Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Aboriginal Tasmania

If only I knew more. My two local libraries scraped up two older books on aboriginal life in Australia, one from 1968 and one from 1969, both recounting tales from mainland Australia, not Tasmania. Internet research revealed some additional useful background, but my characters who come out of this tradition remain hazy. And then I found The Free Library. This searchable database of journals(and much more) revealed a back door into 19th Century Tasmania -- thanks to the work of Greg Lehman, a Tasmanian academic publishing in Australian Aboriginal Studies. He highlighted five new books. I list them here for the sheer pleasure of having found them, at least on line (next stop amazon and/or interlibrary loan):
  • Ian McFarlane, Beyond Awakening: The Aboriginal Tribes of Northwest Tasmania, A History (2008).
  • Graeme Calder, Levee, Line and Martial Law: A History of the Dispossession of the Mairremmener People of Van Diemen's Land, 1803-1832 (2010).
  • Patsy Cameron, Grease and Ochre: The Blending of Two Cultures at the Colonia Sea Frontier(2011).
  • Robert Cox,Baptised in Blood: The Shocking Secret History of Sorell(2010) and Steps to the Scaffold: The Untold Story of Tasmania's Black Bushrangers(2004).
I want all of my characters to be authentic. My intuition has created placeholders, perhaps a half-dream of what the lives of aboriginal Tasmanians in mid-19th Century were like: some half-breed, some living between bush and town, some destroyed by rum, some hired or brought over from Victoria by the police as 'blacktrackers', some quietly assimilated, some moved out of 'settled districts' in that failed ethnic cleansing of the Black Line, some moved to Wybalenna, some clapped into orphanages, abandoned by both father and mother, caught between two very different cultures. I don't believe they were wiped out; I don't believe Trugernanner was the last Palawa (Tasmanian aboriginal). At least the books will give me a start on moving away from stereotype. I hope.