Title: Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse
Author: Cassandra Pybus
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Australian authors, Biographies, History, Indigenous Australians
Dates read: 2nd – 20th July 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
5th sentence, 74th page: She was grieving the loss of their youngest son nine months earlier, and it was also time to reconnect with his five surviving children.
Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, just off the coast of south-east Tasmania, throughout the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn’t know this woman was Truganini, and that she was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne, of whom she was the last.
The name of Truganini is vaguely familiar to most Australians as ‘the last of her race’. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy: the extinction of the original people of Tasmania within her lifetime. For nearly seven decades she lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than most human imaginations could conjure. She is a hugely significant figure in Australian history and we should know about how she lived, not simply that she died. Her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini’s extraordinary story.
A lively, intelligent, sensual woman, Truganini managed to survive the devastating decade of the 1820s when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. Taken away from Bruny Island in 1830, she spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highland and through barely penetrable forests, with the self-styled missionary George Augustus Robinson, who was collecting all the surviving people to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She managed to avoid a long incarceration on Flinders Island when Robinson took her to Victoria where she was implicated in the murder of two white men. Acquitted of murder, she was returned to Tasmania where she lived for another thirty-five years. Her story is both inspiring and herat-wrenching, and it is told in full in this book for the first time.
This was an amazing, must-read for all Aussies. It was one though that I would read a chapter and then pick up another, happier book. There is this tragic feeling that runs all the way through. There aren’t happy moments. This doesn’t give you hope for the future. Instead, it reminds you of the many atrocities which we really should be condemned for… but it’s well-worth the read. And impossible to forget.
The whole journey in this book is somewhat heartbreaking. But the very end of it… that was just a whole other level. Particularly considering Truganini feared her body being taken for science and begged someone to bury it in the deepest water she knew… only to find out that when she passed… her body was taken and mounted in a museum. I just couldn’t believe the horror of that and the cruelty. There was just something so incomprehensible and… just… no… about the whole situation.
I’m always trying to find out as much as I can about Australian history. And for me, this was a fantastic piece of that. I knew next to nothing about the plight of Indigenous Australians in Tasmania when the settlers came. Although I still feel like I know next to nothing… I felt like there was so much more that was revealed in this novel. Alright, it probably wasn’t’ my favourite biography, Pybus has a slightly drier writing style than what I prefer. But overall, it was somewhat amazing and a great way to highlight the plight and true journey of one well-known Indigenous Australian.
I received this book at the beginning of the year. And my biggest regret? That I didn’t read it sooner. This is a book that I think all Australians should read. One that is amazing and impossible to forget. Definitely at the top of my suggestions pile…