Removal of Abel Tasman plaque will show reconciliation, group says

The removal of the plaque in Launceston commemorating Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s “discovery” of Tasmania would show reconciliation “in its best form”.

That’s according to Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chairman Clyde Mansell, who said Treasurer Peter Gutwein’s decision to backtrack on the removal was a poor choice.

On Wednesday a development application from the Department of Treasury, which sought the removal of the plaque from a heritage facade, was advertised for the government-owned building at 55 St John Street.

The plaque was installed in 1942 by the then-government to commemorate 300 years since Tasman’s voyage.

The removal request followed a complaint made by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation about the plaque’s wording, which TAC said could be interpreted to mean the island was not known about, or inhabited, by people prior to Abel Tasman’s arrival.

“It’s about time that government-run bodies recognise the fact that Aboriginals were living in what is now known as Tasmania for thousands of years and when the white sailors came onto this island they weren’t discovering the place, they were making a connection or seeing it for the first time,” Mr Mansell said.

He said the plaque was not historically accurate, a sentiment shared by president of the Launceston Historical Society Marion Sargent.

While Abel Tasman was not the first to discover Tasmania, he was the first European to come across the island, Mrs Sargent said.

“It’s the way things were in 1942 and the way people thought, it is part of our history and we can’t deny that,” she said. “If it was removed we would like to see it put in the museum because it gives people an idea of how thinking has changed.”

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said reversing the decision to remove the plaque was “yet another” example of the Liberals’ disrespect for Tasmania’s first people.

“If this plaque creates distress among Aboriginal Tasmanians, and they have given voice to that, then we should respond to that and respect it,” she said.