Aboriginal Tasmanians facts for kids
|Palawa / Pakana / Parlevar|
Illustration from "The Last of the Tasmanians" – Wooreddy, Truganini's husband
|Regions with significant populations|
|English (Australian English, Australian Aboriginal English) Palawa kani; formerly Tasmanian languages|
|Christianity; formerly Aboriginal Tasmanian religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Aboriginal Tasmanians (Palawa kani: Palawa or Pakana) are the Aboriginal people of the Australian island of Tasmania, located south of the mainland. For much of the 20th century, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people were widely, and erroneously, thought of as being an extinct cultural and ethnic group that had been intentionally exterminated by white settlers. Contemporary figures (2016) for the number of people of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent vary according to the criteria used to determine this identity, ranging from 6,000 to over 23,000.
First arriving in Tasmania (then a peninsula of Australia) around 40,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Aboriginal Tasmanians were cut off from the Australian mainland by rising sea levels c. 6000 BC. They were entirely isolated from the rest of the human race for 8,000 years until European contact.
Before British colonisation of Tasmania in 1803, there were an estimated 3,000–15,000 Palawa. The Palawa population suffered a drastic drop in numbers within three decades, so that by 1835 only some 400 full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal people survived. The traditional view, still affirmed, held that this dramatic demographic collapse was the result of the impact of introduced diseases, rather than the consequence of policy.
By 1833, George Augustus Robinson, sponsored by Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, had persuaded the approximately 200 surviving Aboriginal Tasmanians to surrender themselves with assurances that they would be protected, be provided for and eventually have their lands returned to them. These "assurances" were false; there is no suggestion that Robinson or Lieutenant-Governor Arthur intended anything else but exile to the Furneaux Islands, and the assurances were given by Robinson in order to facilitate the removal of the Aboriginal people from mainland Tasmania.
The survivors were moved to Wybalenna Aboriginal Establishment on Flinders Island, where diseases continued to reduce their numbers even further. In 1847, the last 47 living inhabitants of Wybalenna were transferred to Oyster Cove, south of Hobart. Two individuals, Truganini (1812–1876) and Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834–1905), are separately considered to have been the last people solely of Tasmanian descent.
The complete Aboriginal Tasmanian languages have been lost; some original Tasmanian language words remained in use with Palawa people in the Furneaux Islands, and there are some efforts to reconstruct a language from the available wordlists. Today, some thousands of people living in Tasmania describe themselves as Aboriginal Tasmanians, since a number of Palawa women bore children to European men in the Furneaux Islands and mainland Tasmania.
Images for kids
The shoreline of Tasmania and Victoria about 14,000 years ago as sea levels were rising showing some of the human archaeological sites – see Prehistory of Australia
Robert Dowling, Group of Natives of Tasmania, 1859. Critic Bernard William Smith assessed the work as a "history painting in the full sense of the word", with the natives "seated – emblematic of their situation – around the dying embers of a burnt-out log near a great blackened stump, and in the far left corner there is a leafless tree with shattered branches."
Horace Watson recording the songs of Fanny Cochrane Smith, considered to be the last fluent speaker of a Tasmanian language, 1903. Singer Bruce Watson, descendant of Watson, composed a song about this picture and later performed it with singer Ronnie Summers, a descendant of Smith.