Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors (from The Conversation)


Though her brave acts were acknowledged after her death, Wauba Debar’s grave was later robbed in the name of “science”.
Tirin/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Megan Stronach, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, University of Technology Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.

Aboriginal women and girls in lutruwita (Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land) were superb swimmers and divers.

For eons, the palawa women of lutruwita had productive relationships with the sea and were expert hunters. Scant knowledge remains of these women, yet we can find fleeting glimpses of their aquatic skills.

Wauba Debar of Oyster Bay’s Paredarerme tribe was stolen as a teenager to become, according to Edward Cotton (a Quaker who settled on Tasmania’s East Coast), “a sealer’s slave and paramour”.

Servitude and rescue

Foreign sealers arrived on the Tasmanian coastlines in the late 18th century. The ensuing fur trade nearly destroyed the seal populations of Tasmania in a matter of two decades.

At the same time, life became extremely difficult for the female palawa population.

Slavery was still legal in the British Empire, and so the profitability of the sealing industry was underpinned by the servitude of palawa women.

Sporadic raids known as “gin-raiding” by sealers rendered the coastlines a place of constant danger for female palawa.

Pêche des sauvages du Cap de Diemen (Natives preparing a meal from the sea). Drawn by Jean Piron in 1817. Engraving by Jacques Louis Copia.
National Library of Australia

Read more:
Noted works: The Black War

Little is known of Wauba Debar other than tales of a daring rescue at sea. Though variations to her story can be found, it most frequently details her long swim and lifesaving efforts in stormy conditions. As one version tells it:

The boat went under; the two men were poor swimmers, and looked set to drown beneath the mountainous grey waves. Wauba could have left them to drown, and swim ashore on her own. But she didn’t.

First, she pulled her husband under her arm — the man who had first captured her — and dragged him back to shore, more than a kilometre away. Wauba next swam back out to the other man, and brought him in as well. The two sealers coughed and spluttered on the Bicheno beach, but they did not die. Wauba had saved them.

Death at sea

Sadly, no one was there to rescue Wauba when she needed it. Her demise during a sealing trip, was at the hands of Europeans.

According to a sailor’s account to Cotton, Wauba was one of the “gins” captured to take along on a whaleboat sailing from Hobart to the Straits Islands (Furneaux Group) as “expert hunters, fishers, and divers, as in most barbarous tribes, the slaves of the men”.

The sailing party camped at Wineglass Bay but woke to find the women and dogs had vanished. A group set off to pursue those who’d taken them. In his 1893 account, Cotton speculated in The Mercury newspaper on the likely cause of her death:

Wauba Debar had, I suppose, been captured in like manner … and possibly died of injuries sustained in the capture, which no doubt was not done very tenderly.

The crew interred Wauba at Bicheno, and marked her grave by a slab of wood with details inscribed.

Accounts differ as to when this actually took place. In 1893, elderly Bicheno residents said Wauba was buried 10 years before the date on the headstone, placing her death around 1822.

However, in his diary entry on 24 January 1816, Captain James Kelly described how he hauled up in Waub’s Boat Harbour due to the heavy afternoon swell. Considering the area was already named after her, it can be concluded that Wauba was likely buried before 1816.

Cotton’s report imagined her burial:

Wauba Debar did not live to be a mother of the tribe of half-bred sealers of the Straits, which became a sort of city or refuge of for bushrangers in aftertime … But she, poor soul was buried decently, perchance reverently, and I suppose other of the captured sisters would be present by the graveside on the shores of that silent nook near the beached boat.

Here lies Wauba

Wauba’s reputation was such that in 1855 the public of Bicheno decided to commemorate her by erecting a railing, headstone, and footstone (paid for by public subscription) at her grave, with “Waub” carved into it.

John Allen, who had been granted land nearby, donated ten shillings towards the cost of the gravestone – notwithstanding his involvement in a massacre at Milton Farm, Great Swanport, 30 years earlier.

The inscription reads:

Here lies Wauba Debar. A Female Aborigine of Van Diemen’s Land. Died June 1832. Aged 40 Years. This Stone is Erected by a few of her white friends.

Whether prompted by a sense of loss, guilt, or admiration, the community memorialised Wauba, and by extension, the original inhabitants of the land.

Yet by the late 1800s, European demand for Aboriginal physical remains for “scientific investigation” was high. In 1893, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was determined to procure the remains of Wauba.

Waub’s Bay, Bicheno, is named after Wauba Debar.

The prevailing ethnological theories believed that the study of Australian Aboriginal people, and particularly Indigenous Tasmanians, would reveal much about the earliest stages of human development and its progress.

Wauba’s grave was exhumed, put into a box, labelled “Native Currants”, and dispatched to Hobart.

The locals were outraged. An editorial in the Tasmanian Mail newspaper condemned the act as “a pure case of body snatching for the purposes of gain, and nothing else” that “the name of Science is outraged at being connected with”.

Snowdrops bloom

Wauba’s memorial is the only known gravestone erected to a Tasmanian Aboriginal person during the 19th century, and she is the only palawa woman known to have been buried and commemorated by non-Indigenous locals.

In 2014, Olympic swimmer and Bicheno resident Shane Gould dedicated a fundraising swim to Wauba Debar’s swimming abilities and memory.

The European styled memorial serves as a reminder of the more turbulent interactions between the two peoples that shaped Tasmania’s history from the 1800s onwards.

Wauba’s empty grave is Tasmania’s smallest State Reserve. Her remains were returned to the Tasmanian Indigenous community in 1985. Snowdrops are said to bloom around the grave every spring.The Conversation

Megan Stronach, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

RICHARD WHITINGTON. Bushfire inaction from the Commonwealth? Federation is the real villain. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

Many of the shots laid on Scott Morrison are as justified as they are cheap. But in many respects his hands are tied by what our forebears voted for more than 120 years ago: narrow, not national interests. Launched by the Arnott’s Biscuit Company in 1904, the SAO remains an Australian favourite. Nobody is sure…

Source: RICHARD WHITINGTON. Bushfire inaction from the Commonwealth? Federation is the real villain. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

#AWW 2019: 120 Reviews Written

This year, I’ve read more than 120 books by Australian women, and managed to write reviews (so far) for 120 of those books.  Which books did I read?  Here’s a list:


  1. The Woman in the Green Dress                                by Téa Cooper
  2. Wundersmith (Nevermoor #2)                                 by Jessica Townsend
  3. Vasilisa the Wise                                                          by Kate Forsyth
  4. The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers                 by Kerri Turner
  5. Big Little Lies                                                                by Liane Moriarty
  6. Kal                                                                                   by Judy Nunn
  7. Lillian Armfield                                                            by Leigh Straw
  8. Force of Nature                                                             by Jane Harper
  9. The Mother-in-Law                                                       by Sally Hepworth
  10. Trace: Who Killed Maria James                                 by Rachael Brown
  11. The Lost Man                                                                 by Jane Harper
  12. The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store                           by Jo Ricioni
  13. Midnight Water: A Memoir                                         by Gaylene Perry
  14. The Red Shoe                                                                  by Ursula Dubosarsky
  15. The Orchardist’s Daughter                                          by Karen Viggers
  16. After the Party                                                                by Cassie Hamer
  17. The Chocolate Maker’s Wife                                        by Karen Brooks
  18. The Scholar                                                                     by Dervla McTiernan
  19. Home Fires                                                                      by Fiona Lowe
  20. A Murder Unmentioned                                                by Sulari Gentill
  21. Seeing George                                                                  by Cassandra Austin
  22. Mountains of the Mind                                                   by Gillian Polack
  23. Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends              by Catie Gilchrist
  24. The Fragments                                                                 by Toni Jordan
  25. Leaving the Rest Behind                                                 by Ann Nugent
  26. In a Great Southern Land                                               by Mary-Anne O’Connor
  27. Ripple                                                                                 by Annie J Ryan
  28. Kindred                                                                              by Kate Legge
  29. Eight Lives                                                                         by Susan Hurley
  30. The Things We Cannot Say                                             by Kelly Rimmer
  31. Star Crossed                                                                       by Minnie Darke
  32. The Land Girls                                                                   by Victoria Purman
  33. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone                                         by Felicity McLean
  34. The Hollow Bones                                                             by Leah Kaminsky
  35. Murder on Easey Street                                                   by Helen Thomas
  36. The Stranding                                                                    by Karen Viggers
  37. Under the Midnight Sky                                                  by Anna Romer
  38. From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage                  by Judith Brett
  39. You Must be Layla                                                             by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
  40. Heart of the Grass Tree                                                    by Molly Murn
  41. The Accusation                                                                   by Wendy James
  42. Islands                                                                                  by Peggy Frew
  43. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant                       by Kayte Nunn
  44. Queen City of the North                                                     by Trisha Fielding
  45. Welcome to Country                                                           by Marcia Langton
  46. Esther                                                                                     by Jessica North
  47. Hitch                                                                                       by Kathryn Hind
  48. Devil’s Lair                                                                            by Sarah Barrie
  49. The Postmistress                                                                  by Alison Stuart
  50. The Ex                                                                                    by Nicola Moriarty
  51. Love and Other Battles                                                       by Tess Woods
  52. Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden      by Sibella MacArthur Onslow
  53. The Book of Emmett                                                            by Deborah Forster
  54. Women to the Front                                    by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee
  55. The Boy in the Photo                                                            by Nicole Trope
  56. Fled                                                                                          by Meg Keneally
  57. Boys Will Be Boys                                                                  by Clementine Ford
  58. My Mother, a Serial Killer                           by Hazel Baron and Janet Fife-Yeomans
  59. A Creed for the Third Millennium                                     by Colleen McCullough
  60. The Boy with Blue Trousers                                                by Carol Jones
  61. Elizabeth Macarthur: a life at the edge of the world     by Michelle Scott Tucker
  62. Heart of The Cross                                                                 by Emily Madden
  63. The Collaborator                                                                    by Diane Armstrong
  64. Year of the Tiger                                                                     by Alison Lloyd
  65. The Day the Lies Began                                                         by Kylie Kaden
  66. Wedderburn                                                                            by Maryrose Cuskelly
  67. Griffith Review 65 Crimes and Punishment                     by Ashley Hays (ed)
  68. You Daughters of Freedom                                                  by Clare Wright
  69. The Year of The Fruitcake                                                    by Gillian Polack
  70. The Clockmaker’s Daughter                                                 by Kate Morton
  71. Blooms and Brushstrokes                            by Penelope and Tansy Curtin
  72. Banking Bad                                                                           by Adele Ferguson
  73. Six Minutes                                                                             by Petronella McGovern
  74. The Model Wife                                                                     by Tricia Stringer
  75. The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker                              by Joanna Nell
  76. There Was Still Love                                                             by Favel Parrett
  77. Wolfe Island                                                                            by Lucy Treloar
  78. Paris Savages                                                                           by Katherine Johnson
  79. Saturday Afternoon                                                                by Nielma Sidney
  80. Fake                                                                                            by Stephanie Wood
  81. The Blue Rose                                                                           by Kate Forsyth
  82. Redemption Point                                                                    by Candice Fox
  83. Angel of Death                                                                          by Leigh Straw
  84. Voices Beyond the Suburbs                                                    by Jennifer Horsfield
  85. Mary Cunningham: An Australian Life                                by Jennifer Horsfield
  86. In The Garden of TheFugitives                                               by Ceridwen Dovey
  87. Through Ice and Fire                                                                 by Sarah Laverick
  88. Black Glass                                                                                   by Meg Mundell
  89. Stasiland                                                                                       by Anna Funder
  90. This Taste for Silence                                                                 by Amanda O’Callaghan
  91. The Trespassers                                                                           by Meg Mundell
  92. Crimson Lake                                                                               by Candice Fox
  93. The Subjects                                                                                  by Sarah Hopkins
  94. The Suicide Bride                                                                         by Tanya Bretherton
  95. Up We Grew                                                                                   by Pamela Bone
  96. Khaki Town                                                                                    by Judy Nunn
  97. The Yield                                                                                         by Tara June Winch
  98. The Meaning of Grace                                                                  by Deborah Forster
  99. Life on the Currango High Plains                                              by Judi Hearn
  100. Cry of the Firebird                                                                        by T.M. Clarke
  101. The House of Brides                                                                      by Jane Cockram
  102. Gone by Midnight                                                                           by Candice Fox
  103. Room for a Stranger                                                                       by Melanie Cheng
  104. Australia’s First Naturalists                             by Penny Olsen and Lynette Russell
  105. Am I Black Enough For You?                                                         by Anita Heiss
  106. Battle of the Jade Horse                                                                  by Alison Lloyd
  107. The Worst Woman in Sydney                                                        by Leigh Straw
  108. The Strangers We Know                                                                 by Pip Drysdale
  109. Plots and Prayers                                                                              by Niki Savva
  110. Lapse                                                                                                   by Sarah Thornton
  111. The Crimes of Billy Fish                                                                   by Sarah Hopkins
  112. The Aboriginal Tasmanians                                                            by Lyndall Ryan
  113. The Writing on The Wall                                                                  by Juliet Rieden
  114. The Girl in The Painting                                                                    by Téa Cooper
  115. 99 Percent Mine                                                                                  by Sally Thorne
  116. Devastation Road                                                                                by Joanna Baker
  117. The Elsinore Vanish                                                                            by Joanna Baker
  118. Pain and Prejudice                                                                              by Gabrielle Jackson
  119. After She Left                                                                                        by Penelope Hanley
  120. One Summer Between Friends                                                         by Trish Morey

A mix of books: 32 non-fiction; a few collections of short stories, some crime fiction.  Some old, some new.


The Waxwork Corpse: (Charles Holborne # 5) by Simon Michael

‘Money for old rope, he thinks to himself.’

London 1965. Charles Holborne may never fit into the establishment at the Bar, but he’s certainly been capturing attention.  While he usually works for the defence, in this case he is asked to work as part of an investigation that may lead to the prosecution of a well-known public figure for murder.

A body has been found in a lake.  While it has clearly been there for some time, it is very well preserved.  It is quickly identified as the body of a senior judge’s wife, reported missing some years earlier.  But who killed her?

This case draws a lot of media attention, including from a person in Charles Holborne’s past.  A mistake, which could still cost him dearly.

And, on a personal level, there are family issue for Charles to deal with, and the Kray Twins continue to lurk in the background. Charles is lonely since he split up with Sally, but his father has him reflecting on what is important.  While the courtroom scenes are less central to this case than to other books in the series, there’s a twist.

This is the fifth book (so far) in the Charles Holborne series.  While each one could be read on a standalone basis, reading them in order is far more satisfying. Charles Holborne is a complicated, believable character, far from perfect.  A barrister you’d want in your corner.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Some of my favourite books in 2019

So far this year, I’ve finished reading 249 books.  So, I’ve set myself the task of identifying some favourites. And it wasn’t easy: I’ve read a lot of great books this year.

When I started to write this post, I intended to limit myself to ten books under each heading.  Easy, I thought.  Hmm.  I managed to achieve that restraint under one heading only (favourite fiction reads by Australian men).


Have you read any of these books?  Would they appear on your list of favourite books?  What would your list of favourite books for 2019 look like?


Here are my favourite nonfiction reads (in no particular order):

Saga Land                                                                              by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

by Robert A Caro

Stasiland                                                                                by Anna Funder

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage                      by Judith Brett

You Daughters of Freedom                                                 by Clare Wright

Am I Black Enough For You?                                              by Anita Heiss

Banking Bad                                                                           by Adele Ferguson

Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends                    by Catie Gilchrist

The Art of Growing Up                                                         by John Marsden

Pain and Prejudice                                                                by Gabrielle Jackson

Welcome to Country                                                             by Marcia Langton

Solomon’s Noose                                                                   by Steve Harris

Endeavour                                                                              by Peter Moore

The Land Before Avocado                                                   by Richard Glover

The Lonely City                                                                     by Olivia Laing



Here are my favourite fiction reads (by non-Australian authors):

The Cage                                                                                    by Lloyd Jones

The Bird King                                                                           by G Willow Wilson

The Winter of the Witch                                                        by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower                                                              by Katherine Arden

Field of Death                                                                            by Graham Brack

Laid in Earth                                                                               by Graham Brack

How We Disappeared                                                                 by Jing-Jing Lee

Lost Children Archive                                                                 by Valeria Luiselli

The Secret in Their Eyes                                                              by Eduardo Sacheri,                                                                                                                                 John T. Cullen (Translator)

The Girls at 17 Swann Street                                                       by Yara Zgheib

The Naturalist                                                                                by Thom Conroy

Three Day Road                                                                             by Joseph Boyden




Here are my favourite fiction reads (by Australian women):

The Hollow Bones                                                                          by Leah Kaminsky

Heart of the Grass Tree                                                                 by Molly Murn

The Scholar                                                                                      by Dervla McTiernan

Wundersmith (Nevermoor #2)                                                    by Jessica Townsend

The Book of Emmett                                                                      by Deborah Forster

Vasilisa the Wise                                                                            by Kate Forsyth

There Was Still Love                                                                     by Favel Parrett

Wolfe Island                                                                                   by Lucy Treloar

Paris Savages                                                                                 by Katherine Johnson

The Crimes of Billy Fish                                                              by Sarah Hopkins

Fled                                                                                                 by Meg Keneally

The Yield                                                                                        by Tara June Winch

Mountains of the Mind                                                               by Gillian Polack

The Meaning of Grace                                                                 by Deborah Forster

In The Garden of The Fugitives                                                 by Ceridwen Dovey


This Taste for Silence                                                                   by Amanda O’Callaghan

The Trespassers                                                                            by Meg Mundell


Here are my favourite fiction reads (by Australian men):

This Excellent Machine                                                               by Stephen Orr

The Year of the Beast                                                                   by Steven Carroll

Truth                                                                                               by Peter Temple

The Rip                                                                                            by Mark Brandi

Daughter of Bad Times                                                                by Rohan Wilson

Gould’s Book of Fish                                                                     by Richard Flanagan

Flames                                                                                             by Robbie Arnott

Faerie Apocalypse                                                                         by Jason Franks

The True Colour of the Sea                                                          by Robert Drewe

The Palace of Angels                                                                     by Mohammed Massoud Morsi



Pain and Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson

‘I have a disease that I know nothing about.’

I picked this book up because I saw a reference to Gabrielle Jackson’s diagnosis of endometriosis.  I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 1980, and I wondered what might have changed since then.

‘Endometriosis has been known as the ‘silent disease’, but that isn’t because women don’t want to talk about it.’

I quickly learned that while endometriosis was Ms Jackson’s starting point, her book is more broadly about women’s pain and suffering, and how that is treated (or not treated).  Ms Jackson points to a lack of education about how our bodies work, and the social taboos and stigmas that prevent many of us from talking about our genitals, sex life, pain and reproductive processes.  As she points out, many women do not know the names of parts of their anatomy.  So how can women accurately describe the location of pain when they can’t identify where it is?  Add to that the fact that in medicine the male is the default human being, then it is easy to see how women’s concerns can be overlooked and (or) ignored.  Writing this, I am reminded that many women experience different symptoms of heart attack from men and consequently can be mistakenly diagnosed.  Or, sometimes tragically, not diagnosed at all.

So I kept reading, becoming more and more uncomfortable.  I remembered, too, that I’d had many of the symptoms of endometriosis for at least ten years before diagnosis.

‘We need to know what is normal as opposed to what is common.’

Women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men, and less likely to receive effective treatment. I can relate to this, and I know several other women who can as well.  How often are men described as being ‘hysterical’?

This book is a blend of personal memoir, and presentation of reasons why women’s pain has been ignored.  There are also some hopeful signs of a better understanding.  But then I read about the earning differential between male and female doctors, that female doctors often take more time with their patients (which disadvantages them fee wise because of the way Medicare provides a greater benefit for some consultations than others).  One outcome noted:

‘In 2018, an inner-Melbourne medical practice kicked off a media storm when it put up a sign announcing female GPs would be charging more than male GPs because women’s health issues take longer to deal with than men’s, and women tend to self-select female doctors.’

So, what are the answers?  Surely the Australian health system is capable of recognising that then insertion of an IUD is more complex than a standard consultation?  Surely the Australian health system is capable of recognising that biology can have an impact on medical issues?  And, if you suffer from an autoimmune condition (as women do, more frequently than men), you’ll find some interesting information here.

I’d recommend this book to most of my friends (male and female).  Many women my age and older will be acutely aware of the social taboos and stigmas, that leave us with euphemisms and vague descriptions of ‘down there’.  I’d like to think that younger women are more knowledgeable, but I wonder.

Where to from here?

I’ll leave the last word to Ms Jackson:

‘Pain isn’t killing us, but it is denying us our full humanity.  Refusing to understand this fact of life for women is tearing opportunities from our grasp.  And I say, enough.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith