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Truganini and the genocide of the Tasmanian aborigines

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  • Fiche de cours
  • Quiz et exercices
  • Vidéos et podcasts
  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion « Fictions et réalités ».
  • Découvrir l’histoire d’un peuple disparu.
Points clés
  • L’île tient son nom actuel d’Abel Tasman, un navigateur néerlandais.
  • L’arrivée des colons Anglais au XVIIIe siècle a très vite marqué le début d’un véritable génocide tasmanien.
  • Robinson et la mission de conciliation : ce missionnaire a été chargé de convaincre les natifs à quitter leur île pour celle de Flinders. Les conditions de vie s’y sont avérées si mauvaises que la plupart sont morts.
  • Truganini est la dernière représentante (hors descendants issus de couples métis) de son peuple. Elle reste aujourd’hui encore une source d’inspirations pour nombre d’artistes pour sa volonté acharnée de sauver son peuple de l’extinction.
Pour bien comprendre

Revoir l’histoire de la colonisation britannique

1. The colonisation of Tasmania

The colonisation of Tasmania began in 1642 when Abel Tasman landed there and named it Van Diemen’s Land after his governor. In 1855 Van Diemen’s Land became Tasmania. The island is located in the south of the Australian mainland.

In 1770 Captain Cook explored Australia and 7 years later, the British landed on the island. They were mostly convicts and settlers and their number amounted to 65,000. Unfortunately, troubles soon began between the settlers and the native people.

a. The situation in Tasmania

In Tasmania, the Natives were not happier than their brothers of the continent. They were soon accused of killing the settlers’ sheep or robbing them. So the settlers and the convicts (now free) decided to get rid of them.

And as early as 1803 shootings of Aborigines began on the island. In 1829 a British proclamation presented the Aborigines as responsible for the scenes of violence on the island. To improve the situation, Governor Arthur decided to establish martial law and expel the Aborigines from the settled districts.

The Black Line was started: a military plan to round up Aborigines. Some Whites volunteered to form a line and capture any remaining Aborigines before sending them to jail. But the military manoeuvre ended in a bitter failure. After weeks in the bush, only one man and a boy had been captured.

b. George Augustus Robinson and the Friendly Mission

By 1830 the colonial authorities appointed George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary, to mount a “friendly mission”. His job was to find the remaining Aborigines and convince them to move on Flinders Island (northeast of the island of Tasmania).
Robinson befriended several Aborigines, among them were a beautiful young woman called Truganini and a young man, Wooreddy, leader of the Bruny Island tribe. In return for food, housing and protection, Truganini agreed to help Robinson.

By 1835 nearly all the Aborigines had moved to Flinders Island. Some preferred staying with the settlers because they had food in exchange for their work, or they did not believe in Robinson’s mission of conciliation. Others married white settlers and gave birth to half-blood children.

The Aborigines believed Flinders Island would be their temporary home and that they would be free. Instead the island soon became a prison and many of the Aborigines died victims of malnutrition, disease, homesickness and bad weather conditions.
By 1850 hardly any of them had survived and those who did finally moved back to their Tasmanian mainland.

2. Queen Truganini
a. The last survivor of her race

In 1873 only one Aborigine remained, her name was Truganini, Queen Truganini. She inherited this title because she was the last survivor of her race. She died in 1876.
Even though Truganini's dying wish was to be buried behind the mountains, her body was exhumed and her skeleton displayed at the museum until 1947. Her ashes were finally scattered on the waters of her tribal land, one hundred years after her death.
And the last male who died shortly before her was William Lanne or King Billy, possibly Truganini’s second husband. Even his death in 1869 gave him no respect: Dr Lodewyk Crowther removed his head in the name of science at the Colonial Hospital! And it has never been found.

b. Cultural legacy / A model for the artists

Truganini has been the topic of many books (and movies, too) since she died and the model of generations for Aborigines who still praise her. She was, is and will be the source of inspiration of numerous artists who defend her in spite of the fact that she did not manage to save her people. But she believed in her mission and we must respect her for that.

Here are a few documents we advise you to read, watch or listen:

  • Books:
    • The Spectre of Truganini (by Bernard Smith);
    • Dr Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World (by Mudrooroo / Colin Johnson);
    • Neeminah, Légende d’une Aborigène de Tasmanie (by Laurent Dedryver).
  • Movies:
    • The Last Tasmanian (by Tom Haydon).
  • Songs
    • Truganini (by Midnight Oil).

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