Commencing research about the original aboriginal communities living and walking along the Derwent River

In earlier posts, I acknowledged the original aboriginal custodians of the land over which I have walked: refer to https://walkingthederwent.com/2014/08/21/acknowledgement-of-country-to-the-moomairremener-people/, and https://walkingthederwent.com/2014/11/10/the-paredarerme-people-the-original-indigenous-owners-of-the-land-along-the-derwent-river/.

My last blog posting referred to a book telling the story of a walk from the mouth to the source of the Yarra River in Victoria on mainland Australia.  Many steps of the author’s journey were associated with aboriginal stories past and present and this made me wonder what could be learnt here in Tasmania around the Derwent River. The history of aboriginals in Victoria and elsewhere on mainland Australia, is very different to that in the isolated island state of Tasmania.  Around 10,000 years ago, when the sea rose to form Bass Strait, Tasmanian aboriginals were cut off completely from their relatives on the mainland of Australia.

From the 1870s, for the next 100 years, the official Tasmanian government line was that the entire aboriginal population had been exterminated. No full blood descendants of the original indigenous peoples have survived however there is a sizeable minority of population in Tasmania now who proudly declare themselves as descendants from specific aboriginal ancestors.

During these cold winter days, I have started research seeking to understand the lives of indigenous bands and tribes which roamed the land from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River.  My starting point is my belief (which may be found to be incorrect) that, prior to European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania),

  • indigenous peoples had a significant history with activities, practices, laws, dress, property that are unique as a collection, although individual aspects may be common with mainland indigenous peoples.
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning tribal family system
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning interaction system with other tribes
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning communication system with other tribes
  • indigenous peoples were thriving

Most historians, anthropologists, sociologists, other researchers and various document writers have introduced ‘facts’ and conjecture about the nature and impact of events subsequent to European settlement, and I suspect this has been to the detriment of understanding the original situations of indigenous people.   As a result, I suspect at least some people who identify currently as having Tasmanian indigenous heritage, focus more with the outrages of the past 200 plus years than with the life of their ancestors, pre-European settlement. I wonder whether historians, anthropologists, sociologists, other researchers and various document writers (almost all of whom were original settlers in Van Diemen’s Land, are the descendants of the non-indigenous peoples, or are in some other way, non-indigenous) have presented a clear picture of the nature of the original indigenous peoples without the shadow of events post-settlement in 1803. Considering the political activism of some of the descendants of the original indigenous populations, their attempts to censor studies and dispute evidence, and their destruction of ancient artefacts, it may not be possible to create a clear picture, however I plan to try (and it may take time).

8 thoughts on “Commencing research about the original aboriginal communities living and walking along the Derwent River

      1. Lois

        Have you read ‘The Last Man’ by Tom Lawson? I have a copy of it but have just realised I haven’t read it yet – your post has reminded me to do so!

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          1. Lois

            It’s a beautifully produced book, feels lovely in your hands – elegantly written to… I must get back and start reading it again, probably go back to the beginning!

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            1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

              So far my problem with the books and reports I have read on this topic is that too many contain unsubstantiated conjecture which I think demonstrates a variety of agendas that the writers have. At the same time, the writers are all passionate and believe they are disclosing the ‘real’ story. So I will be interested to read Lawson’s book.

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              1. Lois

                Yes… agenda… It’s very easy to be swept along by what the author says, without considering what s/he means beneath the words!!

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