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Truganini great survivor of Australia's Black War faced adapt or die alternatives for her people 

April 29, 2010
Truganini great survivor of Australia's Black War faced adapt or die alternatives for her people

Truganini had two alternatives - adapt or die.

Truganini is said to have been born around 1812, a Nuenone woman in the beautiful Lunawanna-alonnah (Bruny island) D'Entrecasteaux Channel area of southern Tasmania.

The arrival of the White man brought violence, brutality and disease to her world.

Truganini daughter of Mangana/Mangerner, an elder of the Nuenone people saw her mother stabbed to death by whalers and her sisters Lowhe-nunne and Magger-ledde abducted by sealers.

Her uncle was shot. Her husband-to-be was murdered by timber-getters who cut off his hands and left him to drown before she was repeatedly raped.

Her brother was killed and her step-mother kidnapped by escaped convicts. Her devasted father died within months. She lost her entire family.

The Nuenone people, a band of the south-east tribe have connections with Lunawanna-alonnah (Bruny island) and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel which separates it from Tasmania's mainland which span 30,000 years.

This intelligent survivor was one of the first Australians caught in Australia's Black War. They numbered about 4000, according to a range of estimates which go as high as 6000.

Truganini remembered
Truganini remembered

The first white settlers landed in Tasmania in 1803 and by 1836 the surviving first Australians were thought to be about 300. Another estimate says only 150. Either way the result is a humanitarian nightmare.

Those comfortable with the proposition that Australians have never suffered the horrors of war on their own soil should perhaps consider Tasmania by the 1830's.

In 1824 Lieut-Governor George Arthur arrived in Tasmania and to deal with the conflict between settlers and Aboriginals awarded bounties for the capture of Black adults and children.

An effort was also made to establish friendly relations with the first Australians with the object of luring them into camps. This began on Bruny Island probably because it was not a high conflict hot-spot.

Arthur's 1830 Black Line attempt to roundup the first Australians is laughed about in military terms but it did serve to unite the White settlers.  Apart from the pain caused by the conflict between Blacks and Whites land values were suffering and the settlers wanted the Blacks removed.

This armed human chain to corral natives on the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas also reflects Britians colonial policy concerns that genocide in Tasmania would stain Britain's international reputation.

It also gave George Augustus Robinson his opportunity. A builder from Lincolnshire Robinson arrived in Hobart in 1824. He brought his family out in 1826.

In 1829 he went to Bruny Island on government appointment to establish friendly relations with the natives. To broaden his knowledge he visited tribes throughout Tasmania on extended adventurous expeditions.

Until 1831 he explored Tasmania and its offshore islands, learning about the first Australians and the sealers.

Adventure Bay Bruny Island  looking northwest
Adventure Bay Bruny Island looking northwest

Robinson travelled with his two elder sons, convict porters and servants and about a dozen friendly first Australians.

During the Black War the first Australians, outmatched in weaponry and out-numbered were progressively driven from their country.

Country was their soul, so that died too in their despair on Flinders Island at Robinson's Christian European peasant culture orientated Wybalenna.

Without their spirit disease, assisted in its spread by the proximity produced by captivity at the Wybalenna 'mission', shared in the slaughter.

Wybalenna was the result of the colonial authorities appointing George Augustus Robinson, a builder and untrained preacher to mount a 'Friendly Mission' to find remaining Aborigines deep in Tasmanian bush.

Robinson promised that if they agreed to move to Flinders Island they would be provided with blankets, food, houses and their customs would be respected. He also promised they could return to their country. This promise was broken.

It is likely Truganini saw Robinson as the only way her people could survive and agreed to help him when she met him with her father Mangana/Mangerner. Her help over time extended to savings Robinson's life from drowning and angry spears.

At Bruny Island mission in 1829 she 'married' Woorraddy, from Bruny.

Adventure Bay Bruny Island looking southeast
Adventure Bay Bruny Island looking southeast

They were associated with all the missions that Robinson and his sons conducted around Tasmania in 1830-35; they acted as guides and as instructors in their languages and customs, which were recorded by Robinson in his journal, the best ethnographic record now available of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal society, the Australian Dictionary of Biography online edition reports.

Editor's Note: Friendly Mission, editor N.J.B.Plomley. Tas. journals and papers of George Augustus Robinson 1829-1834 and Reading Robinson.  An ABC Book Club interview with Co-editor of Reading Robinson Anna Johnston gives  useful context to Robinson.

By 1835, nearly all the first Australians had agreed to move to Wybalenna on Flinders Island.

Robinson motives are debatable but conciliation is a first priority in much of his work. His extensive expeditions to meet Black tribes at personal risk support this. 

But over time as his success grew in European eyes his actions seem coloured by ego and self-interest.

At Wybalenna his attempt to make Christian European peasants of the first Australians was a disaster. Robinson set out to strip them of their identity and culture as he attempted to turn them into his model society.

Flinders Island was their prison and their despair as they looked toward their lost country and over a sadly short time it was the graveyard of the majority who went there.

Robinson, however, was seen by the authorities as an expert in managing the first Australians and his notoriety won him employment in Victoria managing the 'Aboriginal problem'.

Bright shiny  day Adventure Bay Bruny Island
Bright shiny day Adventure Bay Bruny Island

In 1838 Truganini and a small group (reports indicate about 14) from Wybalenna went with him to Melbourne, but their Chief Protector seems to have abandoned them.

Truganini's co-operation turned to rebellion. She escaped and was involved in attacks on White men.

Truganini joined with the Port Phillip people when they resisted Robinson's plans. In some reports it is described as a rebellion. In others they are called outlaws.

Her group stole from settlers. Settlers were shot and two whalers were murdered. A trial in Melbourne led to two male members of her group of five being hanged in 1842.

Truganini and two other women Fanny and Matilda were returned to the settlement at Wybalenna in 1842.

Editors Note: From

In 1841, a party of whalers from Lady Bay on the east coast of Wilson’s Promontory set off to walk to Melbourne.

When they reached Coal Creek (Harmer’s Haven), they were set upon by Tasmanian Aborigines who killed two of them; this led to a hue and cry and eventually the first hangings in Melbourne Gaol.”

Joe and Lyn Chambers told this same story a bit more elaborately in their book, Out to the Wreck.
In the chapter entitled, “Murder on the Dunes” they describe a complex set of circumstances involving two huts, a family, five whalers on their way to Melbourne and five Tasmanian Aboriginal people – two men and three women – well-known in the Westernport area.

The Hanging of Wooraddy, Chief of the Bruny People:
“As it was [Truganini] was with Wooraddy and Umarrah when they killed the [whalers] who were trying to entice her away at Westernport. Suffice it to say that she learned a good lesson from this folly; her acquittal and placement to my charge showed her the generosity of the British legal system and her obligatory viewing of the executions served to stress the severity with which the system – the envy of the civilised world – regards crimes of atrocity…

She was much affected as Wooraddy and Umarrah climbed the scaffold, Umarrah crying, but Wooraddy, the stoic, uttered nothing. Truganini was amazed enough at the crowd of approximately six thousand people, which had gathered for the event, but never
had I seen her so confounded as when the chaplain said, ‘In the midst of life we are in death,’ and the hangman signalled to the puller below and the drop fell.

(Unfortunately the drop descended only halfway and the natives twisted and writhed convulsively to mounting exclamations from the crowd until an alert member of the audience had the presence of mind to knock away the obstruction, thus clearing the fall. Umarrah died instantly; Wooraddy struggled for some five or six minutes.)”

It seems to me that Wooraddy and Umarrah had all the provocation in the world to murder the whalers attempting to‘entice’ their women. If only they had been allowed to testify in court.

No white settler was ever hanged in Melbourne in colonial times for murdering an Aboriginal person, although some were
convicted of atrocities and given short sentences of weeks or months. It is an extraordinary story and all began here at Harmer’s Haven. I imagine it will go on to be told over and over again.
G.A. Robinson

Wikipedia the free online encyclopedia reports that Robinson became Chief Protector of Aborigines in Victoria in March 1839, managing the Protectorate of Port Phillip with the help of four Assistant Protectors, William Thomas, James Dredge, Edward Stone Parker and Charles Sievwright. 

Maria, Robinson's wife died in 1848. Robinson was paid a total of £8000 in his role as protector of Aborigines. 

He built a small community that included a church and coined the area 'Point Civilisation'. Many of the aborigines that lived at the port had been removed under false pretences from their true home in Tasmania. 

Point Civilisation was essentially a factory that existed to transform so called savages into Christians.

The Port Phillip Protectorate was abolished in 1849. George Robinson returned to England in 1852. He remarried. Robinson was well off with a pension and lived for a time in Paris and Rome before settling in Bath  in 1859. He died there in 1866. 

In 1846, Truganini and the remaining 45 first Australians were moved to a remote, abandoned ex-convict station at Oyster Cove south of Hobart.

Back in her own country she found strength. She was the last of the group to survive and at 64 died in Hobart in 1876.

Bruny Island  ferry leaves from Kettering
Bruny Island ferry leaves from Kettering

For the last two years of her life, Truganini lived in Hobart with the wife of the former superintendent of Oyster Cove, John Dandrige, according to the Companion to Tasmanian History website.

After her death the Tasmanian Government announced the official extinction of the Tasmanian Aboriginal race. Editor's Note: Obviously if the first Australian Tasmanians had indeed been exterminated then no land claim could succeed.

Previously when William Lanne/Lanney the last male member of Truganni's group died the Royal College of Surgeons in England and the Royal Society in Tasmania vied for his body.

There are reports that the head was cut off his corpse and the skull removed and that later the body was dissected for the skeleton.

Accounts of Truganini's death indicate she was terrified of her body being a victim of science. She is said to have told Rev. H.D.Atkinson of her fears, according to Australian Dictionary of Biography online.

But Truganini worst fears that her body would become a scientific curio were realised. Her body was exhumed in 1878 by the Royal Society of Tasmania and displayed at the Hobart Museum and Art Gallery until 1947.

Then public sentiment led to the museum storing her skelton in the basement until 1976.

Looking down  The Neck Bruny Island  near Truganini memorial
Looking down The Neck Bruny Island near Truganini memorial

In 1976 the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery returned Truganini’s skeleton to the Aboriginal community. Dignity and respect prevailed when a century after her death in 1976 her ashes were scattered on the waters of the beautiful D'Entrecasteaux Channel off Bruny Island.

Finally after 100 years she was afforded a fitting funeral and Truganini daughter of Mangana/Mangerner, Elder of the Bruny Island people returned to her country.

Lunawanna-alonnah (Bruny island) is rich with evidence of Aboriginal occupation. So the Tasmanian Aboriginal community has dedicated a modest memorial at The Neck for Truganini a Nuenone woman whose life was torn apart by the White invasion and the Black War.

Editor's Notes and Acknowledgements: Among the variations of Truganini's name are Trucanini, Truggernanna, Trugernanner and Lalla Rooke a name George Robinson is said to have given her. Her father Mangana and William Lanne, the last surviving male of her group, also have Mangerner and Lanney as variations.

In 1981, the Tasmanian state government proclaimed 30.3 hectares of the Oyster Cove Station an historic site. In 1984 the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre occupied Oyster Cove and claimed land rights for the site. After several attempts, in 1995, 10 hectares at Oyster Cove were among the 3800 hectares transferred to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Truganini was depicted on the ten-cent stamp in 1975 as part of Australia Post’s series of stamps featuring famous Australian women.

Please  note: Stories  like Truganini's will  always  be a work in progress. There are variations in the information available,  in the spelling of names, Truganini's date of birth (1803 is suggested) numbers of first Australians involved in various incidents and the actual years some events took place. GoSee has used information from the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation and the Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania as the benchmarks for this Information Article.

SBS has a remarkable series called First Australians. Here is a link to their website which has  timelined links to the extended conflict in Australia between Whites and Blacks

Editor's Note - Also  see: 

GoSee finds Tasmanian Tourist Parks fit travel needs with useful points of difference

Part 2 of GoSee Tows Around Tasmania meets great beauty, convict ghosts and reads logs written by Capt. William Bligh

GoSee Bulldog diesel Captiva sinks in DPChip teeth on 1987km Around Tasmanian Towing Tour

GoSee meets Tasmanian dump points as CMCA drives leave no trace initiative

Surprise packet Bligh Museum Bruny Island time capsule of great Pacific navigators

Chips fly as driven Greg Duncan carves Wilderness tribute Wall to mirror Tasmanian High Country challenge

Laid back GoSee cruises to Tasmania across Coxy's wet lawn

Save relationships, cut stress, save fuel and time GoSee looks at Tasmania touring towing route options and Melbournes tolled roads

Beaconsfield gold breeds miners made of the right stuff

Salty sailors city Hobart blends Australia's past and present

Caravans roll in Capt Cook CP Bruny Island
Caravans roll in Capt Cook CP Bruny Island

Truganinis country Bruny Island
Truganini's country Bruny Island