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Friday, April 3, 2009

Truganini, last Aboriginal Woman of Tasmania

Truganini Monument on Bruny Island

Between 1803 and 1830 the Aborigines of Tasmania were reduced in numbers from five-thousand to less than seventy-five people. An article published December 1, 1826 in the Tasmanian Colonial Times reads:

"We make no pompous display of philanthropy. The Government must remove the natives, if not, they will be hunted down like wild beasts and destroyed!"

When a declaration of martial law was introduced in November 1828, whites were authorized to kill blacks on sight and kill them they did with a cruel savagery that's hard to comprehend. A bounty was declared and soon became a lucrative business, five pounds for each adult body and two pounds for a child. This bounty had the desired effect and they were almost completely wiped out. The remaining few were rounded up and placed in concentration camps where they died like flies from the white man's diseases.

In 1830 George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary, was hired to round up the remaining Tasmanian blacks and take them to Flinders Island.

Jared Diamond recorded that:

"On Flinders Island Robinson was determined to civilize and Christianize the survivors. His settlement - at a windy site with little fresh water - was run like a jail. Children were separated from parents to facilitate the work of civilizing them. The regimental daily schedule included Bible reading, hymn singing, and inspection of beds and dishes for cleanness and neatness. However, the jail diet caused malnutrition, which combined with illness to make the natives die. Few infants survived more than a few weeks. The government reduced expenditures in the hope that the native would die out. By 1869 only Truganini, one other woman, and one man remained alive."

On May 7, 1876, Truganini, born on Bruny Island and the last full-blooded Aboriginal person in Tasmania, died at seventy-three years of age. Her mother had been stabbed to death by a white man and her sister was kidnapped by white men. Her intended husband was drowned by two white men in her presence. After being thrown overboard and trying desperately to get back into the boat, they cut off both his hands and watched him drown, then they repeatedly raped her. But she refused to die.

"Don't let them cut me up," she begged the doctor as she lay dying. But because the native Aboriginal was considered a curiosity by the Europeans with most even believing they were the missing link between man and the ape, they dug her up and strung her skelton on wires and placed it upright in a box in the Tasmanian museum where it remained on show until 1947.

Finally, in 1976, the centenary year of Truganini's death, despite the museum's objections, her skeleton was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea in the Entrecasteaux Channel.

In 1997 the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter UK, returned Truganini's necklace and bracelet and her hair and skin found in a collection at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 2002 were also returned to Tasmania for burial.