Back in June, new Governor Barbara Baker announced that her government would seek a pathway to a treaty with Aboriginal people and a Truth Telling process.
A month later, one of the great characters of the Aboriginal people, Jack Charles, appeared in Who do you think you are? and traced his ancestry to Tasmania.
In the program, a couple of people mentioned that Aboriginal women had been 'traded' to the sealers. Where did they get that idea from? The view that sealers had harmonious relations with Aborigines stems from two sources: Lyndall Ryan and Patsy Cameron. Ryan and Cameron both portray the sealers as anything but kidnappers, rapists and torturers, despite evidence that that is exactly what they were.
In 1981, Ryan wrote that Aboriginal women were offered to the sealers in an attempt to incorporate the 'visitors' into their own society. In 2012, Ryan added that by 1812 in the north-east, different Aboriginal groups met in November 'in anticipation of the [arrival of] sealers,' suggesting a welcome.
Patsy Cameron goes further than Ryan, claiming acquisition of females by the sealers was arranged under traditional law. She does not disclose the law, and further claimed Manalakina 'traded' three of his four daughters, without a shred of evidence.
Cameron does not address the question of why, if not for sex, only females were taken by the sealers.
Although the females taken were mostly adolescents and young babies, Ryan and Patsy Cameron give the impression the girls abducted were adults.
Hiding the inhumane treatment of Aboriginals during those horrible years is irresponsible and untrue.
What did the Aboriginal victims themselves say? Pulara was from Cape Portland. In 1830 she recalled that -
[James] 'Munro and other sealers rushed at their camp fires and took six [girls]; she was a little girl and could just crawl; she had been with Munro ever since.'
Many adolescents, bits of girls, and in some cases babies, were abducted by the sealers, but only if they were female.
At Waterhouse in 1820, four girls - Moretermorrerluner aged eight; her sisters Meeterletteyer aged seven and Warraneenaloo aged ten, and Plorenernooperner aged 15, were all abducted by sealer Peterson. At Gun Carriage in 1830, Robinson concluded that Peterson cohabited with Moretermorrerluner since she was taken as an eight-year-old.
The captured girls were raped, bashed, whipped, shot and killed (Worethmaleyerpodeyer and Murrerninghe) and made to work for the sealers under a hellish regime.
Pulara remembered -
the white men tie the black women to trees and stretch out their arms (shewed the way they tied them), and then they flog them very much, plenty much blood, plenty cry-this they do if they take biscuit or sugar.
The way Aboriginal history is portrayed affects the way Tasmanians respond to Aboriginal calls for land rights and treaty.
Hiding the inhumane treatment of Aboriginals during those horrible years is irresponsible and untrue. Contending my people freely gave away our young girls should not be made without evidence.
Ryan and Patsy Cameron are not entirely wrong. Pulara, from lumaranatana (Cape Portland) said her people took women from the black men at Port Dalrymple and sold them to sealers for dogs, mutton birds, flour etc. So, one Aboriginal group bartered captured women. But was this a single occasion, limited to disposing of the spoils of battle? The victim in that case was Lowhenunne, who died in 1829 at Bruny Island. Ryan and Patsy Cameron convey the impression that this was the rule rather than the exception.
All but a few of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population was on Flinders Island and its surrounding smaller islands by the 1830s.
Most had been exiled from their traditional lands under a promise that when peace with whites was restored, they could return to their traditional lands and again live as they had, protected as British citizens under British law.
Robinson's diary reads -
'This morning I developed my plans to the chief Mannalargenna and explained to him the benevolent views of the government towards himself and his people. I informed him in the presence of Kickerterpoller that I was commissioned by the Governor to inform them that, if the natives would desist from their wonton outrages upon the whites, they would be allowed to remain in their respective districts and would have flour, tea and sugar, clothes etc given them; that a good white man would dwell with them who would take care of them and would not allow any bad white man to shoot them, and he would go with them about the bush like myself and they then could hunt. He was much delighted.'
The promise was not kept, then, or by governments since.
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