This site will accumulate all manner of oddities, in academic and artistic extremis, as I explore how the world has seen some of my ancestors. Among all of this there will be the bizarre, beautiful, offensive, romantic, ignorant and unbelievable. Hopefully there will also be the occasional tad of wisdom to be uncovered to help us navigate the treacherous shoals of cultural identity – race, imperialism, gender and forgetting. Together, all of this will mark my progress in mapping the visual representation of Tasmanian Aborigines by the rest of the world from the 17th century and beyond.
There is a sad lack of resources available on line for anyone interested in the appearance of Tasmanian Aborigines in history – some of it self-seeking nonsense to be studiously avoided! So be careful. Hopefully my blog will reduce this problem a little and prompt some critical thought in the process. Please browse some of my links for better sources.
I welcome comments, criticism, bagging out and (most of all) contributions of obscure examples of image and text that will help me to compile the real and imaginary of Tasmanian Aboriginality in the world’s perverse, ethno-hysteric, romantic, scientific, colonial, fanciful, bleary, ever-wandering gaze.
The site will become more structured as it grows, so keep an eye on the content. Hopefully it will make some sense in time.
For more focused reading, a selection of essays, reviews and other work can be found here.
Who Do I Think I Am?
I’ve worked in Aboriginal organisations, agencies running heritage and education programs, universities and research institutes pretty well all of my life. Most of that time was spent making a lot of political noise. I eventually realised that most of that noise was emanating from a sparsely filled space in my own life that should have been overflowing with knowledge about the cultural history of my family and the community I live in. So now, instead of spending my time telling people what they should be thinking and doing about the mess that colonialism has made of the island I come from, I try to make that space a little less empty by investigating the visual history that has been left behind and how it has influenced what we think about the past.
Hopefully a few of the things I find will be worth something to others who call Tasmania home.
A Personal Visual History
‘Nana’ Mary Christina Kennedy (nee Hearps) 1 March 1868-6 Feb 1945
For me this project is about family and where we come from. This is my Father’s grandmother.
Nana is seen here c. 1930, on her way to Melbourne ‘across the other side’. She is wearing her wallaby skin coat. Nana was just born one year after Wapperty, the last of her tribally-born elders had died. I don’t know what she thought about her Aboriginal ancestors. But that coat makes me think she would have had some yarns to tell.
Nana’s Grandmother’s name was Jane Baker (1826 – 1898). She married an Englishman by the name of John Hearps. This photo was probably taken at their farm at Dunorlan.
Jane was the first child of Dalrymple (Dolly) Briggs, perhaps the most famous of my ancestors. I have yet to find a photo of her. This article by Nicholas Brodie provides an examination of her and the legend of her life.
The father of Wapperty and Woretemoteyener was the ‘Clever Man’ Manalagena. He is perhaps best known from this c.1832 watercolour by convict artist Thomas Bock.
A more accurate resemblance of Manalagena can be seen in this bust. I photographed this at the Natural History Museum in Paris, where it is one of a number of Tasmanian Aboriginal busts from the collection of the Phrenologist Pierre-Marie-Alexandre Dumoutier.