Tag Archives: history

On literary location in Sardinia….

I read The Little Theatre by the Sea recently, written by Rosanna Ley and chosen as the first read for both the TripFiction Book Club and the Silver Travel Advisor Book Club.

Thanks to Silver Travel Advisor, their partner Sardatur Holidays and Is Benas Country Lodge, I shall soon be following in the literary footsteps of Faye, Rosanna’s lead character in the novel, to explore the blurred world of fiction and reality on the unspoiled west coast of Sardinia.

In anticipation, Rosanna kindly answered some questions I posed about the places she had used in the book, the characters, food, wine, culture and history of this intriguing island that had influenced her research…..

Rosanna

Your latest novel, The Little Theatre by the Seawas published by Quercus in March 2017 (hardback) and on 1st June (paperback). 

The intriguing romantic mystery – can I call it that? – takes place mainly in Sardinia. As you know, Little Theatre was chosen as the first read for both the TripFiction Book Club and for the Silver Travel Book Club.

And thanks to Silver Travel Advisor partner Sardatur Holidays and Is Benas Country Lodge, I will be travelling to Sardinia in June to follow in the footsteps of your principal character, Faye.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about The Little Theatre by the Sea, Rosanna, and about your writing approach.

I’m delighted. This is so exciting! I can’t wait to hear how you get on – and yes ‘intriguing romantic mystery’ sounds good to me.

Q. Your previous novels have been based in Cuba, Marrakech, Burma, the Canary Islands, Sicily, and now Sardinia. How do you decide where to base your stories, and how important a role does location play in the novels?

A. It’s different for each book. With Return to Mandalay, for example, my husband’s family had a fascinating story and a wealth of sources concerning the country and my late father-in-law’s life there. While the book is in no way a biography, it did inspire me to visit and use much of the material in my story.

For ‘The Saffron Trail’ the original seeds for me were saffron and the ‘hippie trail’ – I formed a story around these and Morocco was the obvious choice of setting. ‘Bay of Secrets’ came from the plot (based on a true story) and Last Dance in Havana I chose because I wanted to write about dance and because the history and politics of Cuba fascinated me. With ‘The Villa’ however I visited Sicily for a holiday and was simply inspired to use it as a setting. When it came to Sardinia for ‘Little Theatre by the Sea’ I wanted to write about transformation and I immediately imagined my crumbling theatre to be in Italy. It seemed the perfect setting for the story.

Location is a big part of a book for me – they have been called ‘destination novels’!

Q. Once you’ve decided on a location for a novel, how do you approach your research on “place”? And do you then write while you’re in the location, or can that creative process take place back at home in Dorset?

A. I read about the place both in fiction and non-fiction – anything I can get hold of really, and research it thoroughly using the Internet and libraries. I may also watch films or documentaries. I go there to get the flavour and travel around with my husband taking photographs and me making notes. I find the places I imagine the characters to live, work and play and the journeys that they might travel in various scenes. I generally write a few scenes while I am away but much of the work will be done when I am back at home using my notes and the photos to remind me.

Q. Your Little Theatre lead character Faye, a newly qualified interior designer, is invited by old friends to restore a crumbling old theatre in the Sardinian village of Deriu. Can you please describe where the inspiration for that fictional village came from?

A. I chose Bosa before I went there, just through research really. I wanted somewhere that didn’t already have a theatre so that I could make it my own! When I got there I realised that Bosa was perfect for the needs of the story. I re-named it Deriu because it is easier then to ‘make it your own’ and hopefully none of the locals will then be offended by anything I write about places and people which they might construe as being taken from real life! The truth is that all the people I wrote about were fictional but a few of the real places crept in, sometimes disguised…

QBosa sounds like a charming, traditional Sardinian town on the north-west coast, in the province of Oristano. What should I do and look out for there, to feel that I really am following in the footsteps of Faye and her creator? And how much do you think history has shaped the town today?

A. History has definitely shaped the town into what it is today. I think you can find the converted houses on the river bank (where Faye stays in Charlotte and Fabio’s house) including the museum. You can cross the bridge where Alessandro and Faye have a few ‘moments’ and admire the colourful houses on the other side. You can visit the Castle by walking up the steps through the olive grove as Faye did when talking to her mother on the phone about relationships and the mistakes we make and see the stunning frescoes in the chapel at the top and also the view of the town Faye reflects on. Casa Deriu is also worth visiting because although it does not feature in the book, I took the name for the town and you will see why when you visit this charming museum. At the marina you can see where Alessandro’s boatyard might have been and walk round the bay as they did. Best of all, just wander the old mediaeval quarter of Bosa to explore the area, the pretty piazzas, the artisan markets, the narrow cobblestone alleys that make up the old town. With a bit of luck you will find a building in a piazza which is actually an old chapel but has a rose window and could very well have been used as the basis for the Little Theatre itself.

Q. Where did the inspiration for the old theatre come from, if not from Bosa

A. Partly the old chapel (see above) but I also used the theatre at Sassari and other old Italian theatres that I found images of online. But basically, it was a madeup building, a fusion of all these parts.

Q. Food and wine play an important role in Little Theatre, as they do in Sarda cultureWhat local cuisine can you and Faye recommend…and what is your favourite wine from that part of Sardinia? 

A. Oh yes, lovely food! Some of my favourites were: burrida (a spicy fish soup), spaghetti con bottarga (with mullet roe) and malloreddus (a gnocchi style pasta cooked with saffron in tomato sauce). I also loved fregola – an unusual pasta similar to cous-cous, often served with clams. The seafood pasta was always good. And as for the lobster… Take me back there – now!

A lovely wine to try is the golden dry Vernacia di Oristano DOC.

Q. Whilst in Sardinia, most of the plot develops in Deriu. But Faye also discovers other parts of this intoxicating island, with theatre owner Alessandro and also with her father. Where should I go beyond beautiful Bosa, to see and feel what Faye experienced? Have you explored many other parts of Sardinia…and how would you say that this western coastal area differs from the rest of the island?

A. We travelled around the island in our motorhome to explore and research and spent three weeks drinking it all in. We didn’t get the whole way round, but focused mainly on the west of the island and the South, rather than the more touristy but stunning Costa Smeralda in the east. I would say that the west is more rugged and dramatic and is much less touristy and developed, which suited my purposes for the story.

We began by driving through the cork forests of the interior to the West coast from Olbia. We started at the National Park of Asinara in the north and basically drove down the coast. Some other high points were: Capo Falcone, the white beaches at Stintino, the ‘ghost’ mining town of Argentiera, Alghero (see below) the stunning coves on the magnificent Costa del Sud from Teulada to Chia which were also inspirations for the beach scenes, Nora (see below) and Cagliari.

In particular, Cala Domestica leads to the secret beach where Alessandro takes Faye. In the novel, this is near Deriu but it is actually a lot further down the west coast from Bosa and near the old mining town of Buggerru.

Nora is the site of the ancient village Faye visits with Ade. It is south of the island near Cagliari and is where she sees the ancient amphitheatre. This is a very interesting historical site.

Alghero is in north west Sardinia and Faye visits with Ade. It is a fascinating Catalan city which is a fusion of Italian and Catalan in food, history and architecture. It is also home to Teatro Civico.

The capital of Cagliari doesn’t feature in the book but is well worth a visit if you get the chance!

Q. There are some other lovely characters living in Deriu in Little Theatre. Are any of them based on real people you met while researching the story? Who should I try to meet while I’m in Bosa?

A. No, sadly none of the characters are based on real people! However, you will see women sitting outside their houses lace-making and men playing dominoes outside or in cafés. Down at the Marina you will also hopefully see fishermen – perhaps even mending their nets as we did!

Q. Do you know yet where your next novel will be based, and when we can expect to read another romantic mystery in an exotic location from you? I may have to follow you and our characters there too….

A. The next novel is entitled ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ and is set in Belle-Ile-en Mer, a small island just off the southern coast of Brittany.

Grazie mille, Rosanna, for giving us some insight into your latest novel The Little Theatre by the Sea and into the location that inspired your characters and plot. Good luck with promoting Little Theatre and see you at the location of your next novel!

An absolute pleasure. Thank you so much, Andrew and I hope you have a wonderful trip to Sardinia.

Movie review – A United Kingdom

Based on a remarkable true story, A United Kingdom opens in post-war London.

Image result for a united kingdom film

Young black African Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is coming to the end of his education, and about to be recalled to his home country – Bechuanaland, later Botswana – to rule the British Protectorate as hereditary King of nation and tribe.

But he falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund  Pike), who is from a very humble background and who is most definitely the wrong colour, alienating many in Bechuanaland and in Whitehall.

If the story told in the film is remotely close to the truth, it is yet another episode in British colonial history of which we should be ashamed. Driven by the burgeoning cold war, the new policy of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and the possibility of finding valuable minerals in Bechaunaland, Seretse is banished by the British government from his own land, initially for 5 years and then for life.

But Ruth has remained in Africa, where she gives birth to a daughter and where she slowly wins round the local people.

The only British politician or diplomat to emerge from this shameful overbearing behaviour is a young Tony Benn, who fights Parliament for the right of Seretse to return. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill reneges on an earlier promise to overturn the exile, and Jack Davenport deserves credit for his reptilian portrayal of Sir Alistair Canning, a devious – though fictitious – career diplomat who thrives on wielding colonial power over subjugated nations.

Image result for sir alistair canning

The film moved me to tears. It is a powerful tale rooted in reality, and told with vivid cinematography, particularly of the African landscapes. But it is related somewhat in stark black and white tones – the evil colonial masters against the wholly good Seretse and his pale skinned wife – when I suspect there were many shades of grey in the truth of history.

Image result for a united kingdom film

No matter. Good wins out, Seretse returns to his homeland and facilitates a new democratically independent country.

And Ruth is even finally reconciled with her own family.

Image result for a united kingdom film

Greece

You know that feeling when you do something, or go somewhere, or eat something, and it’s so good that it exceeds even your most optimistic expectations?

Well, our recent trip to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, blew our little socks off.

The people, the food, the history, the landscape, the culture….all were an absolute joy. We were Greek virgins before we went, now we’re already checking flights for the next visit.

Reading Victoria Hislop’s The Thread had given us real insight into the city’s tumultuous history. Walking and eating tours in our first couple of days brought all those centuries to vivid current life. Ottoman hammams, Byzantine-inspired spices in the market, the Jewish memorial, the narrow atmospheric streets of Ano Poli…layer after layer of Thessaloniki’s rich history was laid out in front of us.

And the food…….ah, the food. I’m salivating at the memory of all the fresh fish, fruit and vegetables on offer at the city’s vibrant markets, ending up on plates of the eateries tumbling into the cobbled streets of Ladadika, now trendy but once the olive oil and red-light district.

We were in Thessaloniki as guests of the city’s Hotels Association, to promote the city and other nearby places in northern Greece. And it was all thanks to those lovely people at Silver Travel Advisor – The Voice of Mature Travellers – for whom I’ve written some articles on our magical Greek experiences.

I’ll add links to the articles as soon as they’re live, and hopefully they will add colour to this relatively monochrome summary of a dazzling adventure.

Thessaloniki was an absolute delight, from the moment we landed at Makedonia Airport. The whole trip was orchestrated by the remarkable Evdokia Tsatsouri, from the Hotels Association but now with the estimable Electra Hotels group.

Like a master puppeteer, she pulled all the strings of everyone involved in our expeditions to Halkidiki and Mount Athos, Meteora, Mount Olympus and Pieria, ensuring our hotels, meals, sightseeing tours were all organised impeccably, and gave us a flavour of the real Greece and its people.

Efcharistó, Evdokia.

The separate articles on Silver Travel Advisor will flesh out our experiences, but here are a few more images of some unforgettable memories from northern Greece:

The Isle of Purbeck

In 1953 my Mum and Dad spent their honeymoon in Swanage, on the Dorset coast.

In the 1990s, we spent a couple of idyllic family holidays on the Isle of Purbeck. My two young nephews dug sandcastles on Studland Bay beach,  floppy hats protecting their youthful skin from the unexpectedly searing heat. We walked decent stretches of the vertiginous coastal path, from Swanage to Winspit and then inland to the quaint village of Worth Matravers. We explored the natural wonder of Brownsea Island, and we drove miles in search of elusive Solero ice creams.

And now, good friends have a home near Corfe Castle. We’ve been lucky to spend weekends there with them in recent years, and the love affair with this still largely untamed part of the country continues anew.

It’s a Famous Five, or Swallows and Amazons type of place. Its rolling inland hills, perfect beaches and plunging coastline remain relatively unspoiled, and driving through Wareham always make me feel like I’m returning to the innocence of childhood.

In reality a peninsula rather than an island, Purbeck stretches from Wareham in the north, east from Brownsea Island to Swanage and Durlston Lighthouse, and west as far as Worbarrow Bay along the scintillating – though sadly eroding – southern coastline.

Corfe Castle bewitches you as you drive on the Wareham to Swanage road, its ghostly remains perched high on a hill above providing a history lesson.  Fortunately, the Parliamentarians left enough standing in 1646 during the English Civil War for it still to be an interesting National Trust destination.

Swanage probably hasn’t changed much since 1953. It’s a charming English seaside town, originally a fishing port but developed as a tourist destination from the early 19th century. Enjoy its sandy beach, fish & chip shops, characterful pubs and restaurants. And abundance of Magnum ice creams.

Inland, explore Purbeck’s rolling landscape on foot or from a horse or bike saddle. The scars from old quarries, where the island’s eponymous marble and limestone have been extracted since the 12th century, somehow only add to the natural landscape, rather than detract.

The crumbling Jurassic coastline in the south is equally magnetic, pulling you in to walk its helter-skelter contours. Venture west as far as Kimmeridge and Worbarrow Bay, before heading inland to caught-in-time Tyneham.

Its villagers were suddenly asked to leave late in 1943, expecting to return after the army had finished its war training activities. Sadly, they never returned. The army retained the village and surrounding area as Ranges, but at certain times you’re allowed back to the village to see the church and school-house exactly as they were, more than 70 years ago.

Wander along to tiny villages or hamlets with beguiling names like Langton Matravers, Church Knowle or Steeple.

But, best of all, go to the wholly unique Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. There can be no better reason to live in England than to go to this charming village on a warm, summer’s day and find your way to its whacky hostelry, an alehouse since around 1776. Order pints of award winning beers or home-pressed traditional cider from cramped counters inside, listen to live music in the sloping garden and enjoy a pie or pasty from its unashamedly traditional, limited menu. This is as far from being a gastro pub as Nicola Sturgeon is from being English.

After enjoying 3 pints of mind-altering, coma-inducing Kiss-me-Kate cider at the weekend, listening to quirky folk music, sprawled in the sunny garden with old friends, I think I’d like my ashes to be spread here.

And I hope the Isle of Purbeck remains untarnished, so that honeymooners, 9 year-old boys in search of an ice cream and ageing scrumpy hunters alike can enjoy its special charms for many years to come.

 

Paris – 5 things to do off the well-trodden tourist track

Below is an article I’ve just written on Hidden Paris for Silver Travel Advisor,  a travel website for people of a certain age…..

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What do you think of when someone mentions Paris? The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge….and 50 other sights, or museums, or galleries or bistros that everyone has on their must-do list?

But scratch the Gallic surface and you can really get to know the city, and feel that you’re seeing it more as a shoulder-shrugging local than as a Nikon-toting tourist.

Here are 5 ideas for you from a recent trip I made to this glorious city, with a few more to follow in a separate article. Some I stumbled upon myself and some I was led to by a book along the same lines (Quiet Paris by Siobhan Wall). I explored them all, in the interests of helping other Silver Travellers get off the well-beaten Parisian track:

1. Cinema La Pagode – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

http://www.etoile-cinemas.com/pagode/salles/

What would you do to impress the woman you love?

Take her to dinner at the hottest place in town? Whisk her away to a château in the Loire for the weekend? Paint those shelves she’s been nagging you about for 18 months?

How about building a completely authentic Japanese theatre for her in the heart of Paris, with an ornate pagoda and a romantic garden?

Photo Jardin 2

Thought not.

But that’s exactly what Monsieur Morin, a well-to-do Director of nearby posh store du Bon Marché, decided to do in the 1890s. He commissioned architect Alexandre Marcel to use the finest materials from the fashionable Orient (China & Japan, rather than Leyton) to create a little piece of surprising magic in the 7th arrondissement.

La Pagode is now a beautifully restored independent cinema, showing interesting films either in the main salle Japonaise (212 seats) or in the smaller salle 2 (180 seats).

Look for the VO sign (Version Originale) to see films in their original language, with French subtitles.

Enjoy the romance and history of this quiet place, take tea or champagne in the bamboo-forested garden before the movie….and forget that Mme Morin left her generous husband in the year of the Pagode’s inauguration.

2. Coutume – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

https://www.facebook.com/Coutume

CoutumeRightly or wrongly, I’ve always had the impression that the French are resistant to change. Some of their cafés and bistros, for example, cling proudly to their 19th century origins, or refuse to dust the chair Ernest Hemingway sat in for 15 minutes in 1926.

So imagine my surprise at finding somewhere in Paris that has embraced 21st coffee culture, where you can find an espresso micro-lot or an extraction à froid as lovingly prepared and à la mode as anything now on offer in the global caffeine hot-spots of Melbourne or London.

Coutume is on rue Babylone, a quiet backstreet in the 7th arrondissement. Along with your caffeine fix, you can grab an excellent breakfast or brunch….but it’s the coffee most people are here for.

It’s a very cool, understated place that immediately – though sadly only temporarily – makes you feel 20 years younger. Shabby chic décor, plain white tiles that wouldn’t look out of place in the loo, and hip music playing quietly in the background all combine in perfect harmony with your espresso from Brazilian and Burundi blended beans.

Head to the communal table and Slow Bar at the back of the café to hang out with the real coffee cognoscenti, sipping an aero-press as you swipe your tablet screen or argue about French politics.

3. L’Affineur’ Affiné – rue Notre Dame de Lorette, 9th arrondissement

You’re not going to Paris to enjoy a low-calorie, cholesterol-free, clean-living few days, are you?

Cheese, wine and bloody red meat are as de rigueur in Paris as a hamburger in NYC. Or as a lettuce leaf on a Champney’s detox break.

Sober vegetarians, tear up those Eurostar tickets now!

Take some time out to worship at the altar of cheese at L’Affineur’ Affiné on rue Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th arrondissement, just south of Montmartre.

With over 120 fromages available, the charming young owners Morgane and Matthieu will help you decide what to buy from the shop for your picnic, or to take back on the train if you fancy an empty carriage.

But for a really good experience book a table and linger in the small restaurant for brunch or lunch. From a limited but interesting menu, I went for the 5-cheese platter. They serve up what they think is “thriving” that day, together with a matched wine, like a sommelier recommending a Monbazillac with the foie gras.

 

I enjoyed decent sized servings of Sainte-Maure (goat’s cheese from Touraine); Tartufo (truffle-infused Italian from combination of cow and sheep); Napoleon (sheep’s cheese from the Pyrenees); Munster (creamy cow’s cheese from Alsace); and Roquefort (classic creamy southern French blue from sheep milk). All with excellent, unlimited artisan breads and a fruity jam. And a green salad to delay hardening the arteries for a few hours….

Eat in the recommended sequence. Drink a glass or two of matched wine. Die happy.

4. Shakespeare & Company – rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement

Love books? Hunt down Shakespeare & Company, a place with so much literary history you can hear Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller whispering in your ear…

Now located on the city’s left bank, just opposite Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are two separate entrances.

On the left is the antiquarian book store, with musty first editions and a space so so small they ask you to respect the 5-person limit.

Next door is the main shop, crammed to the ancient rafters with English-language books and well worth a couple of hours of your Parisian time.

The current premises were opened in 1951 by American Francophile George Whitman, on the site of an early 17th century monastery. I think some of the original floor tiles may still be there…

This reincarnation was founded to carry on the legacy of the legendary Sylvia Beach, another American who set up the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919, in nearby rue l’Odéon. Here the most famous writers, artists, poets and flâneurs of the day would gather, and it was only the occupation by the Germans in 1941 that extinguished the place’s literary spirit.

Today, Sylvia Whitman carries on the legacy of both her father and Sylvia Beach, preserving a very special oasis for book-lovers amongst more notable and well-trodden Paris landmarks.

Don’t leave without buying a book. They’ll affix a special stamp, insert a poem and a little piece of history from the many writers and travellers who have spent time at Shakespeare & Company for almost the last 100 years.

5. Hidden Paris Walking Tours – www.hiddenparis.fr

I’m sure all adventurous Silver Travellers enjoy exploring a city, wandering aimlessly from museum to museum, café to café, via labyrinthine streets and alleyways in which you’ll inevitably get lost.

But sometimes it’s also good to have a little local expertise to help you find your way around an area, and to dig deeper into the local history, culture, nooks and crannies.

Hidden Paris Walking Tours provide such insight, three Parisiennes leading walks around Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des -Prés, the Latin Quarter, Belleville and the Marais.

I went on the Saint-Germain tour with Eglantine. She led me and just two other inquisitive travellers through hidden alleyways, into exquisite chocolate shops and past the house where Monsieur Guillotin lived, practising his new invention out on sheep in the cobbled street outside. She showed us the cafés and bistros where intellectuals and artists have hung out for over a century. She led us into the covered market to chat with stallholders. And she took us to an underground car park, down several levels on a dingy staircase, so that we could see some of the original city wall from the 12th century.

90 minutes for just €20, and a discretionary tip. Good value for real local knowledge…especially if you can persuade her to give you the digital key that opens the door to all their own favourite secret places in Paris.

Tasmania – Hobart

Friday, February 13 to Monday, February 16

Well, it sure was nice to sleep in  a comfy and spacious hotel room in Hobart after 10 days – and nights – exploring Tasmania’s coasts and wildernesses in the confines of a camper van.

The Old Woolstore is an attractive conversion of an old industrial building, in a good city location, in much the same way as the amazing transformation of the old IXL Jam Factory by the dock is now the beautiful Henry Jones Art Hotel, and the old Gas Works is an atmospheric winery cellar door.

We enjoyed Hobart but were only there for 3 nights and, battery-recharging after a hyperactive tour of Tassie, opted to chill out rather than chase all the conventional sightseeing targets.

But we did spend Saturday morning at the renowned 300-stall Salamanca Market, loved wandering around the dock area seeing the crayfish pots unloaded, and on Sunday walked the 3-4 km out of the city on the Hobart Rivulet Path to be shocked out of our smug 21st century complacency visiting The Female Factory.

And we also explored the genteel Victorian suburb of Battery Point, where we succumbed – twice – to the irresistible delights of Jackman & McRoss, a bakery & deli that every neighbourhood should have. In fact, we should have talked to them about opening up a franchise in Godalming…..

But our overriding memories of Hobart will also be tinged with sadness, as it was a stepping off point for successive European explorers culminating in the British invasion of Van Diemen’s Land, our genocide of the indigenous Aborigines in the 1820s and subsequent colonisation of the island with transported convicts, horrifically abused until they had earned their free ticket.

Not to say that detracted in any way from our enjoyment of a naturally beautiful island and its relaxed capital city, but its history was rightly in our faces in the museum, in The Female Factory, in guide books and on illumination story boards around the dock area.

But Hobart and Tasmania are great 21st century holiday destinations, and I’m very pleased we included them on the Grand Slam Tour 2015.

Tasmania – convicts & colonisation

Sunday, February 15

Imagine being locked up in solitary confinement in a completely dark and damp cell, 3 paces long and just 1 pace wide. For up to 3 months. In a faraway land.

That’s as good as it gets.

Now imagine having to work for more than 12 hours every day, oakum picking – meticulously unravelling, with your already raw hands – huge knotted ropes matted with tar and barnacles from the arduous 4 month sea crossing from England to Van Diemen’s Land. The knowledge that your efforts would be used for caulking the wooden seams of the weather-beaten ships would not be much consolation.

And now imagine having to do all that with the dreaded iron collar around your neck, a heavy metal instrument of torture, spiked and pulled so tightly that over the weeks and months you wear it – day and night – it rubs the flesh raw and damages your collarbone.

Worse still, you could be suffering all this ankle- or knee-deep in putrid water rushing down from Mount Wellington in the depths of winter.

Welcome to The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land.

Yes, women – sometimes including girls as young as 11 – were subjected to these scarcely believable conditions. Between 1828 and 1856, at least 5,000 female convicts were transported from England to this newly settled island off the southern coast of Australia. And sometimes for having committed no worse a crime than stealing something to keep your family alive in times of abject poverty.

On arrival at the port in Hobart, you’d be subjected to the Walk of Shame, a 6 km march from Sullivan’s Cove to your new home, under the cover of darkness to avoid the lascivious intentions of the almost entirely male population.

There, you’d be stripped immediately of your hair, name, clothes and any remaining dignity.

If you obeyed the rigid rules, avoided conflict with bullying overseers and enjoyed an overdue slice of luck, the best you could hope for would be to work a long day in the laundry, scrubbing coarse clothes with your bare hands in freezing cold water. But at least you’d have the company of other convicts, even if complete silence was another strict rule.

But if you fell foul of the regime, off you’d go to solitary confinement…sometimes never to leave.

You might be picked out of the line one day, to go into a service with a family. But there was every chance life outside The Factory would be almost as harsh as within. And the most inhumane treatment of all was imposed if you became pregnant, whether through rape or your own indiscretion. For what good were you now?

Back inside The Factory, your newborn child would be weaned as quickly as possible, and you would be put back to work. With overcrowding and disease rife in the nursery, your baby would have only a 25% chance of surviving. At best, since official mortality records are quite likely to have been sugar-coated.

If your child saw its 2nd birthday in The Factory nursery, an orphanage would be next, followed by as normal a life as could be expected for a weak, socially inept progeny of a convict.

As for yourself, you might finally find a way out of The Factory if a successful application for marriage was made by any man who wanted to take a wife and raise a family in this new land. After all, the purpose of this convict transportation policy was colonisation, after a suitable period of punishment and contrition, wasn’t it?

It’s scarcely believable that this all happened less than 200 years ago.

And yet here we were, reliving such dreadful history on the site of The Cascades Female Factory on the outskirts of Hobart, high threatening walls in the shadow of Mount Wellington still intact, on a warm Sunday in February 2015.

Inside the walls, a few stones have been laid to delineate some of the cells and other defined areas within each yard. Otherwise pay for the Heritage Tour and, more importantly, make sure you immerse yourself in Her Story to bring the experience fully to life.

Her Story is a dramatised account of Mary, a convict sent to The Female Factory who becomes a victim of a brutal overseer’s bullying and endures the worst conditions described above. The other actor plays the overseer and a more kindly, well-intentioned doctor, and together they transport you back to the 19th century and all the horrors that women endured in this terrible place.

A chilling experience that made us ashamed to come from the country that dreamed up this vile policy. It may be a beautiful, enlightened country now but it certainly has a darker underbelly in its history.