Saturday, September 27, 2008

Once Upon An Island


I did most of my research and writing about Indigenous Tasmanians on Wednesday.  Then today (Friday) Tim tried to find Tasmania flights for us, and couldn't find anything at a good time with a good price.   I was a bit sad because I thought I wouldn't be able to visit my friend.    But also now that I've read about Tasmania, I really want to see it.   I mean I wanted to go before, but it was mostly just to see my friend.   Now I'm actually very interested in Tasmania.   I feel weird saying that because what I read was fairly negative.  Yet, somehow I now feel an attachment to Tasmania.    I guess there's something about learning the history of a place.  When I read about the history, I feel sort of like I'm there.   I guess it makes me feel connected?

Anyway, the good news is we did some more searching and found good flights.   We are all booked and ready to go!

So.....This is what I've learned so far:

Tasmanian Aborigines are called Palawa. So we have the Koori in NSW/Victoria, and the Palawa in Tasmania.

Some people consider the Tasmanian Aborigines to be extinct because the last full-blooded one died in 1876. This was Truganini.

Does one needed to be full-blooded in order to count as an Aborigine?

Does my son Jack not count as a "true" Jew because his father is not biologically Jewish?

I personally think race and pure-blooded status is less important than the transmission of culture.

I think I have more concern for cultural aspects of a group that are lost.

I think when we worry so much about full-blood and ethnic purity, we become racist and closed-minded. We start telling children who they can and cannot marry--regardless of who they love or who's a better match for them.

I do understand that in some cultures and subgroups, ethnic purity is important. It's just not for me. I guess because I believe in reincarnation and that has a huge effect on how you view people. I have no feelings of the Jews being MY people because I don't know if I was Jewish in a past life. I might have been Arab. I might have been German. I might have been a Koori.

There are many myths about Tasmanian Aborigines--that because they were separated from the mainland they were less advanced.  Isolated and backwards people-unable to start a fire or use stone tools.   Archaeological evidence has shown this to be wrong.

Here's some history stuff:

Between 1808-1823, the white men felt they were lacking in sexual partners so they kidnapped the Aboriginal women.

There was something called a black war between 1828-1832.  Bad bad stuff.

A Christian missionary guy named George Augustus Robinson convinced Aborigines to move to Flinders Island. This was in 1832. I guess he convinced them it would be safer? I do sort of remember reading about this elsewhere.  Three hundred went and two hundred and fifty of them died. I'm not sure if Robinson had the best of intentions and things went wrong. Or if his intentions were not good. I'll have to read more into this.

The survivors were brought back to the mainland. Since there were only about fifty left, they were no longer seemed as a threat. It seems instead they were seen as entertainment--put on display.

Bodies of the dead were not treated with respect and they were passed on to various museums. This is despite the fact that it was important in Palawa culture for the dead to be buried in their homeland.

In 1997, a formal apology was issued to the Tasmanians. This was mostly in regard to the stolen children.   Tasmania is the first state to offer financial compensation for the stolen generations. Good on them!

There are now 150,000 descendants of the Palawa. They may not be full-blooded, but they're still part of the clan.

Some people want to start genetic testing of people to prove whether or not they are really Palawa. Other people say genetics don't matter. It's more about a culture and spiritual connection.

I have torn feelings about that. On one hand, I do find genetics fascinating. On the other hand, should someone be excluded because of blood? If they look Palawa, feel Palawa, and act goodness let them be a Palawa.   Or whatever type of Aborigine they claim to be.....It gets a bit confusing.

There is a group called the Lie Pootah people who claim to be Aboriginal, but the Palawa believes they are not. It kind of reminds me of the lost tribes of Israel. 

The Palawa language disappeared for the most part, but some folks in the modern community are trying to resurrect language by using the few words they know.

Some words in the language (provided by Lord Wiki)


krakapaka-death (that's an awesome word for death)





Oh. Here we go. There are characters in Star Wars named Followers of Palawa. I wonder if it's a coincidence?  Maybe George Lucas was obsessed with Australia too!!

Some more Tasmanian History:

At one time, Tasmania was connected to the mainland. Then the rising of the sea took away the natural bridge connecting them.  The Tasmanians became a bit stranded.

Tasmania was visited by white dutch man named Abel Janson Tasman. How funny that he ended up on an island with his name! No, I'm joking. Ha ha. He found the country and then named it after himself.
Oh.  No.  Wrong.   Actually he wasn't that vain. He named the place Van Diemen's land after the guy who had sent him on the voyage.  Then later the name was changed to his name.  

The next white people to visit were the French.

Captain Cook did a quick drive by in 1777. This was seven years after he visited the mainland and eleven years before Philip brought the convicts over.

I like putting things in perspective.

Tasmania wasn't established as a colony for convicts until 1803.

White people were horribly cruel to the original Tasmanians. It seems like killing them was almost a hobby.

White people were not punished for murdering the Palawa.    

I'm sure this is a horrific thing to deal with if you are a Tasmanian Aborigine today. Since there are no "full-blooded" ones left, this means they're part white. I think it would be hard having those genes flowing through your body.  I guess anyone, who came about as a result of a rape, has to deal with that.

Martial law was declared in 1825. Whites were allowed to kill Aborigines on site. No questions asked.

Okay.  Here we go......

This website says that Mr. Robinson was HIRED to remove the Aborigines and bring them to Flinders island.

On Flinders Island, Mr. Robinson's goal was to Christianize and civilize the Palawa. They worked and sang hymns.  The children spent time away from their heathen parents. Too bad Mr. Robinson didn't spent less time on these goals and more effort towards their health. The diet fed to them was so bad they became malnourished.

What happened to the Palawa was really horrific.  But that's okay because what we can do is just pretend it never happened.   Why deal with the past when we got denial at our disposal.  Come on!  Really!

Keith Windschuttle believes there were no huge atrocities against the Aborigines and it was all made up.

It reminds me of Holocaust denial or Global Warming Denial.   Cause we all know that Auschwitz was really a beach resort where people drank Cherry soda and sang Jewish camp songs.


I think often the first argument tried in these situations is that the events happened but were misinterpreted. If that argument fails and enough time has passed, the next argument is that the event never even took place.

I'm not saying that there are people (individuals or groups) falsely accused of crimes. That happens and it's unfortunate.  ( If you don't agree with me, obviously you didn't watch the episodes of Days of our Lives where Sammi almost got executed for a crime she didn't commit!!)

But I think too often people deal with their mistakes by denying them. This makes them feel better--either about themselves or their ancestors. We don't want anyone having a bruised self-esteem. But for the people who were wronged it makes things much worse.

If you make a mistake (or your ancestors made a mistake) admit it, apologize, and try to fix things. Is all of that really too hard to do? I don't think so.   Okay, it is hard.  But think of it this way.  It's not as bad as going to the dentist.  (uh, don't tell Jack I said that)

Deborah Lipstadt the author of a book on Holocaust denial calls this denial bullshit an assault on truth and memory. I agree with her. I think it's also an assault on trust--trust for other people and trust in yourself.

We all have our beliefs and I have mine.

I believe the Holocaust really happened.

I believe horrible things happened to the Tasmanian Aborigines.

I believe in human-induced global warming.

I also believe there's a lot of good in the world and that it helps to balance out the bad.

Anyway, I think this is my last Indigenous Australia post for awhile--at least in terms of history.  A little later, I want to learn more about their spirituality.

So in honor of that, I'm going to post this video.   It's lovely and educational.   Paul Kelly/Kev Carmody meets Schoolhouse Rock.


Tors said...

Does one needed to be full-blooded in order to count as an Aborigine?

Nope. I think it's either 1/8 or 1/16 and you're in. :-)

Yeah, a lot of bad, bad things happened over on Tasmania. It's a really tragic history.

I know I've shared my own viewpoint on culture in your other entries, but I dare again to go out on a limb and say that purity of culture and ethnicity are both given an overinflated sense of importance by many.

If you look at human history - the whole of human history - you see that cultures rise and cultures disappear. Cultures change, merge, or are swallowed up by something else, over and over and over again. It's the nature of the beast.

That's not to say that culture isn't important. But I think that once we start to become a few generations removed from the original, we do start to become different, and that's not a bad thing. It's just not.

More to the point, we are all related. We all come from the same source and the same culture.

I'm sure this is a horrific thing to deal with if you are a Tasmanian Aborigine today. Since there are no "full-blooded" ones left, this means they're part white. I think it would be hard having those genes flowing through your body. I guess anyone, who came about as a result of a rape, has to deal with that.

Well, they might also be part black, or part Maori, or part something else. :-)
I don't know. I think that when we start to dwell on the sins of our ancestors - and BTW, this analogy would well apply to most of Latin America, the descendents of the native peoples and the conquistadores who raped/pillaged them - it all gets a bit murky. I mean, denial is one thing, dwelling ad infinitum is quite another. Just sayin'. :)

Ali said...

wow a very informative post indeed. Anyways, I posted a campaign about the Hate DVD distributed in the US ( appreciate if you can do the same

frogpondsrock said...

Hi.. I am Tasmanian.. *waves hello*

Great post and accurate as well.
cheers kim

Dina said...


I agree that cultures do change and blend into each other. I think that's fine.

But I also think it's great if people and organizations work to keep parts of the culture alive.

My feeling is you can't put pressure on individuals to preserve the culture.

Let's take Judaism. I am Jewish, but have no connection to Judaism. I don't believe in the religion. I don't believe in the culture. It's not for me personally. I resent anyone who would suggest I need to be more Jewish so we can keep the Jewish culture alive.

In the same way, I think it would be unfair to pressure an Australian Aborigine living in the city to go out in the bush and be more Aboriginal--insist they participate in ceremonies, go hunting, and feast on moths.

BUT I do think it's great if there's an organization that promotes Jewish culture and organizations that promote Aboriginal culture. The people in it don't even have to BE Jewish or Aborigine.

About dwelling in past. I'm not sure. Maybe there's people out there who dwell so much on the sins of their ancestors that they've totally messed up their lives. I really don't know much about that. Otherwise, I would rather have someone dwell a little too much on the past than try to deny it or brush it aside....saying, oh we all make mistakes. Get over it.

My feeling is if a GENUINE apology is made and ammends have been made....if things are MUCH better for the group that has been wronged--then yeah. It's not really nice to keep dwelling in the past.

When there's no apology and these people are still pretty much treated like shit, then I think they have every right to still be totally pissed off. Not just about the wrongs of the past, but the wrongs of the present.

But what is the definition of "dwelling". Is writing a book about it "Dwelling"? Is having a conversation about it "dwelling?" Is having a blog about it "dwelling?"

I mean where do we draw the line between facing our past and talking about it....and dwelling too much on it?

Dina said...



Thank you for reading. Glad you liked it : )

Tors said...

I mean where do we draw the line between facing our past and talking about it....and dwelling too much on it?

I suppose that's the million dollar question. :-) Because it's all subjective, isn't it. But I do believe that too much, just like too little, is counterproductive.

No one has any right to tell anyone else that they should just get over it and move on. However... at some point in the healing process, you have to accept that you may never get satisfaction from those that wronged you. You may never get that apology, that acknowledgment, whatever you want or need. Otherwise you'll be stuck in a cycle of resentment forever, and that's not good... not good for YOU, nevermind the other person. Never depend on someone else for your own happiness. (so the psychological dogma goes, LOL)

I suppose the key factor here is that many injustices continue on and on. And perhaps most frustrating is to see symptoms of these problems that really aren't "ours" to fix, you know? I don't know what the solutions are. I don't know what proper compensation would be, who should give it, who should get it, etc. I wish it were that easy. I do know that it's not as black-and-white (pardon the expression) as people would like it to be.

We all need to change.

Dina said...


I agree about the happiness thing.

I read a good book this summer...self-help. I forgot the exact quote, but it said you are not responsible for what happened to you in your past (meaning childhood) But you ARE responsible for what happens to you in the future.

This was talking about individual life issues.

But I think you can apply it to any oppressed culture or group.

I'd say look at your past and what was done to your ancestors. Be angry about it. Understand how it effected your grandparents, how it effected your parents, and how it effects you.

Do not use this anger to get revenge on innocent people or hide from responsibility. Use that anger to demand justice and make positive changes in the world. Use that anger to protect other groups who are currently experiencing the extreme injustices your ancestors experienced.

And then find ways to make your life better.

Some might say. "Yeah. Go for it!" They need to take care of it themselves. Why do we need to help?

But I think...just like a damaged person needs help to move on in a positive direction, sometimes a whole group might need it as well.

They might NEED compensation to pull themselves out of the mess that our ancestors put them in. I also think they deserve compensation.

Now....I'm not sure really how compensation would work. I don't know how you would get the money and how would you divide it?

Is it better to give it to individual families or to give it to umbrella organizations. And who gets a piece of the pie and who doesn't.

I have no idea about that stuff. But I do think, that at least in theory, the Aborigines, African slaves, Native Americans, etc. deserve compensation.

Emma said...


I would recommend getting a hold of a copy of Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan's book Wanting, it is a novel, but gives an interesting perspective on what happened in Tasmania at the time you were writing about.

I grew up in Tasmania and have lived here all my life, but had no idea about the scope of the genocide that was committed against our indigenous population until I read it and started to look into how historically accurate it was - it was an absolute tragedy.

Unfortunately there are still massive issues with the destruction of indigenous heritage in Tasmania and big divisions exist not only between the government and the Aboriginal community, but also within the community itself.



Dina said...


Thank you so much for the book recommendation. I'll definitely put it on my list to read. I just ordered Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, and I've read One Hand Clapping.

Anyway, yeah. I'd love to know more about all this...even though it's such a horrific and tragic story.