Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Tasmanian Aboriginal People

The Aboriginal people of Tasmania had been the most isolated group of people on the Earth since 10,000 years ago, and had lived on the island of Tasmania for 35,000 years at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans. From the time of first contact it didn't take long for the colonists (invaders to the locals) to begin taking their land from them, often with extreme violence. They fought a guerilla war against the Europeans for about 30 years, all the time gradually succumbing to the superior weapons and introduced diseases. The few that survived the decimation lived on. It was said they had died out, but in 1994 there were still 7,000 Tasmanian Aboriginal People.

According to Flood1 the culture of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people has been misjudged and undervalued since 1830 when the journals of  Robinson who described what remained of their culture, neglecting to mention that at that time the natives had been decimated by 30 years of war and disease, that the few survivors were too busy trying to survive to spend time with ceremonies. He claimed they didn't hold large ceremonial gatherings as the peoples of the mainland did. That would have been difficult as the population of tribal Aboriginal people surviving at that time has been estimated as about 300 for the entire island of Tasmania, and they were still carrying on their guerilla war of survival.

Another result of Robinson's journal was the claim that they didn't know how to make fire, a man always carrying glowing embers whenever they moved camp. Flood1 says that this myth is based on evidence from Robinson's journal where he mentions that had never seen the Aboriginals making fire, always carrying around fire sticks. The Aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania, as Flood says "These most southerly representatives of the human race have an impressive prehistory indeed". They arrived in Tasmania prior to the last glacial maximum and with no previous experience of such conditions in their lives had adapted to survive the worst of the glacial period and readapted to the post-glacial world to continue surviving as the most southerly humans.

There is a document written in 1887 that describes the lighting of fire by Tasmanian Aboriginal People in detail, that has apparently been overlooked by those accepting Robinson's opinion on the statement as fact.

In Notes on the Tasmanian Aboriginal People, by Edward Octavius Cotton, of Kelvedon, near Swansea, East Coast of Tasmania, apparently in the hand of James Backhouse Walker,  held in the Special and Rare materials collection at the University of Tasmania that hasn't been published, is a description of the lighting of fire by a Tasmanian Aboriginal, and their travelling to Maria Island on a log. To view the hand written document on the site link 1 click on the PDF file on that site.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, JB Publications, 2004


  1. Notes on the Tasmanian Aboriginal People


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 30/04/2012


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