Meet Ellen Miles, aka Bridget Brady, aka the Buzz Winker, aka one of the thousands of "notorious strumpets" who passed through the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart. Sent to Van Diemen's Land at the age of 13 for uttering counterfeit coin, after having appeared in English courts 29 times already, Ellen went on to live a long life in Australia of petty crime, minor celebrity and indomitable spirit.
A newspaper report of one court appearance described her as "a vigorous and voluble old lady" who unflinchingly fixed her one good eye on the sergeant. For the humour and wit she kept with her throughout her hard life, Ellen is a favourite of tour guide Mel, who is showing me around this deeply historic destination that is staking its place on the map.
"What I love the most, through all of this, is in 1903 Ellen - who lived into her 90s - registered to vote, and made sure she changed her address when she moved so she'd be able to vote in the next election," Mel says.
On this quiet Saturday morning, gravel crunches underfoot as we walk through the yards where 7000 women convicts, from 1828 to 1856, were punished and silenced, put to work, sent out to work as servants, and sent straight back if they fell pregnant, as that was a punishable offence.
For a long time, the stories of these women - and their children - were hidden, even as other former convict sites became tourist attractions; in the case of Port Arthur, from virtually the time it ceased being a prison in 1877. Instead, the factory became a women's prison and, over time, an "invalid station", a boys' reformatory, and a hospital for the insane. In the 1910s, families moved in. A tennis court was built in the 1920s. As the 20th century went by, various enterprises came along: a winery, a fish processing plant, a paint factory, a fudge factory ... even today, a child care centre sits where Yard 2 used to be. Yard 5 is under housing.
All the while, Mount Wellington has loomed in the near distance, the factory tucked into its foothills in a dank and cold spot, near a rivulet that would flood and inundate the female factory, where its inmates would often be at the gruelling task of "picking oakum" - teasing apart the fibres of tar-hardened ship's rope. They also spun wool, sewed clothing and worked their hands raw doing laundry.
It is a place of sad stories, there is no doubt about that. In Yard 4, the nursery yard, the wall of baby names is a memorial listing all the souls who were born here, including the more than 1000 who perished, with little metal cradles poignantly sat on the ground nearby. Even if they survived, babies and mothers were separated after nine months, possibly never to see each other again.
Only one of the original buildings - the matron's cottage built in 1850 - remains. The high sandstone walls that blocked the women from the world also remain; most else is an elaborate floor plan, demarcating a chapel, dormitories, solitary cells, a hospital, a nursery, and so on... all looked over by houses perched high in those foothills that rise just beyond the walls, in the suburb known nowadays as South Hobart.
"It was dark and in shadow all through winter, because the sun barely gets above the hills and the double-storey buildings that were here," says Mel as we stand in the original yard, Yard 1, sold by a failed distiller to the colonial government in 1827. "Even now, some days we come out at 3pm in the middle of winter and there is still ice on the ground." Today, we're lucky. It's crisp, but the sun is shining. My tour started in the new $5 million state-of-the-art history and interpretation centre, opened last year, a fresh and modern space that includes an absorbing museum display and a gift shop where I pick up The Australian Convict Recipe Book, keeping recipes like drunken bunny and steamed kangaroo alive.
The new centre is also a bold and shining statement that the stories of Australia's convict women, and their role in the colonisation of Australia, should be heard and known, as the men's are. Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula, a 90-minute drive from here, has "always been part of the conversation", says Mel. The Cascades Female Factory, on the other hand, almost fell out of memory, in a communal act of pretending it never happened. Says Mel: "No one started talking about the women's side of the story until the 1970s." That was when Yard 1 came up for sale, and the Women's Electoral Lobby arranged funding for its purchase. Even so, it was a decades-long journey, involving the efforts of hundreds of people, to transform the site from a neglected ruin to a tourist attraction that, since it became one of the 11 Australian Convict Sites awarded World Heritage status in 2010, has at last drawn the attention it deserves.
Come 1pm, a group of about 20 visitors gathers in what was the exercise area for women being punished in the separate "apartments" of Yard 3, where there was not enough room for them to lie straight. We're ushered through a doorway in the stone wall into Yard 1 where at its far end, a lonely figure in mop cap, long skirt and apron is looking up towards the hills, arms folded.
It is the actor Karissa Lane-Irons, who leads a daily one-woman performance tour, The Proud and The Punished, in which she plays six characters drawn from historical records, leading her audience around the yard as she tells the stories of those who came through here. As a preacher in the pulpit, she screams at those convicts who would have thoughts they are not permitted to think. Her voice rises and falls and echoes around the stone walls as she depicts a drunk who killed her husband with a shovel, and the factory matron who wills the babies to live long enough to one day have a life better than their mothers. The feisty main character, Sarah Mason, was transported for seven years for stealing a pair of shoes, "carried ... away from our loves to our terrors". She spent time in solitary for singing a song to herself, and again for refusing to have her hair cut. The performance depicts the having of babies and the losing of them, their "dear birds", grown inside a cage then flown away.
"I've seen this a hundred times," a Cascades employee whispers to me, "and I cry every time."
Getting there: Cascades Female Factory Historic Site at 16 Degraves Street, South Hobart, is a 10-minute drive from the Hobart CBD. Open daily, admission is $25 for adults, $10 for children.
Getting around: I picked up a Drive Car Hire Tasmania Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle at the Hobart airport, which also got me down to Port Arthur Historic Site the next day - emissions free.
Staying there: The luxury Tasman Hobart, a stone's throw from Salamanca Place on the waterfront, has gorgeous heritage rooms from about $330 a night.
The writer was a guest of Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority. For details about tours, times and costs, see femalefactory.org.au.