This weeks Illustrated Women in History was submitted by Nora Roe.
Trukanini/Truganani (c.1812-1876) was a Tasmanian Aborigine. At sixteen years old, in an attempt to save her people from genocide inflicted by British colonisers, she worked as an interpreter for a man named Augustus Robinson to encourage native people to move to an island missionary. She believed this was their best chance at survival as many Aborigines, including her mother and partner were the victims of violence by colonisers, as well as the new diseases brought they brought across. In reality, Robinson’s promises came to nothing and he soon abandoned them when a better job came up. Most of the people died on the journey and still more died on the island. They spent the rest of their lives under government supervision. Truganini ‘spent 20 years imprisoned, with other Aboriginal Tasmanians, on Flinders Island, and another 17 years in the Oyster Cove camp, south of Hobart.’*
Truganini lived into her sixties, seeing her people almost wiped out, and being treated as a scientific specimen as the supposed ‘last Tasmanian.’ She deeply feared what would happen to her body after she died, and this was justified, as after her death her body was put on public display at the Tasmanian Museum from 1904 to 1947, and for scientific viewings until the seventies. One hundred years after her death, the Palawa people, modern-day Aboriginal Tasmanians, were able to reclaim her remains, and she was finally put to rest.
The cruel treatment of Truganini in life and to this day, demonstrates the racist attitudes which shaped her life and the lives of Aborigine people.
‘Today they still face racist attitudes, and there are periodic incidents of violence towards them, particularly affecting those in police custody. Their generally poor living conditions mean that Aboriginal people have a far higher infant mortality rate and suicide rate and a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, and they make up a disproportionate section of the prison population.’ **
Colonisers did their best to wipe out native populations, and I hope that white people, myself included, will not let the shame we feel at the behaviour of our ancestors and an alarming number of our contemporaries, prevent us from raising up the voices of cruelly treated native people across the globe.
* Quote is from australianmuseum.net.au and has written a brief summary of her life in a far more succinct way than I have!
** quoted from https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/aboriginals