The Lia Pootah and Palawa People
WHO MAKES UP THE TASMANIAN ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY?
Those who make up today’s Tasmanian Aboriginal population fall into
two completely separate groups with very different cultural histories and lines
of descent. Today these two groups
are known as Lia Pootah and Palawa. There
is a third history shared by both Lia Pootah and Palawa, that of the extinction
of the Tasmanian Aboriginal as a race in 1876. In a Tasmania’s population of approximately 500,000 a little over
16,000 are descended from the original inhabitants. Tasmanian Aboriginal people have diverged into three distinct and
completely different Aboriginal histories living in Tasmania today because our
continuity was disrupted by sealers and invasion leading to “settlement”.
There is a fourth line of descent, through the children of women taken to
other countries by the captains of trading vessels.
The myth of the Tasmanian Aboriginal extinction was created from a third grouping of Aboriginal people who were removed from their land, when captured by George Augustus Robinson, under the 1830’s policies of Governor Arthur’s solution to the Aboriginal problem in the 1820’s. These people consisted of many different Kinship Groupings. It is the tragedy of the then government that they became the political “final solution to the Aboriginal problem”. Approximately 230 Aboriginal people were either forcibly removed from their land within the settled areas, or surrendered to the government in states of exhaustion, were taken to Wybalenna on Flinders Island and then later, when the majority had died, the remaining 47 were removed to Oyster Cove. This was a place considered unfit for convicts. It is this group, which included Truganni and William Laney (King Billy) who left no descendants that forms the basis of the extinction myth.
The history of those ancestral Kin incarcerated at Wybelenna, offer a third and completely separate history for the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The “round-up” is not Palawa nor Lia Pootah history. This is a shared history for both surviving groups.
Being Tasmanian Aboriginal today means that we have a female Aboriginal
ancestor and a non Aboriginal male ancestor. Within the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to be Aboriginal we must have a
non Aboriginal ancestor. It is this
mixed ancestry which makes the Tasmanian Aboriginal unique within Aboriginal
Australia, and testament to the ability of our ancestors to survive a genocide
Unfortunately for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community one group
have taken power.
For many generations poor education has meant that oral transmission of
culture has taught the young their heritage and white outsiders have written
about Aboriginal life from their own non Aboriginal European cultural
perspectives. The early part of the nineteenth century saw books, letters,
journals, official accounts describe the Tasmanian Aboriginal people from a
limited contact base. Every one of
these accounts are of great value to today’s Aboriginal people. They are not the whole truth and in some accounts not even a partial
truth. It is the present tragedy
that non Aboriginal writers using the myth of the extinction of the Tasmanian
Aboriginal people have written a history based in theory not fact. Some of this outsider literature is more credible, some less.
It all needs to be read and considered with care and remembered that
Aboriginal people did not write their history only whites offered their
Historically the Tasmanian Aboriginal has always attracted writers who
are given labels as authorities. Most
of these authors write from a theoretical point of view supported by
circumstantial evidence or they add a minimum of new material while they verify
and endorse another writer’s theory. This
is the basis of the problem for the Tasmanian Aboriginal people of today. It is a white theoretical history written by whites to tell us who we
are. We are only now telling our history as it was and now is.
Today it is the Palawa history that is being foisted as the true
Tasmanian Aboriginal history. Lia
Pootah history is presently banned in schools on Palawa authority and even
unavailable in the shops. Lia
Pootah have been trying for 8 years to remedy this situation where the
democratic right of all Tasmanians to be able to decide what they want to read
and learn is their free choice. To
be Aboriginal in Tasmania depends on the whim of the Palawa and their confused
historical beliefs about their own culture. Only Lia Pootah have to prove their heritage the Palawa claim theirs on
white academic argument that is not documented within the historical record.
Recent court cases have shown the limitations of white records and
archival material and opened up the knowledge that there are significant gaps
within the documented Tasmanian genealogical records for all Tasmanians.
Previous to 1850 the gaps in the birth deaths and marriages records are
well known. Historical
documentation shows that Tasmanian Aboriginal people were rarely ever named in
documents and if they were it was with an European name. One of the better known examples is the “Native Woman” who was
partnered with Alexander Campbell. A
history is known about her and their child but who she was is lost. This is a typical history of Lia Pootah women.
The Palawa base their proof of descent within the questionable groupings
of family relationships published by Brian Plomley and Bill Mollison’s
incomplete genealogical thesis based on Bass Strait Islander family trees.
The Palawa accept oral traditions for their own bloodlines but deny Lia
Pootah oral traditions of Kinship.
Within Aboriginal tradition no group can determine anything for a Kinship Group to which they do not belong. While the larger non Aboriginal population may be unaware of this cultural Taboo the mainland Aboriginal people working with the Palawa are not, but they do nothing to inform the correct Aboriginal customs for the broader Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
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