Fresh Blood, Old Wounds: Tasmania and Guns

The most violent and unrestrained prisoners in the penal settlement at Port Jackson on the Australian mainland were transferred to Van Diemen's Land in 1803. The commander was John Bowen who was only twenty-three, and he pitched the first camp in the colony on the banks of the Derwent River at Risdon. Eventually, in 1830, Port Arthur was established as a prison settlement with thirty-four prisoners and fifteen soldiers. If Tasmania was ever innocent, it was innocent a long, long time ago. Let us never forget that the people who lived in Tasmania, when John Bowen and company first camped at Risdon in 1803, were Tasmanian Aborigines, a unique and distinct race, separate from any of the native people who lived on mainland Australia.


By 1876 there were so very few of them left alive that it became possible for the official history to say they had completely died out. Plenty of Tasmanian Aborigines are living to this day, and yet they must still fight to be recognized for who they are. Last century they were hunted down, humiliated, gunned down, massacred. The official history betrays a kind of pride that a bunch of white men with guns were able to exterminate a whole race of black people.  

The image of the hunt runs through the story of Tasmania, and it is no accident that a hotel should be called the Fox and Hounds. It was Governor Arthur who organized a series of 'solutions' to the problems of the relationship between the Aborigines and the settlers. He is perhaps best known for ordering a military expedition to round up all the Aborigines and put them in a reserve. [3]  


[3] Fresh Blood, Old Wounds: Tasmania and Guns was first published in Meanjin Volume 55 No. 3 1996 pp 389-394.Copyright Carmel Bird 1997. All rights reserved (webdoc.)