Hobart Day Trips – MONA and Port Arthur

Before leaving for Hobart, we collected a solid list of fun things to do in and around the town. Visiting MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and Port Arthur were high on the list. We were told to plan for roughly half to one full day for each trip. Both could be done as half day adventures, but we made sure nothing much was planned on the days that we attacked these two sites.

It’s been said that MONA has the best collection of modern art in the world. As a bit of background, the guy who owns MONA apparently made billions of dollars in some type of online gambling on sport (Aussie dream anyone?). With the money, he expanded his personal collection of Egyptian relics into the museum you can visit today. The building is situated at the end of a small peninsula and is essentially hidden in a huge cave beneath the surface. The architecture inside is incredible. Stairs lead all over the place, some of the rooms are absolutely enormous and the lighting inside immediately sets a bit of an eerie mood – perfect for cave exploring! The site also hosts markets and special events, is popular as a wedding venue, and has some pretty darn beautiful hotel rooms that you can stay in. You can travel there from Hobart by car, water taxi or sea-plane. Pimp.

As for the art itself – I was thoroughly impressed. Jas and I have been to quite a number of modern art galleries around the world. We kinda make a thing of it when we travel, so we were sure to check out what Hobart had to offer too. When you arrive, you are given an iPod Touch and some headphones that allow you to listen to any audio that accompanies a piece of art, or listen to interviews with the curator about a collection. You can even read more facts about the piece, and get a glimpse of what the owner of the complex feels about the art. He is definitely a character – one piece that was particularly funny was the spinning coloured wheel (below) produced by Damien Hirst – the write up of this piece looked at the sincerity of the piece and the part it plays in culture… it sounded legit until the final sentence that read something like, “At least that’s what I tell others to convince myself that I haven’t blown half a million bucks!” It appears that nothing is taken too seriously at the museum – the detailed reports about each piece is called “Art Wank” on the iPod and literally has a picture of a penis as an icon.

I’ve since heard that the curator and owner like to have a mix of exhibitions that people either love or hate – they have worked hard to make sure that patrons feel something from the art pieces and are not simply blown away by good technique or pop culture. Some of the pieces really made an impression on me. The self portait of the artist who made himself a 9 foot long snake laying over tombstones ran shivers down my spine. The gigantic skull that you could peer into that was full of strobe lights and flickering images that represented the amount of information our senses receive every second made my head spin and left me feeling a little nauseous. The cloaca, a piece that consisted of half a dozen vats full of bacteria and chemicals that literally digested grass/food and produced a poo twice a day was both hilarious, and shockingly smelly at the same time – who would have thought something designed to replicate a cows digestion system would produce a smell poo?!?! They even had a sarcophagus you could peer into and then look at a detailed CT scan, slice by slice on a colour monitor to have a look at what the mummy within looks like!

Essentially, the museum is packed with interesting art. There are three huge floors of art and rooms and alleyways that you could get lost in for hours. Videos play on loop and projectors shoot images onto floors and walls. Some of the art is interactive – one piece in particular was a chair that filled you with emotions – it literally told you it loved you and hugged your ass as you sat on it (NB: if a staff member recommends you sit on, or go into something, do it!), some art you could watch for hours. Some things I had no problem walking straight past, others I was calling for Jas to show her how interesting it was. When you go to MONA, make sure you leave yourself enough time and have fun – the cafe is quite good for a coffee and wrap when you get a little tired and want some fresh air.
This room was particularly funny. The room above is situated in the middle of a little labyrinth. I raced ahead of Jas and was the only person exploring the room that had really, really dark walls with 1’s and 0’s printed on the side like binary code. I turned corners and darted along dark alleys until I finally came to a fairly empty room. I could hear a very faint drum sound in the distance, and was confused as to what the room was for. I looked down at my feet and realised it had suddenly become quiet, I couldn’t hear anyone or anything at all. I then slowly arched my neck and looked towards the roof. That was when I let out a girly squeal and dropped to the floor. I saw someone hanging from the roof and thought they were about to grab me. It had taken me too long to compute that I was staring up at my own reflection in a mirror only lightly above my head height. Talk about paranoia.
Here’s a small clip of the piece below in action. Jas went to take a photo but the camera was still in video mode. The reason why it was in video mode – a clip of the piece below that one.

Port Arthur is historically significant, but unfortunately, for some very horrific reasons. Recently, it was the site of one of Australia’s worst mass killings, though previously, it was feared by even the hardest of criminals. Port Arthur was a working naval yard that produced ships and exported wood carried down from throughout the neighbouring countryside by convicts. The settlement was so tough and physical that it was used as punishment and a strong deterrant of bad behavior within other established working farms.

The grounds themselves are absolutely amazing to walk through. Many of the old buildings are still standing, at least pieces of them are, and part of your admission cost includes a quick walking tour and a trip through the bay. A helpful guide walked us through the relics and explained a bit of the history that is hidden under the rubble. He told us about the boys prison that was based on a small island in the bay (below), and the morgue/cemetery that is housed on another. The boys were separated from the men (literally), to for protection and to prevent them from being heavily influenced (if possible). The cemetery island has no gravestones as the prisoners were considered criminals during life, and shall be criminals even in death.

The boat trip around the bay was a nice bonus, to be sure. We got a close look at the old naval yard before looping around the two small islands housing the boys prison and cemetery. If you wanted to, you could have disembarked for a short tour, though neither Jas nor I were particularly inclined to do so. The random photo below of the shot out of the bay to open water was taken just after the captain explained that a straight course that way would lead us to Antarctica. As the wind blew off the cool water, it certainly felt like we were close!

We tried to get a few selfies during the trip, though a jumping-selfie in front of the old buildings below was poorly mistimed on several attempts – unfortunately you just get a shot of us laughing hysterically at ourselves as other tourists stared at us like we were idiots.

Jas and I had a lovely day down at Port Arthur, and enjoyed stopping for photo opportunities on the way home too. Our favourite stop was definitely the flat plains that were created on low tide that we explored and photographed for a good half-hour. We had a beautiful blue sky and got back from the peninsula in time to avoid the horrific bush fires that rocked Hobart while we were down there. Hopefully some of you readers will plan a trip down and include MONA and Port Arthur in your itineraries! Have fun!

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