Community of Thieves by Cassandra Pybus

‘As a student of history it was never my own past that drew my attention.’

I recently read ‘Truganini’ by Cassandra Pybus. I remembered that I had a copy of this book on my bookshelf, sought it out and read it.

In 1829, Cassandra Pybus’s great great grandfather, Richard Pybus, took up a large land grant on Bruny Island, the traditional home of the Nuenone people of south-east Tasmania. Within months of Richard Pybus’s arrival, there were no Nuenone left on the island.  The Nuenone had either died from disease, been murdered or exiled.  Truganini, the last of the Nuenone, died in 1876.

While Truganini’s story is covered in more detail in ‘Truganini’, this book (published in 1991) is a more personal reflection on the impact of European colonisation of Tasmania.

‘The white community has never once been willing to share this country and its resources with the original inhabitants.  Watching with dismay and pain the smug back-patting of the bicentenary, I saw that Australia had become a land of fictional values seized upon and celebrated by fictive selves.

If we are the people we claim to be, how can it be that Aboriginal people live in conditions of poverty and squalor, suffering disadvantage on every measure in gross disproportion to their numbers?’

Thirty years have elapsed since Ms Pybus wrote this book.  In 1992, Paul Keating delivered the Redfern Speech.  In 2008, Kevin Rudd delivered his ‘Sorry’ speech (to members of the stolen generations).  Fine speeches, but what else has changed?  Given the response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017) — not enough.

I am (and should be) discomfited when I read accounts of Australia’s colonial past.  I am even more discomfited when I read accounts of the treatment of Indigenous Tasmanians.  I wonder where my own ancestors were, and what my family’s personal account might look like?  One day, I might have the courage to look.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith