Truganini is probably the best known Australian (Tasmanian) Aboriginal woman of the colonial era.
She was of the Nuenonne group, born on Bruny Island in about 1812, just nine years after British settlement was established further north on the mainland, close to what is now Hobart. By the time she had learned to collect food and make shell necklaces, the colonial presence became not only intrusive but dangerous. She had experienced and witnessed violence, rape and brutalities inflicted on her people. By the time she was 17 she had lost her mother, sister, uncle and would-be partner to violent incidents involving sailors, sealers, soldiers and wood cutters. At this time, in 1829, the Black War was under way and Truganini was detained at the Missionary Bay station on Bruny Island.
Placed in the custody of Augustus Robinson, a government-backed conciliator who set out to capture all independently living Aboriginal Tasmanians, she remained for the rest of her life under the supervision of colonial officers. Except for a short interlude, accompanying Robinson in his travels to Port Phillip (now part of Melbourne), she spent 20 years imprisoned, with other Aboriginal Tasmanians, on Flinders Island, and another 17 years in the Oyster Cove camp, south of Hobart.
Details of her biography are sketchy, predominantly drawn from the journals and papers of Robinson, with whom she was associated for ten turbulent years until her long detention on Flinders Island. She was bright, intelligent and energetic, known as one of the few Aboriginal Tasmanians rooted in pre-contact language and culture, who survived beyond the middle of the 19th century. She was frequently depicted in paintings and photographs. In 1836 artist Benjamin Law produced her bust-portrait. When the artist was putting the finishing touches on her sculpture in Hobart, Truganini was already imprisoned on Flinders Island.
Finally, a hundred years after her death, the Palawa people, modern Aboriginal Tasmanians, succeeded in reclaiming Truganini's remains. On 30 April 1976 her remains were cremated at the Cornelian Bay crematorium where Rosalind Langford, former Secretary of the Aboriginal Information Service in Tasmania, delivered the oration. The following morning, just seven days short of the centenary of her death, Truganini’s ashes were scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, close to her birthplace and homeland.
Clancy's comment: Sadly, many of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters experienced tough times when they dealt with the white settlers.