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putalina (Oyster Cove), Tasmania

Tasmanian Aboriginal country

Keeping culture

You’ve got to convince others, especially in your own state Tasmania, that we’re still here ... I think the biggest impact we had was when we took Oyster Cove back. We re-occupied Oyster Cove on 16 January 1984.

pooralee-amee-amatta (Jim Everett), paymarena Elder, 2014

A colour photo of a section of the coastline. The beach is cream coloured sand that has the appearance of ripples created by movement of water and sea-life. At the forefront are tufts of grass and a view of trees in the background.
Tasmanian Aboriginal country, putalina (Oyster Cove), Tasmania. Photo: Kraig Carlstrom.

When visitors to the 1851 Great Exhibition in London viewed the kelp water carrier (below) and a shell necklace, what would they have imagined of the makers’ lives?

Although their names are not recorded, the creators of these objects were most likely living at Oyster Cove, survivors of the campaign to remove Aboriginal people from the Tasmanian mainland. Despite terrible losses of country and family, they performed ceremony, hunted and continued making artefacts. Some of these they sold to colonists.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal community reclaimed Oyster Cove as putalina in 1984, more than 100 years after it was abandoned. In 1995 the Tasmanian Government officially handed back the land to the community. Each year the putalina festival celebrates the vitality of Aboriginal culture and community.

Old objects

water vessel made from kelp, wood and fibre
Kelp water container, Tasmanian Aborigines, collected from Oyster Cove by Joseph Milligan in 1850–51, 11.3 x 6 x 15.5 cm (longest stick). British Museum Oc1851,1122.2.

Joseph Milligan, the collector of this water carrier and the shell necklace, was Secretary of the Royal Society of Tasmania from 1848 until 1860. In this role he coordinated the Tasmanian display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. To represent Tasmanian Aborigines, Milligan sent shell necklaces, baskets and a model canoe. He probably obtained these objects from the Aborigines living at Oyster Cove, only three years after they had been moved there from Flinders Island, under his supervision. After the 1851 exhibition closed, Milligan gave the Tasmanian Aboriginal objects to the British Museum.

To see those [things] that were made by people during colonial times raises our spirit and warms our being about who we are as Tasmanian Aborigines today.

Auntie Patsy Cameron, Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, 2014

New objects

Crocheted milk jug cover 2003

Circular white crocheted piece with three-dimensional tea cup on saucer at centre, and pairs of small beige shells decorating the circumference.
Crocheted milk jug cover, 2003, by Dulcie Greeno, Tasmanian Aborigines, Launceston, 3.5 x 24.5 cm. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

Some of the ladies who do it, they're in their eighties. And they're amazing. When you get a group of Aboriginal women together, all yarnin' and laughin', it's really an amazing feeling.

Leonie Dickson, Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, 2014

A sculpture made from lengths of dark brown, bull sea kelp sewn together with black nylon string forming the shape of a left foot.
Kelp foot, 2002, sculpture by Vicki West, Tasmanian Aborigines, 19 x 5.3 x 12 cm. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

Kelp foot 2002

I think a main point would be not to focus so much on the invasion and colonisation ... [but] to look back at what we had beforehand, which we still have today, like the making [of] shell necklaces, and the bracelets, making baskets, working with ricau, which is the bull kelp. I think those things happened forever and are still happening today. This continual culture.

Tessa Atto, Tasmanian Aborigine, 2014

I go out in the water and get my kelp. Sometimes you get the goldish one, and the other one is really dark green. And we cut it and bring it home, and wash it because the sand clings to it.

Dorothy Murray, Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, 2014

Making a kelp basket

Dorothy Murray, a Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder from Cape Barren Island, talks about making a traditional kelp water basket.

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