Tongerlongeter: First Nations Leader and Tasmanian War Hero by Henry Reynolds and Nicholas Clements

‘The subject of this book, the warrior chief Tongerlongeter, is first named in the records four days before the end of the Black War – the vast frontier conflict that consumed eastern Tasmania from 1823 to 1831.’

When I was a school child in Tasmania in the 1960s, I was taught that Truganini, the last Tasmanian Aborigine, had died in 1869. The how, the who and the why was not part of the curriculum. It was not until the 1970s that I learned this was untrue. Since then, I have been trying to learn more.

Who was Tongerlongeter, and why is he a war hero?  Firstly, while I understand that Indigenous names often have different spellings according to who recorded them, I understand that members of the Paredarerme Nation prefer the English spelling of his name as ‘Tongelongeta’.  Except for direct quotes from the book, I will use that spelling.

This book is both the history of a war (The Black War of 1823-1831) and of Tongelongeta. Colonial records tell us more about the war than the individuals. I read that Tongelongeta and his ally Montpelliatta embarked on 710 attacks during this period, killing 182 colonists and wounding a further 176. So exact, so precise. While we have no numbers of the Indigenous people killed, we are told that the ‘casualties were up to three times greater, and their population plummeted.’

‘The most important lesson driven home by the war was the central importance of the ownership and control of land.’

The British established their first settlement at Risdon Cove, opposite today’s Hobart, in 1803. From the 1820s settlement accelerated along the fertile valleys of the southeast. While Tongelongeta initially restricted his warriors to targeted retribution, the violence against his people continued to grow resulting in accelerated attacks.

By night, Tongelongeta and his people were vulnerable to ambush. They did not attack at night because they were wary of evil spirits. Tongelongeta ’s first wife was taken in one of these ambushes. But during daylight hours, Tongerlongeta and his warriors were formidable foes. They would typically surround a hut, kill the occupants, take what they wanted and then set fire to the hut. They would then vanish. And so, the war continued until an armistice was brokered.

‘After eight gruelling years, the fighting was over.’

On Saturday 7 January 1832, Tongerlongeta and the remaining 25 men, women, and one child, walked down the centre of Hobart with their hunting dogs, spears, ‘shrieked their war song’ to meet the Governor. They were exiled to Flinders Island where Tongerlongeta died in 1837.

I’ll leave the history there. History is usually written by the victors and often not questioned by those on the ‘winning’ side. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that it invites us, uncomfortable as it is, to reconsider what we think we know and mourn what has been lost.

‘There is nothing in the Tasmanian landscape to remind locals or visitors that once an island of patriots fought a desperate war against an invader.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Book 3 in my 2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. I’ve entered as a ‘Nonfiction Grazer’ and this book should be included under the heading of ‘History’.

Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmania Salmon Industry by Richard Flanagan

‘They have destroyed what we loved.’

Well, if you thought that the Tasmanian salmon industry was a sustainable example of world’s best practice, then reading this book will almost certainly change your mind. Unless, perhaps, you think this is an example of dystopian fiction. Read it and weep.

‘We were condemned to live amid the immense damage done when government abrogates its responsibilities and the only legislator is greed.’

I have read and enjoyed much of Mr Flanagan’s writing, and I had this book on my must-read list for a while. When I finally starting reading, it held my attention from beginning to end.

‘As several scientists put it to me, referencing the infamous woodchipping monopoly that devastated Tasmania’s internationally unique wildlands through the 1990s and 2000s, poisoning Tasmanian life and corrupting its democracy, salmon farming is the new Gunns.’

I am old enough to remember when Gunns was a reputable, highly regarded company, old enough to remember before Lake Pedder was flooded, and Macquarie Harbour before salmon farming. I am less familiar with Bruny Island and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel but am horrified to read about what has happened and continues to happen as salmon farms expand.

Mr Flanagan sets out facts and figures, human stories as well as stories of species loss and habitat reduction very clearly. And reading this book, it is difficult to understand how, in the face of the evidence, any rational government could have thought that Atlantic salmon farming on the scale being undertaken in Tasmania was either desirable or viable. The environmental degradation of both Macquarie Harbour and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, the diversion of freshwater to bathe the salmon, the diesel and plastic pollution associated with the industry … and this is just part of the story.

But Mr Flanagan says it far better:

‘To ask one simple question: what are we eating when we eat Tasmanian salmon?
For we eat horror: factory-farmed chicken heads and guts and claws and feathers, as well as petrochemical dyes, possible carcinogens and antibiotic residue. We dine on destruction: idyllic worlds reduced to industrial complexes that toil to the thud of dirty diesels day and night keeping millions of tortured fish alive with chemicals and dubious feed products; we sup on people’s lives destroyed by noise and official contempt. And we are eating the silencing by anonymous threats, pay-offs and the use of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements of anyone with an opinion contrary to that of the salmon industry.

And that’s just the people.’

This is an eye-opening read about an industry which employs less than one percent of Tasmanian’s workers and contributes less than two percent to Gross State Product (GSP). And, as Mr Flanagan points out, salmon farms in Europe and Asia are being moved onshore.

Read it and weep, over the damage done.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Deep by Kyle Perry

‘This is Forest Dempsey. Be careful what you wish for.’

Pirates Bay, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania. A thirteen-year-old boy walks out of the sea. There is a tattoo on his back: can he really be Forest Dempsey? Forest was believed dead: he went missing seven years ago.

The Dempsey family are well known on the Tasman Peninsula. They operate Dempsey Abalone and, using this as cover together with the weather, run a drug ring. Forest’s father Jesse was in charge, until he, his wife and Forest disappeared. His brother Davey now runs the operation, their other brother Mackenzie (known to most as Mackerel), out of gaol on strict bail, is shunned by the family including his mother Ivy.

‘Black wind at morning, sailors take warning. Black wind at night, death is in sight.’

The reappearance of Forest throws the family into crisis. Where has Forest been for all those years? Is his return tied to the emergence of the infamous Blackbeard, rumoured to be manoeuvring for a takeover of the Dempsey’s drug empire?

The story unfolds mainly through the perspectives of Mackerel Dempsey, his cousin Ahab Stark, and young Forest Dempsey. Family secrets and mysteries all have a part to play, as does the setting. Mackerel Dempsey is fighting to keep out of trouble before his next court appearance. His mother Ivy treats him with contempt. Ahab Stark is fighting his own demons and has renounced the family drug business. He has seen the cost firsthand. And Forest is surrounded by mystery.

I picked this novel up and could not put it down. I am familiar with many of the landmarks of the Tasman Peninsula and could just imagine the story unfolding there. Mr Perry has provided several well-developed characters for me to like (or loathe) and while parts of the story made me uncomfortable, I liked the way it was all drawn together in the end.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation by Anne Henderson

‘Who would have imagined that a woman born in 1897, married at seventeen, and the mother of twelve children, would be an achiever ahead of her time?’

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons (1897-1981) was born on 9 July 1897 at Duck River (Smithton) in Tasmania. She was the second of four children born to Eliza (née Taggart) and William Burnell. In this book, Ms Henderson raises the possibility that Dame Enid’s real father may have been Aloysius Joyce, the son of a wealth landowner in the Burnie district. I found this possibility difficult to reconcile with the character of Eliza Burnell contained in the book, but I guess it is possible. Does it matter? Not to me: Dame Enid has long been a hero of mine.

Moving beyond Dame Enid’s parentage, Ms Henderson describes her childhood and upbringing. Later, when the family moved to Cooee (now a western suburb of Burnie) where Eliza opened a store and a post office, Enid attended the Burnie State School. Enid and her older sister Nell attended Teacher Training College in Hobart and it was in Hobart at the age of 15 that Enid first met Joseph Aloysius Lyons, then the Labor member for the Tasmanian state seat of Wilmot. They married in Wynyard, on the 28th of April 1915: Joe was 35 and Enid 17.

And so began a partnership, which ended when Joe Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, died in office on 7 April 1939. Joe and Enid had twelve children, the youngest of whom was born in 1933. Enid and Joe had been effective partners in life and politics: they supported each other.

On 21 August 1943, Enid Lyons was elected member for the Tasmanian federal seat of Darwin (now Braddon). She was the first female member of the House of Representatives. In her maiden speech on 29 September 1943, she spoke about social security, the declining birth rate, and the need for an extension of child endowment. She also spoke about the family, about housing and the need to look ahead to policies for the post-war period.

Ms Henderson covers in detail Enid Lyon’s life and legacy. After she left politics in March 1951, she remained active: including writing three books of her own, as well as serving as a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

On moral issues Dame Enid was conservative, in keeping with her Catholic faith. Some of her children described her as remote. But it is clear that Dame Enid worked hard, and in her first parliamentary term could take some credit for the extension of child endowment and free medical treatment for pensioners.

This is the second time I have read this book. In between reads I have visited both Home Hill (the Lyons family home in Devonport) and the small cottage in Stanley where Joe Lyons lived with his aunts. Joe and Enid Lyons were a formidable team.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Enid and Joe Lyons and their achievements.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



The Others by Mark Brandi

‘I don’t really think of you much anymore.’

When Jacob turns eleven, his father gives him a diary to write in. A way of practicing writing while recording what happens as Jacob and his father go about life on their isolated farm in Tasmania. Jacob writes about their sheep; about the goats they hunt for food and the drought. Jacob has questions about his dead mother (whom he cannot remember), about the plague that and ‘the Others’ he and his father are avoiding. And he wonders about the town and when he will be able to visit it. But Jacob knows that there are some questions his father will not answer, and he knows when to be careful.

We see this narrow, constrained world entirely through Jacob’s eyes. His father is the source of his knowledge, supplemented by a dictionary, a partial encyclopaedia, and an old magazine. There are hints, as Jacob tells us what he hears and sees, that his father is hiding information from him. And, naturally, Jacob becomes curious. His father has told him not to go beyond certain boundaries, and Jacob’s fear when he does so is palpable. He is not sure whether to be more afraid of his father, or of ‘the Others’.

And the ending? It is perfectly unsettling.

‘In case you’re coming. Just in case you’re coming for me.’

This is Mr Brandi’s third novel, and I have enjoyed each of them.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens

‘Catherine though the beach would be safe, with its slim arc of sand and the cool water just beyond.’

Hobart, 7 February 1967. Young schoolteacher Catherine Turner is teaching her young Grade One students in Hobart’s Sandy Bay Infant School on a day when much of southern Tasmania is reduced to ash. After the children are sent home, Catherine rushes to the family orchard in the Huon Valley. Disaster has struck the Turner family: the apple orchard has been destroyed, and Catherine’s brother Peter lost his life as the family home burned.

In shock. Catherine visits her friend and neighbour Annie Pearson. Annie has recently had her sixth child: a daughter, after five sons. While the Pearson orchard has sustained damage, it has not been destroyed. Dave Pearson’s friend Mark and his young son Charlie were staying at the Pearson orchard when the fire hit. Mark’s wife has left, and he is waiting for her to return. Even though Mark is helping repair the damage to the orchard, Annie wants him gone.

 Catherine wants to help her father rebuild the orchard, but he does not see this as a role for a woman. Her mother is devastated by her brother’s death, and both parents seem angry with Catherine. Meanwhile, Catherine becomes fond of Charlie and becomes friendly with Mark.

The story unfolds between 1967 and the present. Into the 1970s, there are small-town prejudices to overcome, and several secrets involving the key characters. Ms Stephens captures the small-town atmosphere and attitudes as well as the struggles of the Tasmanian apple industry.

I really enjoyed reading this novel: it took me ‘home’ to Tasmania. I remember the 1967 Black Tuesday bushfires: I was ten at the time and living in Launceston. I also remember the restructuring of the apple industry during the early 1970s: members of my extended family had orchards in the Spreyton district. But I digress. This is a beautifully written novel, peopled with finely realised characters in a well-described historical setting.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Convict-era Port Arthur: Misery of the deepest dye by David W. Cameron

‘In all, close to 13,000 convicts spent time at Port Arthur during its 47-year history (with around 8 per cent of serving convicts buried there).’

In this book, Mr Cameron provides background to the establishment of Port Arthur, the history of its operation as a penal colony and its closure in 1877. We learn about the differing approaches to the treatment of convicts. about the semaphore system used to convey messages, about the ships built there as well as the coal mines, the convict operated railway and the attempts at escape. In telling the story of Port Arthur, Mr Cameron incorporates the stories of several individuals within the history, including Charles O’Hara Booth (Commandant of Port Arthur from 1833 to 1844); Mark Jeffrey (a convict who was the gravedigger on the Isle of the Dead between 1874 and 1877); and William Thompson (a cobbler transported for life in 1841 who spent a year working in the underground coal mines).

The responsibility for Port Arthur was transferred from the British government to Tasmania in 1870 and the penal settlement closed in 1877.

‘It was on that day, Monday, 17 September 1877, that the seven remaining convicts were transported to Hobart on board the schooner Harriet and the doors to buildings were locked – Port Arthur ceased to exist as a penal settlement.’

These days, Port Arthur is a tourist destination. I visited twice during the 1970s, trying to imagine convict life amongst the peaceful ruins that remain. I walked around the shell of the church and the remnants of the penitentiary, around to the dockyards. I have not been to the Coal Mine site. And I feel a need, now, to include Mr Cameron’s epilogue:

‘The most pathetic and cowardly criminal to arrive at Port Arthur entered the site on Sunday, 28 April 1996 – he killed 35 innocent people, and physically and emotionally wounded another 23 along with the psychological scarring of surviving witnesses.’

This is a comprehensive account of both the events leading to the establishment of the penal settlement of Port Arthur and its operation. I knew some of this history and learned more. This book is an important addition to Tasmania’s complicated colonial history. Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare

‘There was one road into Wellington Point and one road out.’

Alex Dove has returned to (the fictional town of) Wellington Point on the east coast of Tasmania after twelve years in England. He was eleven years old when he was sent to school in England after his parents were killed in a car accident. Alex has inherited his parents’ unprofitable farm and his father’s collection of ships in bottles.

‘The weekend Alex met Merridy he had driven to Wellington Point to look for ice-cream sticks in the school rubbish tins.’

Merridy comes to Wellington Point with her own parents: her father in a wheelchair needing care, her mother there from a sense of duty. Merridy has abandoned her studies in Melbourne to help her parents. Merridy and Alex are drawn together. They marry and are determined to make a success of life on Alex’s farm with the family they intend to have. Merridy finds a flair for oyster farming, which helps relieve financial pressures.

But things do not go according to plan and they are already becoming strangers to each other when the sinking of a ship in a storm brings Kish into their lives. Kish is part of a semi-literate crew of young offenders serving on a replica brigantine as part of a rehabilitation programme. Though the young delinquent seems truculent and disturbed, the couple take him into their home, which allows Alex to ‘indulge the extravagant idea that he had plucked from the sea a child he never had’, while Merridy finds him reminiscent of her lost brother, Hector.

I loved the setting of this novel, on the east coast of Tasmania, near the town of Swansea. This is a beautiful part of Tasmania, rich in history and naturally beautiful. I envisaged Talbot’s Store as Morris’ Store in Swansea, with its views over the main road and across the bay. The story moved slowly at times, but I did not mind, until Kish entered the story. Kish’s presence jarred, for me, and while I kept reading, my interest waned.

I finished the novel, delighted by the description of Wellington Point and the surrounding country, and hoping that the future would be kinder for the main characters.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Vandemonian War by Nick Brodie

‘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.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Historic Tasmania Sketchbook by Patsy Adam Smith and Joan Woodberry (text) Max Angus, Frank Mather and Arthur Phillips (drawings)

‘There is only one reason for Tasmania retaining so many splendid buildings: they have been lived in by people who appreciate them and are determined to preserve them.’

I have a copy of the 1977 edition of this book. Whenever I get homesick for Tasmania, I browse through the sketches and reacquaint myself with some of the magnificent nineteenth buildings I recognise. But it isn’t just sketches of buildings contained in this book, there’s a sketch of Kelly’s Steps between Salamanca Place and Battery Point, and of the iron hull of the ‘Otago’ (remember Joseph Conrad?) on the east bank of the Derwent.

I am pleased I was able to visit the Church of St John the Baptist (consecrated in 1850) last time I was in Buckland (page 58). And the Morris Store building (now housing the everyday IGA) in Swansea (page 54) is superb.

While some buildings are in private hands, others are part of the National Trust including Franklin House (Launceston); Entally (Hadspen)and Clarendon (Evandale). And a visit to Richmond would not be complete without walking through the historic village, over the bridge and up to St John’s Church in Richmond (built in 1836).

On each page, there is a reminder of Tasmania’s colonial past: from the prosperous estates and mansions owned by the wealthy to the buildings of Port Arthur associated with convict transportation. I walk along St John Street in Launceston, past St John’s Church (page 186) where my grandparents were married in 1918, past the Dorset Terrace (page 164) where I’d love to live.  Launceston also has many beautiful civic buildings, built during its prosperous past: the Albert Hall (page 150) (where I sat examinations during the early 1970s); the Town Hall (page 168) and the Custom House (page174).

The book is divided into four parts:

Nineteenth Century Tasmania



Port Arthur

Superb sketches by Max Angus, Frank Mather and Arthur Phillips are accompanied by text by Patsy Adam Smith and Joan Woodberry.

If you are interested in Tasmania’s colonial past, this book (if you can find a copy) is worth exploring.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith