holland; we have met quite a number of people holidaying from Holland over the last ten months. The thing we had most in common was the disappointment that there was no where to get a coffee, or even an ice cream.

I had promised Sylvia a coffee and cookie at the café by the lighthouse; I should have taken more notice of the tourist information; the café was way back at the jail. We drove back to the caravan park with the intention of spending money in the camp café only to find it had closed. Back at the van site, I made the coffees along with a good slice of humble pie. It was approaching 4pm and the time of day when it becomes colder, so we settled down to write our diaries.

Next morning it was time to leave. When the blinds went up we viewed two big male kangaroos and 2 female kangaroos within 20 feet of our van. With care we could walk to the amenities block without causing them any concern and they were our neighbours for about half an hour whilst we watched as we ate our breakfast. A nice start to the day.

We then drove into and around the town which is at the head of the peninsular, before taking the leisurely scenic route out along the south side of the river we had travelled by on our way to South West Rocks. After 20 miles we re-joined the Pacific Highway at Kempsey and pulled in for morning coffee at a large rest area. This was near a Tourist Office which also housed a museum of local interest. Inside were very helpful ladies who gave us entry at the pensioner price; in this instance a considerable saving. In Australia it is usual for a person to be an Australian carrying proof of age to qualify; in some states it is only their own state pensioners who qualify.

We enjoyed talking with these ladies and our tour of the museum, though it is a bit off when we remember actually using some of the exhibits when they were de-rigueur. Should I admit to having ridden on a 'tram' during my first few years of life in Bradford? Our van was parked with the dining window facing the woodland so we had lunch before driving on towards our destination of Port Macquarie. Our chosen caravan park boasted a long sea frontage, and it was right, in fact right over the wall just 40 feet from the van.

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