10 of the Best Historic Sites and Heritage Locations in Australia | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

10 of the Best Historic Sites and Heritage Locations in Australia

Discover the best Historic Sites in Australia, from Hyde Park Barracks to Fort Scratchley.

1. Port Arthur

Port Arthur is one of eleven Australian convict sites and is Tasmania’s premier tourist attraction. Built in the 1830s from a small timber station in south-eastern Tasmania, the Port Arthur complex was the site of a prison for British convicts.

Called the ‘inescapable prison’ for its reputedly shark-infested surrounding waters, escape attempts were rare. On occasion, they were successful. Visitors will hear the stories of escaped convicts Martin Cash, who escaped in 1842, and George ‘Billy’ Hunt who attempted to flee dressed in a kangaroo hide.

The prison’s population had dwindled by the late 19th century and closed its doors in 1877. Today visitors can see over 30 buildings in 40 hectares of landscaped grounds. There are guided tours of the prison buildings, the museum, the Convict Study Centre, Interpretation Gallery and the site of the Dockyard.

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2. Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building

The Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building was constructed during a period of great international exhibitions, following the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851. Designed specifically to house the Melbourne International Exhibition, it was completed in 1880 and the exhibition held the same year. It would hold another such fair in 1888.

The architect of the Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building was Joseph Reed, its builder David Mitchell and the structure was inspired by various styles, from Byzantine to Italian Renaissance. The Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, it hosts various exhibitions and events.

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3. Old Melbourne Gaol

The imposing bluestone structure of Old Melbourne Gaol opened in 1845. In the 79 years of its operation, some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals passed through its doors.

Australia’s most famous citizen Ned Kelly, occupier of cell 113, was convicted of murder and executed by hanging here in November 1880. Other infamous inmates included serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming (suspected by some to be Jack the Ripper) and vicious gangster Squizzy Taylor.

After it closed in 1924, parts of the structure were incorporated into the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Today, the three story museum offers visitors a fascinating insight into Britain’s colonial penal system. There are cells filled with letters, memorabilia, personal effects and the gruesome death masks of condemned men and women.

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4. National Museum of Australia

The National Museum of Australia is a museum of the history, culture and heritage of Australia. Using a mix of multimedia displays, information, objects and artefacts, the National Museum of Australia explores a variety of events, themes and issues.

One of the main permanent exhibits at the National Museum of Australia explores the culture, history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It covers 50,000 years of history. The museum explores Australia’s connections with the world, its colonial settlement, and the country’s history since Federation.

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5. Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney was built in the first half of the nineteenth century as a place to house male convicts. The British colony of New South Wales had long been a place where Britain had transported convicts. This practice escalated in the early 19th century.

By 1820, convicts made up almost 80% of the country’s population. In addition to providing them with shelter, Hyde Park Barracks was a place where convicts could be carefully monitored. The architect of Hyde Park Barracks, Francis Greenway, was himself a transported convict later granted a pardon.

In the 1830’s Hyde Park Barracks assumed the role of a court. Over 8,000 convicts had passed through Hyde Park arracks by the time it was closed in 1848. Today, Hyde Park Barracks is open to the public as a museum about Australia’s history of convict transportation. It also houses other historical and cultural exhibits.

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6. Fremantle Prison

Just south of Perth, Fremantle Prison on Western Australia’s Indian Ocean coast is Australia’s (and one of the world’s) largest and best-preserved convict-built prison. It is also the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built by convicts between 1852 and 1859 from limestone quarried from the hill on which it is built, the prison was originally intended for imperial convicts but by 1886, only about 60 were left in a jail built to house a thousand. When Perth Gaol closed in 1888 and the local population grew with the gold rush of the 1890s, Fremantle Prison got busy again.

Today, Fremantle Prison is one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions. While entry to the gatehouse is free, there are a number of interactive tours. They include a subterranean boat ride through convict-built tunnels, a tour of solitary confinement cells, and a tour exploring the stories of escaped convicts..

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7. Bennelong Point

Bennelong Point in Sydney is an area with a rich history stretching back the earliest days of colonial Australia and is now the site of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Though the area had several uses during early colonial times, it is best known as the site of the hut of Bennelong.

Bennelong was an Aboriginal man captured by the British. He was used as an early liaison between the settlers and the local population. Today the site has become famous for being the home of the Sydney Opera House and the construction of this well-known building has left little trace of the earlier incarnations of Bennelong Point.

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8. Darwin Military Museum

The Darwin Military Museum, located in the East Point Military Museum complex of Darwin, houses exhibits and artefacts detailing the role of the city during World War Two. Thousands of allied troops were sent to the city to defend the nation’s northern coastline from Japanese air attacks.

The Defence of Darwin Experience is a multimedia exhibition that details Darwin’s history and its role in World War Two. Originally created as an artillery museum, the exhibition features vehicles, uniforms, firearms, images and paintings alongside artillery pieces.

The museum itself is housed in the original 1940s gun emplacements that were built to defend the city against attack by air and sea. The museum also holds information and articles relating to the entire military history of the Northern Territory.

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9. Fort Scratchley

Fort Scratchley is a 19th century coastal defence battery in Newcastle, Australia. It is the only coastal battery in Australia to have opened fire on the enemy during World War Two. The site upon which Fort Scratchley stands was originally an early coal mine.

The need for more robust coastal defence led to the construction of permanent fortifications, including Fort Scratchley, from 1876 to 1886. The fort was named for the British officer who oversaw the build, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley.

On the night of 7-8 June 1942, the fort’s six-inch guns fired two salvoes at a Japanese submarine which had bombarded Newcastle. Visitors to Fort Scratchley can explore the history of the coastal fortification and take in wide views. Visitors can explore at their own pace or join one of the guided tours which go deeper into the facility.

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10. Maitland Gaol

Maitland Gaol in New South Wales was Australia’s longest continuously operating prison before being closed and reinvented as a museum and tourist attraction. First opened in 1848, Maitland was finally shut in 1998 as part of a general upgrade to Australia’s prison system.

Today, visitors to Maitland Gaol can learn about its vibrant history, which spanned more than 150 years and saw the jail house some of the country’s most notorious felons. As well as exploring the prison itself, there’s information on the jail’s history, past inmates and key events such as protests, riots and attempted escapes.

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