University of Tasmania
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Always Crackne in Heaven'

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posted on 2023-05-27, 13:51 authored by Finlay, GW
The interaction of Aboriginal people with expressions of Christian faith during the colonial history of Australia has been examined in various contexts but not to any great extent in Australia's southernmost setting of Tasmania. This thesis traces the interactions of Tasmanian Aboriginal people with Christianity from the beginnings of the colony of Van Diemen's Land to the early years of the twentieth century. While surviving documentary sources are limited they show a vibrant precontact Aboriginal religious life. Its elements were multi-layered, complex and open to interacting with the different religious lives of other clans and subsequently with the colonists. Pre-existing religious beliefs and practices were the paradigm through which Aboriginal people interpreted the Christian faith. In the first generations of colonial contact there was not a mission among Aboriginal people by any church missionary society. Most religious oriented conversations occurred in the less formal settings of conversations between individuals or within families. Some conversations were with the Government appointed conciliator, catechist or clergy who were part of Government programs such as the Hobart Orphan School, the Settlement at Wybalenna, and Oyster Cove Station. These formal settings provide archival sources that indicate a variety of interactions and Aboriginal responses to Christian faith. The polyvalent rather than uniform responses demonstrate the 'agency' of Aboriginal people. Most chose to reject the Christian faith. Some, however, incorporated various elements including baptism, participation in church services, family Bible reading, Bible translation, writing addresses and the preaching of Christian sermons. A substantial focus of this thesis examines the oral and literary responses to exposure to the Christian faith at a pivotal location during a crucial period of colonial history, namely the Wybalenna Settlement on Flinders Island from 1832 ‚Äö- 1847. Previously unpublished sources analysed include Bible translations, catechetical examinations, literacy tests, Christian addresses and newspaper articles. The interplay of oral and written responses is examined as well as ways Aboriginal people incorporated Christian faith as they adapted and mediated personal and clan roles and relationships in the dynamic context of Wybalenna. The formal settings of the Wybalenna Settlement and Orphan School contrast the largely independent practices of particular families on the Furneaux Islands throughout most of the nineteenth century and the Nicholls Rivulet Methodist Church in the early twentieth century. These more informal settings demonstrate ways in which Aboriginal people's adoption of Christian faith was constrained by denominational structures and a general lack of interest in them by most church members. Nevertheless, Aboriginal Christian people formed long and lasting relationships with a few colonial Christians who supported their development of uniquely Tasmanian Aboriginal Christian lives.


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