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Sunday, 25 September 2005

Ethnic Cleansing in Tasmania

Tasmania has been described as having more historians per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. Possibly it's because for over a century, it was polite to ignore one's origins. The whites suffered from "the stain" of being descended from convicts, or at the very least having relations who were. For aborigines, "the stain" was being descended from aborigines. Fortunately, from the early 1970s, roughly coinciding with The Git's arrival on Tasmania's shores, it became easier for both groups to discuss the past more openly -- and perhaps to reconcile them.

Tim Bowden once said: "Tasmania is the testicle of the Nation. It infuses it with vim and vigour. What a pity there aren't two of them!" Carmel Bird wrote: "It's shape, some say, is like a heart; others call it a cunt. It is, in any case, the butt of many an Australian joke, known in legend for incest, bestiality, birth defects and freaks." But they are Tasmanian viewpoints. The rest of the world views us through the eyes of American academics like Jared Diamond:

"Tactics for hunting down Tasmanians included riding out on horseback to shoot them, setting out steel traps to catch them, and putting out poison flour where they might find and eat it. Sheperds cut off the penis and testicles of aboriginal men, to watch the men run a few yards before dying. At a hill christened Mount Victory, settlers slaughtered 30 Tasmanians and threw their bodies over a cliff. One party of police killed 70 Tasmanians and dashed out the children's brains."

As the journalists so often say, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The source for the Diamond quote goes on to say:

"Such vile and animalistic behavior on the part of the White settlers of Tasmania was the rule rather than the exception. In spite of their wanton cruelty, however, punishment in Tasmania was exceedingly rare for the Whites..."

While Botany Bay had been settled as a penal colony to rid the United Kingdom of its criminals, Van Dieman's Land was settled to rid Botany Bay of its worst criminals. That is, those who continued to offend, were sent to Tasmania. Whites, far from going unpunished, were punished regularly and severely for any number of infractions. They were in a penal colony for the precise purpose of being punished. Flogging was a way of life. For example, the penalty for attempting to escape the settlement was 100 lashes. Surprisingly, some convicts managed to survive several such brutal beatings. There are Tasmanians alive today who recall the horrific scars borne by their grandparents.

While as The Git wrote yesterday, relations between the whites and blacks were initially mostly cordial, the later arrival of free white settlers and the granting of land to liberated convicts led to an inevitable clash of cultures as the Midlands and North became occupied by sheep graziers. Several families, as well as isolated shepherds were killed, leading to demand for the Governor to provide a solution. Here's a table detailing aboriginal deaths from 1829-39.

The Colonial Office's instructions to Lieutenant-Governor Collins had been to "open intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their goodwill". George Arthur, Governor from 1824 to 1837, attempted to negotiate with Tasmania's Aborigines, but with no recorded success. As Keith Windschuttle has noted, aboriginal and European notions of land ownership were incommensurable.

Arthur issued a Proclamation, on 19 April 1828, published in the Hobart Town Gazette, stating that "humanity and natural equity, equally enforce the duty of protecting and civilising the aboriginal inhabitants". The Proclamation was issued as violence between aboriginal and European people was becoming more frequent in the country districts. Arthur hoped that his measures would prevent "the eventual extirpation of the aboriginal race itself." Historian (or should that be "hysterian"?) Henry Reynolds

"...somehow deleted this compassionate wish when quoting the document verbatim. Instead he put into Arthur's mouth another phrase: what Governor Arthur really feared was the 'eventual extirpation of the Colony.' The meaning of one of the significant documents in early colonial history had thereby been drastically altered."
[Full Story]

Aboriginal numbers had already been reduced to a few hundreds, some by violence, but doubtless many more through the introduction of the white's diseases to which the aborigines had no resistance. In September of 1828, Governor Arthur declared martial law in the outlying districts occupied by settlers. 

From the Wikipedia:

The Black Line is a notorious incident that occurred in 1830 on Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land as it was then known. After many years of conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal known as the Black War, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur called upon every able-bodied male colonist, convict or free, to form a human chain that then swept across the settled districts, moving south and east for several weeks in an attempt to corral the Aborigines on the Tasman Peninsula by closing off Eaglehawk Neck (the isthmus connecting the Tasman peninsula to the rest of the island).

The incident is commonly seen as a costly fiasco since few Aborigines were captured. However, it is also generally accepted that the incident shook the Aboriginal population so much that they were willing to accept the mediation of George Augustus Robinson and allow themselves to be removed to the Flinders Island settlement, where the population dwindled until repatriation to Tasmania in 1847. Marginalising them to Flinders Island did what the Black Line failed to do -- ethnically cleanse the local Aboriginal population. As a direct result, of all the Australian regions, Tasmania has very few aborigines or preserved native culture of note. [Emphasis mine]

The records indicate that the Black Line resulted in the capture of one old man and one young boy. Was this because they were the only remaining aborigines, or because the aborigines were able to hide themselves, or slip through the line at night? In any event, The Black Line encompassed only a tiny fraction of the island if only because most of the island was near inaccessible. Many, possibly most, Tasmanian aborigines were never removed to Flinders Island. A descendant of those aborigines who remained, the Lia Pootah, recently wrote: 

Over the last decade the Lia Pootah history has been deliberately woven into the myth of Governor Arthur's "Black War" and G A Robinson's "round-up" by academic papers and books. Unfortunately this lack of historical inaccuracy [sic] has been encouraged by the biased research into the modern Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Modern academic historians have elaborated the theme of total removal from the mainland of Tasmania until a distinctive fabrication has developed. Historians have gone into print claiming Lia Pootah are from "a supposed lost tribe". Nothing could be further from the truth. 

This type of claim has marginalised our history. The nineteenth century historian wrote a politically sanctioned history of Tasmania, which only referred to the European "settled" areas, reiterating the round-up and removal to Flinders Island of the captured Aboriginal Ancestors. This is despite evidence within the Colonial Secretaries papers discussing "wild blacks" and the fear in the colony in 1847 when they were returning those at Wybalenna to Oyster Cove, would "join up with them and start the troubles again" To achieve these ends a political solution of count down to extinction was devised. 

Possibly the most significant event ignored by modern historical writers is that only "full bloods" associated with "settlement" areas were subjected to removal from towns. These orders ignored those "full bloods" living on isolated properties or who were recorded as living free until 1853 and beyond. Governor Arthur's orders of removal also ignored the inclusion of the numerous "half cast children" living the settled areas, the result of cross-racial unions. The present biased inaccurate history has developed by writing micro accounts of Tasmania's history rather than a broad overview. If a proper historical geographical accounting is attempted then the ludicrous assumptions of complete removal of the Tasmanian Aboriginal become apparent. Robinson walked along the coastline and not inland as to a large degree it was impenetrable bush that was not surveyed until the latter parts of the nineteenth century. Only the narrow margin of "settled" land between Launceston and Hobart including small isolated European community whaling or farming groups and townships were part of his round-up. 
[Full Story

Jim Everett wrote:

Aboriginal identity has been a problem area for Tasmanian Aborigines and non-Aboriginal Tasmanians since the death of Truganini in 1876. The official decree was that after Truganini, Tasmanian Aborigines were extinct. The recorded remnants of Tasmanian Aborigines, mainly nine women, survived on the islands of the Furneaux Group off north-east Tasmanian. These survivors increased to a sizeable population on the islands, and soon established a community on Cape Barren Island. The Cape Barren Island community was eventually placed under control when the Tasmanian Government introduced the Cape Barren Island Reserve Act 1912. There were, however, other Aboriginal survivors on mainland Tasmania, who integrated into white society to hide their Aboriginality. These mainland Tasmania Aborigines have publicly announced their identity over the past thirty or more years. The majority of recent problems over Tasmanian Aboriginal identity have surfaced because this group is seeking to be recognized as Aborigines after the islander Aborigines paved the way for Aboriginality to be accepted by mainstream Tasmanian society.


Our call was for acknowledgment of the existing Tasmanian Aboriginal community. From that point, Aboriginality was a hot topic in Tasmania, seeing sophisticated debate develop over the issue in all local public media. This new emergence of black politics may have startled white Tasmanians, but it shook up Tasmanian Aborigines equally as much. Those who hid from their Aboriginality were confronted with Tasmanian Aboriginality on the public doorstep. Talk on Aboriginality was big around Aboriginal homes, much of it producing a "coming out" attitude as more Tasmanian Aborigines joined the swell. Although Aboriginal identity was a difficult and emotional challenge for Tasmanian Aborigines, this was the 'good' fight in our political struggle, and we were united and confident that we would achieve recognition of our identity and rights.

And we did, but at a cost, for after the struggle of the 1980s things turned sour, and remain so because there is a view that Aboriginal 'collaborators' have looked after only themselves and not the communities' collective aspirations and rights. The real collaboration started when the Hawke Government established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1990, which effectively dismantled the National Aboriginal Political Movement and its networks across Australia. The National Federation of Land Councils, the National Coalition of Aboriginal Organizations, and lots of other national Aboriginal political bodies are all but gone now, killed off through the ATSIC system of collaboration between Aborigines and government.

ATSIC's major weapon to defeat the Aboriginal community politicos has been to inject lots of money into Aboriginal communities, and to create a well-rewarded Black élite to manage its programs. The programs are aimed at assimilating Aborigines, our culture and our values. The outcome has been a change in Aboriginal affairs politics, a change in cultural focus, and a change in the way Aboriginal communities are coerced into assimilation. Many of the Aboriginal politicos from the 1970s and 1980s have either ended up in the ATSIC structure or continue to seek other forms of political and cultural satisfaction away from the Aboriginal Industry system. Those who went into the ATSIC structure manage the Government's 'top-down' policies and program resources under the guise of being a 'community service'. Most of these programs and processes for obtaining government funds require applicants to adhere to non-Aboriginal values in the application and expenditure accountability regime. This creates a subtle but nevertheless definite change in Aboriginal values, especially in our younger generations who are unaware of what the principles of our struggle have been all about.
[Full Story]

Kaye McPherson wrote:

Government Approved Ethnic Cleansing in Tasmania

Not all deaths are violent. In Tasmania we [the Lia Pootah aborigines] are being "killed off" by denial of existence and denial of heritage. We are being destroyed as a people because a small select few [the Palawa aborigines] have gained the ear of the government and through a policy of enforced ignorance, have manipulated the government into bowing to their wishes. Political correctness where the fear of being labeled racist is the weapon of choice, and does as much damage to a society as deliberate violence. As strange as it may sound wounds give a visibility, while cries for help become "lies of the wannabees". Even when the truth is accepted about our existence it is a problem that is too political, and therefore best ignored.

We have been fighting and lobbying now for four years since the TAC (Tasmanian Aboriginal Center) performed the Coup, which denied us our heritage. We have won in the federal courts and through federal ministers the right to claim our heritage. In our own state the bureaucratic structure dealing with the Aboriginal issue was implemented with great secrecy and stealth with the manipulation through government departments and ministers, by the TAC and their policy maker, when we thought we were a united community.

It is important for many non Aboriginal Tasmanians to say "sorry" for the bloodletting of the past. By apologising they have played into the hands of the radical racists of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community who want to be the only survivors of the nineteenth century genocide.

In being "the sole survivors" they claim heritage and land that is not their own.

They are claiming a culture they have never had, and denying, and making up a history and for Tasmania that is a "white mans theory" with no basis in historical fact.
[Full Story]

And to finish off, here's a picture of one of Tasmania's "extinct" Palawa aborigines and fully paid-up member of the "Aborigine Industry".

Kathryn Hay, Member House of Assembly for Bass and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier

Kathryn Hay is Member House of Assembly for Bass and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. Presumably, since she's an aboriginal and a woman, not to mention extinct, she must be terribly downtrodden and oppressed... It helps when standing for parliamentary election, I guess :-)

And a correction from my ever-vigilant reader:

The git said:

And to finish off, here's a picture of one of Tasmania's "extinct" Palawa aborigines and fully paid-up member of the "Aborigine Industry".

But Kathryn Hay said, in her inaugural speech to the Tasmanian parliament

"I feel the need to make clear that even though I was born in Tasmania, my Aboriginal ancestors are Western Australian and my mother's people are the Noongar people. I say this because I do feel an identity with the Tasmanian Aboriginals and can appreciate issues affecting them, although I cannot and will not claim to be anything I am not."


you'd better correct this one...

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Thoughts for the week:

Just be who you are and be proud of whatever side you're on, whatever blood is in you and hold your head up high. Show some respect for all and hope that everyone respects you. That's the main thing. That's all any of us can do. -- Ida West


Not every side-argument in the book persuades me. My own view is that the original Tasmanians were not as backward, mentally and culturally, as Windschuttle sometimes depicts them. I think too that they were often ingenious as fighters and raiders on their home terrain. But I agree with the dominating theme of the book -- that the evidence for "genocide" or deliberate "extirpation" appears frail or false. -- Geoffrey Blainey


Jim Everett's ninety percent white and he's a blackfella. I'm ten percent black, but I'm a whitefella. -- An anonymous friend

Current Listening:

Ajak Kwai -- Why Not Peace and Love

Yothu Yindi -- Freedom

Neil Young -- After the Goldrush


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