University Of Tasmania
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Frontier of space, frontier of mind: the British invasion of Loonwonnylowe

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:40 authored by Ranson, DM
Frontiers involve competition for space and conflict between mentalites. This thesis examines a single, small frontier in detail, using as an exemplar, Loonwonnylowe, now known as Bruny Island ‚ÄövÑvÆ describing the impact the invading British had on its people. Departing from a conventional historical narrative, I view the available ethnographic evidence through a lens influenced by landscape. I first describe the land before the advent of the British in terms of the food resources it provided for human consumption and employ human ecology to understand how those resources influenced Aboriginal behaviour. The Bruny Islanders were foragers. To survive, they needed to live in small family groups that moved across the land on a daily basis. So central was the land to their existence that it was revered by the Aborigines. A reconstruction is made for the first time of this sacred landscape of Loonwonnylowe. The complex interrelationship between the Tasmanian foragers and their land was destroyed in less than thirty years through the rapacious dispossession of resource hungry British agricultural settlers. I describe this invasion and its impact on the island and its people. In the last stage of dispossession, British officialdom attempted to ameliorate their impact by seeking to civilise the Aborigines through conversion to Christianity and training as agricultural labourers. To effect this, the colonial government set up an Aboriginal Establishment, a type of mission, and George Augustus Robinson was appointed superintendent. Robinson, a builder-cum-missionary, had emigrated from London. An examination of Robinson's early life reveals the tools and cultural prejudices he brought to his job, a mindset contrasting starkly with that of the indigenous landowners. The Establishment is described from the perspective of the Aborigines, the surrounding settlers, Robinson, and his convict servants. The Establishment failed after nine months. This thesis explains various factors contributing to that failure. Many Aborigines died during that time. For Robinson however, it was a watershed period. His long-term and personal interest in Aborigines and their culture was first stimulated at Bruny Island. His legacy, consisting of thousands of pages of manuscript, Australia's largest body of nineteenth-century ethnographic material, uniquely illuminating a people on the cusp of change, is used in this thesis.


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