Tasmanian Aborigines on K.I.

1940 article


Last of the Tasmanians

IN this pitiful story of an old blind woman wandering alone in the bush is written the last sad episode in the history of an aboriginal race.

Ethnologists and museums of the world are still offering a goodly sum for the skulls of the Tasmanians, a people now extinct as the dodo. Conquered in an invasion of peace, the race disappeared from the face of the earth with incredible swiftness, mourned when it was too late.

Tragedy clings to the name of Truganim as the last of these shy islanders, and in Hobart Museum her portrait and her skeleton are exhibited as such, but Truganini was by no means the last.

On Kangaroo Island her sister Moorina and at least three other women, taken there by the convicts and whalers, survived her by many years, unnoticed and unknown.

Anthropologists since have scoured the bush in a grisly quest for their skulls, and even offered rewards to their half-caste children still living the natives fear the disturbing of the dead and money could not tempt them.

Living at Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, are Simpson and Seymour, both of whom can claim a full-blood Tasmanian mother. There was a certain scientist, not very long ago, who sought acquaintance with Seymour, and evinced sympathy and interest in his mother’s memory.

He offered Seymour £25 to show him her grave—but he made the mistake of a shovel on the truck when they went out to view it, so Seymour, very shrewdly, could not find it.

THREE women died together on the north coast of the island—and here is the story of the last days of Sal, Sook and Sue. Under the flowering almond tree of his beautiful farm by the sea, it was told to me by Mr. George Bell of Stokes Bay, who knew them all in his childhood.

They wandered the island in all weathers, three old women alone, and women of romantic history. Sal was from Port Lincoln. She had come over with George Meredith, of the well-known Tasmanian family, and two native boys, one of them her husband.

Sal was on the lugger Encounter Bay when George Meredith was murdered by the blacks there. She was on Kangaroo Island when “Abyssinia Joe,” a Nubian negro, terrorised the sealers, and on Neptune Island with them when they took their revenge—cajoling him over the cliff after a fur-seal, and in cold blood cutting the rope as he dangled in mid-air!

Later, she was Colonel Light’s interpreter at Rapid Bay when he landed to find the site of Adelaide, and the story is told that once, from a boat that upset, she swam nine miles of tempestuous seas across the Backstairs Passage, with a piccaninny on her back .

Sensation followed her to the end. She was knocked on the head with a waddy in a fight with Australian blackfellows at Springwater Creek —and then there were only two, Sook and Sue.

Mr. BELL remembers that they used to bring in a few pelts to his father, and maybe do a day’s work for his mother.

In the course of the years, Sue went blind. Her little friend Sook guided her everywhere, fed her, and cared for her, and never left her in an epic devotion, until Sook, too, died of old age at Middle River.

The blind woman was left alone. She wandered for a week before they found her, with very little food, and then, in an amazing sense of tracking that probably has not its parallel among the native races of earth, she led Mr. Bell and his father back to Sook's uncovered body, finding the tracks with her feet!

The Bells adopted Sue, and took her to Stokes Bay to live with them—but still she wandered, and gave them a lot of trouble. If they locked her in, she wailed the whole night through.

“I wish my heart stop now, she told the boys. “I die.”

ONE morning she was gone, and though they scoured the bush for months, they never found her.

Truganini’s life was monotonous in comparison with that of her long-lost sisters on Kangaroo. After her famous trail with G. A. Robinson, to muster the blacks throughout Tasmania which dismally failed, by the way —the main events in her life were five husbands and an occasional Government House ball.

It is a curious fact that the women should have so long outlived the men, but so it is with the aboriginal race throughout Australia.

Descendants of the Tasmanian people, half-castes and quarter-castes all, are still to be found in a little government settlement of Flinders Island, fishing and shipping mutton-birds for a living in a Pitcairn of Bass Strait—but all traces and memories of their interesting ancestry to them are completely lost.

ABC weekly / Australian Broadcasting Commission. Call Number N 059.44 AUS; Created/Published Sydney : ABC, 1939-1959; Issue Vol. 2 No. 24 (15 June 1940). Image 57.

Tasmanian Aborigines on Kangaroo Island

by Norman Barnett Tindale

B.Sc., Ethnologist, South Australian Museum, published 1937