Tasmania's Aboriginal history


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Tasmania has a rich Aboriginal history dating back 40,000 years.

How Aborigines came to be in Tasmania

During an ice age, the first inhabitants crossed over to the island from mainland Australia via a land bridge. Indigenous Tasmanians were the most southerly population on the earth at that time.

How the original Tasmanians lived

The original Tasmanians were hunters and gatherers. They had a good understanding of their environment and the seasons. Using this knowledge, they were able to harvest a variety of food sources.

They used fire to control the growth of grasslands. This practice supported an abundance of animals such as wallabies and kangaroos.

They traveled to outer islands in bark canoes. This allowed them to harvest muttonbirds and seals.

People camped in groups of families. Several family groups formed a band. At the time of European contact, there were nine language groups in Tasmania.

Impact of European settlement

As was the case elsewhere in Australia, with European colonisation came the decline of the Aboriginal population.  This was largely due to introduced diseases and conflicts with the new arrivals.

It is estimated that in 1803, there were between 5,000 and 10,000 Aboriginal people in Tasmania. By 1833, just 30 years later, the indigenous population was down to 300. I feel very sad when I think of those 30 years. In fact it upsets me when I think of any time people die as a result of persecution or neglect.

Outstanding Aborigines

In the midst of this tragic time for the indigenous population, there were some outstanding individuals. One Aborigine who tried to make a positive difference was Truganini. Even today, her story is an inspiration to everyone.

Another well-loved Tasmanian Aborigine is Fanny Cochrane Smith. To me, her life story is a shining example for us all. She strikes me as someone who had a generous spirit and a giving heart.

Aborigines in Tasmania today

It is believed that currently, there are around 150,000 people of Aboriginal descent living in Tasmania. Many Aboriginal communities work at ensuring that the richness of their traditions and culture are not lost. For example, the Tasmanian Palawa Aboriginal community is working to revive a Tasmanian language using available records.

Aboriginal heritage

You can learn about Aboriginal history and culture at these places:

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
The permanent Aboriginal exhibition showcases the cultural riches of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations.

Tiagarra Aboriginal Centre, Devonport
Learn about the life of tribal Tasmanian Aborigines. You can also wander the Mersey Bluff headlands and view aboriginal rock engravings.

Jahadi Indigenous Experiences, Deloraine
Get a better understanding of the significance of the region from the perspective of the Palawa Aboriginals. You can also join tours visiting sites where you can learn more about indigenous culture.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Stories

In Aboriginal history and culture, there are many stories explaining why land forms and creatures are endowed with certain features.

I love these stories and have collected some for you:

Taraba - The Tasmanian Devil - why the creature looks and sounds as it does today

Toorittya - The Wattle Bird - why the bird looks and sounds as it does today

Koonya - The Black Swans - how these creatures came into being

Luina - The Blue Wren - how this beautiful bird got its appearance

Oonah - The Platypus - how this creature got its unusual appearance

Publedina - The Wombat - how this creature came to be known as brave and strong

To me, these stories have a special place in Tasmanian Aboriginal history.


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