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The Black War

The Event

The Black War (1823-1834) was fought between the Aboriginal people of Tasmania and the European settlers (Peters-Little, Curthoys & Docker, 2010). The Aboriginal people have been the sole inhabitants of Tasmania until the discovery of the island by European explorers. The discoveries lead to an influx of British settlers in 1803 (Boyce, 2010, Clements, 2014a; Clements, 2014b; Peters-Little et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2011). At the time there were approximately 15,000 Aboriginal people living in Tasmania. By 1830 number of settlers increased to approximately 23,000 outnumbering the Aboriginal people (NMA, n.d).

As the settlers began to spread and live on traditional Aboriginal land conflicts arose as the Aboriginal people and settlers competed for resources (Lehman, 2013; McMahon, 2008). The attacks continued to escalate and an operation, the Black Line, was organized to force the Aboriginal people out onto nearby islands (Boyce, 2010; Clements, 2014a; NMA, n.d; Peters-Little et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2011). After the Black Line the Aboriginal people surrendered, by then there were approximately only 220 Aboriginal people remaining due to fighting, disease and displacement (Clements, 2014b; Flood, 2006; NMA, n.d).

The remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people were relocated to Flinders Island and lived there for about 15 years. During that time there were 132 deaths mainly due to influenza (Flood, 2006). The Aboriginal people where then relocated to Oyster Cove and their numbers continued to fall until the death of Trugannini in 1876 who was thought to be the last “pure-blood” Tasmanian Aboriginal (Flood, 2006, McMahon, 2008, p.182).

Continued Effect on Indigenous Australians

The death of Trugannini is often publicized as the “end of the Tasmanian people” although there is evidence that Trugannini was not the last full blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal (Walsh & Yallop, 2007). This belief has continued to affect the lives of the tens of thousands of Tasmanian Aboriginals to this day (Lee, 2016; NMA, n.d). The Aboriginal people have continuously been denied their rights but it has been particularly difficult for Tasmanian Aboriginals to gain acknowledgement and rights for their people (Lee, 2016; Lehman, 2013).

Despite being one of the biggest conflicts between European settlers and the Indigenous Australians it is not common knowledge (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013). There is little recognition of past events and Indigenous Australians are unable to reconcile with the past. This will not be possible unless there is public recognition of the Black War (Attwood, 2005; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; McMahon, 2008).

For the Aboriginal people their land and culture is essential and it is a part of their identity (Lee, 2016; Morelli, 2017; Walsh & Yallop, 2007). However due to the sudden decrease in population it has also taken a toll on the language of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. During the time when the Aboriginal people lived on Flinders Island they were also banned from practicing their culture including speaking their language and also due to the nature of how knowledge is passed down by the Aboriginal people there is little documentation of the language (Flood, 2006; Morelli, 2017).  For Tasmanian Aboriginals today the loss of language means it is more difficult to connect with their ancestors and their cultural, which is crucial to their identity (Lee, 2016; Morelli, 2017; Walsh & Yallop, 2007).

Community Learnings

Although it is not common knowledge in Australia, numerous historians have studied the event and many have used the Black War as an example of genocide (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; Moses  & Stone, 2013). There is constant debate over whether it is a case of genocide; although many argue that it is not genocide and shares similarities with other cases of genocide. One of the similarities of the Black War and other cases of genocide are the avoidance and denial of the event (Lehman, 2013; Lemarchand, 2011).

There is a reluctance to acknowledge and admit to the terrible events of the Black War. Although there are poor records of the event there is ample evidence of the horrific events during and after the Black War and it is discussed frequently amongst academics. It demonstrates that it is an issue that cannot be ignored and it is an issue that not only affects the Indigenous Australians but also non-Indigenous Australians (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013).

For non-Indigenous Australians, it will be an issue that will continue to cause discomfit. Unless what happened in the past is acknowledged the nation cannot move forward as it will continue to live in the past. For indigenous Australians will be continue to face injustice and will be unable to gain closure of past events (Attwood, 2005; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013).

What this highlights, especially when compared with similar cases, is that it is an issue that will continue to arise unless it is addressed publicly (Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013)

Incorporation into future teachings

I think it is an important part of Australian history and a topic that can lead into looking at human rights. As members of a multicultural and globalized society I think it is important to have an understanding of human rights and its implications, as it will allow them to be more responsible citizens. (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.; Clements, 2014b; Lehman, 2013; United Nations, n.d.)

Discussion of human rights can be introduced through looking at current events for example asylum seekers and have students reflect on why there is such heated debates surrounding it. This would lead to looking closely at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the reason for its creation and why global organisations, such as the UN, were established. To understanding the establishment of the UN key historical events need to be understood and its consequences and impacts and how they were addressed. This can then be applied to Australian history and what has been done to protect human rights and what needs to be done in the future.

Key Discussion Points:

  1. What is your understanding of human rights?
  2. What are other people’s views of human rights? Do they differ from your ideas?
  3. What are your individual rights? How would you feel if they were taken from you?
  4. Does everyone share the same rights as you do?
  5. Does your right conflict with the rights of others?
  6. Do you agree with all the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is there anything you would add or change?
  7. What are the challenges involved in protecting human rights?

(Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.; United Nations, n.d.)

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