Tasmania’s Aboriginal community leaders say it is hurtful there is still no memorial recognising the state’s bloody history, despite the announcement this week of a planned multi-million dollar Holocaust education centre for Hobart.
- Tasmanian Aboriginal community leaders have slammed inaction by governments at each level to properly memorialise atrocities committed against their people
- It comes just days after plans for a Holocaust education centre were announced by the federal Treasurer in Hobart
- Aboriginal community members say politicians are ignoring wars fought in their own country
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced plans for the centre on Tuesday, saying the federal government would commit $2 million towards it.
Nala Mansell, campaign manager for the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, said while it was important to remember and reflect on atrocities committed as part of World War II, history much closer to home was being ignored.
“There was a massive war that took place here in Tasmania,” Ms Mansell said.
“There are still no monuments acknowledging the Aboriginal resistance fighters of those who lost their lives and there are certainly no museums to educate people on the history and treatment of Aboriginal people and that’s a disgrace,” she said.
“While Aboriginal history is completely ignored, we see state and federal governments offering millions of dollars for other groups who have also been victimised.”
In the 19th century, the government tried to rid Tasmania of its native people through massacres and individual killings.
It caused the state’s Aboriginal population to fall from somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 in 1803, to a couple of hundred in the 1830s.
Rodney Dillon, co-chair of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Regional Communities Alliance (TRACA), said he also supported the proposed Holocaust centre but said a lack of acknowledgement of wrongdoing against Aboriginal people was a widespread problem.
“Our people here were slaughtered for their land — men, women and children — and I think it’s a tragedy that isn’t recognised,” Mr Dillon said.
“The first war was here in this country on our people and there’s nothing to recognise that, and it makes me so angry and sad.”
Memorial ‘long overdue’
There are many examples of atrocities committed against Tasmania’s native people.
The Black War, which took place from the mid-1820s until around 1832, included multiple massacres, like at Cape Grim in 1828 when 30 Aboriginal men were shot and thrown off the cliffs after trying to protect women from sexual assault by white settlers.
It all culminated in the few hundred surviving Aboriginal people being forced into exile at Wybalenna on Flinders Island, where many died of disease and malnutrition.
Lyndall Ryan, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Newcastle, specialises in Tasmanian Aboriginal history and has mapped massacre sites across the state.
“It’s a story that is known across the world and a Tasmanian doesn’t have to travel far to find that just about everyone else knows the awful story about the near-genocide of Tasmanian Aboriginal people,” Professor Ryan said.
She said a memorial of the events in Tasmania was “long overdue”.
“We really need a memorial to the Black War, to the terrible loss of life and an acknowledgement that there was a concerted attempt to destroy the Tasmanian Aboriginal people,” she said.
Ms Mansell said she didn’t mind what form the memorial took, but it was necessary that something be done so her people could move forward.
“It’s a very shameful history that we have here, but it’s impossible to move forward until we acknowledge the past and start talking about how we can move forward together,” Mr Mansell said.
“It’s great to see the state and federal government can empathise with some people, it’s important for us to learn about the tragic history of people all over the world.
Mr Dillon said all levels of government had to be held accountable.
“This country has never been able to do that … our country has never matured enough to recognise the wrongs of the past,” he said.
State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Roger Jaensch said the government was always open to discussions about what more could be done.
“We are committed to closing the gap, resetting the relationship and reconciliation with Tasmania’s Aboriginal People,” Mr Jaensch said.
Mr Jaensch also pointed to ongoing reviews of the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the model for land returns.
“Importantly, we are working hard to address generations of silence on the subject of Tasmania’s Aboriginal history and culture by bringing Tasmanian Aboriginal voices into our schools,” he said.
Federal Minister for Aboriginal Australians Ken Wyatt was contacted for comment.