Posted on Posted in Main Blog, On The Shoulders Of Giants, Southern Griot
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In 1812 on Brundy Island in Tasmania the daughter of Chief Mangana was born and her name is Truganini, little did anyone know the history of the Aboriginal Tasmanian people would coincide with Truganini’s life. She would face much tragedy early in life which also continued throughout her life; before she turned eighteen years old her mother was killed by whalers. Later, her fiance was killed while saving her from being abducted, and in 1828 her two sisters were kidnapped and taken to Kangaroo Island and sold as slaves. Before the arrival of Europeans Truganini was immersed in her aboriginal Tasmanian culture and rituals; Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1824, he set bounties on the Tasmanian men women and children. His next move was to befriend the people so he could trap them in extermination camps; the irony of the situation is that Brundy Island was the most peaceful part of Tasmania. In 1830 there were only 100 living Tasmanian’s in the world, Truganini and a fellow Tasmanian named Woorrady were moved to Flinders Island by George Augustus Robinson to protect them from extermination. George Augustus Robinson was known as the “Protector of the Aborigines” but his intentions didn’t help a number of the people. Many of the people died from influenza and other diseases because of poor conditions and close quarters.

Truganini would help George Augustus Robinson create a settlement for her people at Port Phillip in 1838. Around 1840 Truganini and other Tasmanians would begin to fight back against the European terrorist posing as civilized settlers. Their band were able to kill two whalers at Watson’s Hut and they also injured other settlers in the fight. Truganini and her band were labeled as outlaws and hunted to be convicted for their “crimes.” They were eventually captured, tried and hung for their actions; Trugnini suffered a gunshot wound to her head but survived the ordeal. Her wound was treated by Dr. Hugh Anderson and she was then sent to trial for her role in the killing of the European settlers. The trial was held in Melbourne, Australia where she was convicted and sent back to live on Flinders Island with other Tasmanians. In 1856 Truganini and her fellow remaining Tasmanian’s were forced to move from Flinders Island to Oyster Cove; by 1861 there were only 14 living Tasmanian’s in Oyster Cove, all of which were adults. Truganini was eventually moved to a settlement in Melbourne, Australia were she would have a child from John Shugnow. The couple had to hide their child because Truganini and other Tasmanian’s were still being exterminated.

Eventually Truganini was captured and exiled from her people, her daughter went to live with the family of John Shugnow of the Kulin Nation. Truganini was the last survivor of the group forced to move to Oyster Cove. She would die years later and be buried at the former Female Factory at Cascades, a small division of Hobart. Truganini knew her death was near and requested that it be a respectful and peaceful one, she did not want her remains to be put on display in museums when she died. Her wishes were kept for two years until her bones were exhumed and placed on display by the Royal Society of Tasmania. Truganini was not the last of the living full-blooded Tasmanian’s but she became the most famous. She was known for her traditional Aboriginal necklace and bracelet which was returned to Tasmania in 1997. Stories like this one and others are often hidden from us and intentionally left out of our history books. We must start asking ourselves why stories similar Truganini’s are kept hidden for so long, but most of all we must find these stories and expose them to the world. Truganini was a brave woman who faced every type of hardship one can think of, but she never turned her back on her people or abandoned her tradition. Truganini, we proudly stand on your shoulders.


J.A. Ward

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