I had dinner with the folks last night and got to chatting with my little sister who enlightened me with stories from her high school history class. Their current syllabus centres on Australia and more specifically the events around the Black War in Tasmania. While the stories of colonial depravity against the Tasman Aborigines were sobering, I was outraged to discover that the whole affair has never been acknowledged as an act of genocide by our government.
Van Diemen’s Land, known for being densely forested, offered little in the way of habitable grasslands. When colonials began to settle in Tasmania en masse, they forcibly removed native communities from these fertile grounds, ultimately resulting in direct conflict. The alleged war, which lasted for close to a decade from the 1820s, effectively eradicated a people that had made the island their home for thousands of years.
As the Aboriginal communities began to fight back George Arthur, the Lieutenant-Governor, declared martial law. Such a mandate ensured legal immunity for the oncoming genocide that crescendoed in a six-week offensive known as the Black Line, in which colonial civilians and soldiers, stretching hundreds of kilometres, drove the remaining natives all the way to the Peninsula.
The physical and psychological effect of this offensive forced the survivors to surrender and accept relocation to Flinders Island. Less than fifty years later, Truganini, the last of the Tasman Aborigines would be dead, her remains put on display against her own wishes.
It got me to thinking about Paper Tiger, an article I read by Brooke Jarvis last weekend. The piece is a fascinating expose on the conspiratorial hunt for the Tasmanian Tiger, a creature that has been extinct for almost a century. What was fascinating were the character studies, of the human psyche not wanting to accept accountability for our ability to bring about extinction in the first place.
As Jarvis notes: "On a planet reeling from the alarming consequences of human activity, it’s comforting to think that our mistakes may not be final, that nature is not wholly stripped of its capacity for surprise.”
The fact of the matter is that the Tasman Aborigines were treated no different to the Tasmanian Tiger. They were a menace, an inferior species that had no right to share in and enjoy the fruits of their homeland. The conflict was akin to an adult provoking a child to a fistfight, goading the frightened youngster into throwing the first punch before delivering a fatal beating.
After examining the various voices of authority online, I was appalled at the pervading denial that runs through the debate. These compulsive naysayers don’t want to accept the brutal reality that actions have consequences, to admit their ancestors might have blood on their hands. One thing is clear. Ethnic cleansing doesn’t just transpire. It takes the blind will of a collective; a compulsion to silence any shades of moral doubt and confront the task with a level-headed practicality, putting your head down until everything is in its right place.