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Flinders Island, Tasmania

Tasmanian Aboriginal country

Against all odds

[People say,] oh ... they’ve lost so much. But I think ... hang on a minute. Isn’t it wonderful that we have so much culture that we have retained. To be taken from country ... taken to those islands where you’ve got nowhere to go – prisoners almost ... And yet, they [our ancestors] made sure information is passed down through their families. Against all odds.

Theresa Sainty, pakana (Tasmanian Aborigine), 2014

View of a hilly landscape with flowers in the foreground.
Tasmanian Aboriginal country, Flinders Island, Tasmania. Photo: Kraig Carlstrom.

Tasmanian Aborigines continue to celebrate their culture and spirituality, despite the actions of early colonial authorities and settlers.

The [British] inhabitants are carrying on a war of extermination with the natives who are destroyed without mercy wherever they are met.

Mary Ann Friend, ‘Journal of a voyage to Hobart’, entry for April 1830

In the early 1830s, authorities exiled 134 Tasmanian Aborigines to Wybalenna on Flinders  Island. The people worked to keep their culture strong, but their sense of loss was profound.

At Wybalenna they were so homesick they used to climb to the top of the hill and think that they could sort of fly off and ... see Tasmania in the distance.

Leonie Dickson, Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, 2014

Enduring poor living conditions, disease and neglect, many sickened and died. In 1846, people from Wybalenna petitioned Queen Victoria about the appalling conditions there. By 1847, when Wybalenna was abandoned, only 47 people remained. For Tasmanian Aborigines today, there is both strength and sorrow in remembering this time.

Drawing; watercolour, of a man with bare chest, dressed hair and beard. He is wearing necklaces and holding a fire stick
Manalargenna [Mannalargenna] of Oyster Bay , about 1832–33, watercolour by Thomas Bock, 26.5 x 22.3 cm. British Museum Oc2006,Drg.61.

Old objects

Thomas Bock painted many portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, 17 of which are in the collection of the British Museum.This painting was probably part of a larger collection of prints, paintings and objects that George Augustus Robinson, Protector of Aborigines at Wybalenna Aboriginal Station on Flinders Island, acquired before he returned to England in 1852.

Physician, craniologist and collector Joseph Barnard Davis bought the collection from Robinson’s widow in 1867. After Davis’s death in 1881,the portraits, along with other artworks and objects, were auctioned. Augustus Wollaston Franks, Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography at the British Museum, purchased most of the Aboriginal material being auctioned, including this portrait. Franks later gave the portrait to the British Museum, probably in November 1889.

New objects

A collection of five handmade baskets made from natural fibres and feathers.
Clockwise from top left: Basket, Tasmanian Aborigines, collected by George Augustus Robinson in 1829–39, 17 x 16.2 x 12.2 cm. British Museum Oc1981,Q.1755. String bag woven in grass fibre, about 2006–09 by Verna Nichols, Tasmanian Aborigines, 20 x 5 x 6.5 cm. National Museum of Australia. Basket woven in white flag iris, about 2006–09 by Zoe Rimmer, Tasmanian Aborigines, 28.5 x 28.5 x 28. 5 cm. National Museum of Australia. Feeling Blue coiled basket, about 2006–09 by Leonie Dickson, Tasmanian Aborigines, 9.7 x 17 x 15.5 cm. National Museum of Australia. ‘Parrot’ basket woven in flag iris and rosella feathers, about 2006–09 by Aunty Patsy Cameron, Tasmanian Aborigines, 32.5 x 16 x 14 cm. National Museum of Australia. Photos of National Museum of Australia objects: George Serras.

Working with the traditional materials and in the traditional ways has been important for me in connecting with the my culture. Sitting with other women from the community, and sharing stories while we weave, much in the same way as it has been for thousands of generations, is a very grounding experience.

Vicki West, Tasmanian Aborigine, 2009

Aunty Patsy Cameron and Greg Lehman.
Aunty Patsy Cameron, Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder and Greg Lehman, palawa, descendant of trawulwuy people, talking about the history of Manalargenna at Little Musselroe Bay, Tasmania. National Museum of Australia.
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