‘The secret history of Britain’s Tasmanian invasion.’
I read an article by Nick Brodie which led me indirectly to this book. I was curious. I grew up in Tasmania, and colonial history was rarely touched on during my education during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Tasmanian Aboriginals are all dead, we were told, the race is extinct. Questions about how and why were neither encouraged nor answered. I moved away from Tasmania in 1974 and have since learned more.
‘The Vandemonian War was the British Empire’s best kept secret. Invasion was called settlement. Ethnic cleansing was called conciliation. Genocide was naturalised as extinction. Even Van Diemen’s Land was renamed Tasmania.’
What had Nick Brodie discovered, and how does it change our understanding of history?
‘My discovery of the truth about the Vandemonian War started with a certain manuscript volume in the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office in Hobart. It is labelled ‘No7/Records relating to the Aboriginals’, and has the archival designation CSO1/1/320 (7878). It comes from the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, and contains hundreds of pages of inbound correspondence only a tiny fraction of which has ever been previously examined, analysed or cited by historians. These letters detail military and paramilitary operations against Aboriginal people in the interior of Van Diemen’s Land in the 1820s and 1830s.’
Until I read this book, I had (mostly) believed that while individuals and small local groups had killed Aborigines, that the colonial government had tried (however ineffectually) to protect them. It is confronting to read that was not the case, that the military and paramilitary forces deliberately drove the Aboriginal peoples from the lands they had occupied for centuries. This was no accident.
I finished this book with very mixed feelings. It is never comfortable having to revisit what was taught as truth and is now exposed – via the colonial records of the time – as inaccurate and incomplete. Documented fact, not an issue of interpretation.
‘Unearthed after nearly two centuries of established history, the Vandemonian War allows us to see that a society can be led to do almost anything – and then come to believe it did not do it at all.’
Uncomfortable, but important reading.