Saturday, August 18, 2012

Maireener Musings


Shell necklaces have assumed a particular cultural significance linked to Tasmania as 'place', its 'placedness', the place's colonial histories, sometime somewhat Gothic histories, and the ways palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) culture interfaces with and challenges all this. Curiously, it is when one is confronted with, or one confronts, a palawa maireener necklace, or a colonial mimic once known as a "Hobart Necklace",  the spectrum of Tasmania's layered colonial histories begins to reveal itself. 
Tasmanians, are quite inclined to peel back the layers of storytelling, and histories, in an attempt to make sense of their place in the world – and their Tasmanianess. Each new year the people of Low Head, at the mouth of the Tamar, gather together for kind of New Year celebration that includes the presentation of papers. In 2010 Ray Norman was invited to present a paper .... click here to link to his paper Maireener Musings

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ponrabbel

The Ponrabbel operated as a steam 'bucket dredge' in the Tamar River from the 1920s until the 1960s. The Port of Launceston authority was determined that as many ships as possible should berth at wharves close to the city centre. Attempts to move the port further down the river were vigorously resisted as Launcestonians imagined their city as a port – and sometimes as an alternative 'capital'.

It is no accident that the memory of this dredge lives on in the memories and imaginations of so many Launcestonians as the silting of the Tamar persists – and is likely to continue to do so as the estuary is ever likely to continue to silt up. Indeed, the Tamar's silting is a contentious political football that is being flicked between Local, State and Federal Governments against various political backdrops – particularly at election time.

"The Tamar Estuary is a drowned valley formed during a faulting event during the Tertiary period. Tectonic, volcanic and glacial activities have helped shape the Tamar Valley into that which we see today. The Estuary receives three major river systems: the South Esk; the North Esk; and the Meander. These three main catchments form a large drainage basin, which covers approximately 18% of Tasmania’s land mass."Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania – Given the estuary's geography there is little wonder that at the confluence of the Nth & Sth Esk Rivers there might be be silting albeit exasperated by the postcolonial agricultural and forestry exploitation of the Tamar's catchments.

The Ponrabbel was used to dredge the channel near Launceston to facilitate shipping access. As larger ships were brought into the Tamar some strategic rocks in the Tamar were blasted and removed by the Ponrabbel to improve navigation. She was also used in the building of the Bell Bay berthing facilities. Albeit that commercial shipping barely persists in the upper reaches of the Tamar, the silting of the estuary 'interferes' with the waterway's aesthetics and its recreational 'utility' – and is thus seen as tourism detractor and simultaneously as evidence of environmental degradation.

The area around the Tamar Estuary was a placescape occupied by various bands of Aboriginal people, who were later called ‘The Northern Midlands Tribe’ by the Europeans who had moved into the valley and taken the Aborigines’ land. According to contemporary 'authorities', the estuary itself was known by the Aborigines as "", or ["ponrabbel"]. Port Dalrymple was recorded as being called "" and the Port Dalrymple bands known as the "" and "" people – Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania

In a contemporary context the underlying assumptions attached to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people's 'languages' , and their use in place naming, may be contested in a linguistic and cultural context given the paucity of anthropology and linguistics of the colonial era when Aboriginal vocabularies were collected. Meanings can be found in context and given that the 'palawa' people's cultural realities and belief systems were looked at from the 'perspective of clonisation' 'ponrabbel's palawa' meaning/s is open to contention.

  • Type of Vessel: TS Bucket Dredge.
  • Date Built: 1916.
  • Builder: Ferguson Bros. Ltd., Glasgow.
  • Dead Weight: 457 tons.
  • Length: 155ft 3in.
  • Breadth: 34ft 2in.
  • Owner: Marine Board of Launceston, Tasmania.
  • Engines: 2 X 2 cyl 15in & 30in X 21in.
  • Engine Builder: Ferguson Bros Ltd., Glasgow.
The Ponrabbel was built under the supervision of surveyors in accordance with the rules and regulations of Lloyd’s Registry of Shipping.

Further Information: Low Head Pilot Station Museum ... CLICK HERE

Compiled by Ray Norman, Launceston

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Named Truganini

Image: State Library Queensland

Truganini: 203 gross tons, 130 net. Lbd: 120' X 20' X 9'. Iron passenger steamship built by Black & Noble, Montrose for the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co., Hobart.
  • December 1879 G W & B B Nicoll,
  • December 1880 G W Nicoll
  • 1881 April, James Burns and
  • 1882 transferred to Queensland Steam Shipping Co Ltd. registered London.
  • April 1887 Australasian United Steam Navigation Co., Sydney.
  • Since, had also been chartered by Burns Philp & Co working New Guinea.
  • Whilst on the mail run to New Caledonia, she was wrecked February 11th, 1891 Aneityum, New Hebrides
It cannot go unnoticed that the ship was commissioned in the year of Truganini's death.

The Commodification of Tasmanian Aboriginal People

The commodification of Tasmania's Aboriginal people Truganini most notably – is an issue that cannot be lightly dismissed as some kind of foible – within academe, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, wherever. In 2009 there was much contention to do with the Southerby's sale of copies of Benjamin Laws' 1936 portrait busts of Truganini &Woureddy. Woureddy and Trucaninni are among the most celebrated Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Law's portraits of them claim precedence as "the earliest major pieces of Australian sculpture". Woureddy sat for Law in early 1835 and his bust was ready by mid year. Trucaninni probably sat for him some months later but it seems that Law did not completed her bust until sometime in 1836.

Law’s portraits were lauded as accomplished works of art when he made them but interestingly they were valued primarily as 'ethnographic records'. In 2009 if something looks like art and theorists quack about it as if it is art, well it might turn out to be art in the context within which it is being discussed. Nonetheless, if it is envisioned otherwise within another cultural reality it may be whatever it is seen as being within that reality too.

Law saw his subjects in a 19th C way, but in a 21st C context the meanings and the fate of the imagery that came from all that has become surreal. As for the notion that ‘the images’ propose that these subjects are the last Tasmanian Aboriginal people, for sure that is a contentious and contestable idea. If physical extermination failed, and it did, the idea that we might kill off the imagination of extermination in images is unhelpful. What would that mean? Rather, there needs to meaningful conversations that lead to better shared understandings. Hopefully, it may be possible to find and an understanding where precedence is not invoked and mutual understandings are both afforded and honoured ... click here for GOGLElinked stories

'The Picture'
the photograph of Truganini's skeleton in the Tasmania Room at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery 1904 – 1947 – seems to have been produced as much for commercial sale as much as it may have been for 'marketing' the museum via the press.

Newspaper reports from the time are – note: uncorrected electronically scanned text is denoted in bold italics and blue:
  • Electronically Translated Text Australian National Library – UNCORRECTED SCAN:
    THE LAST OF THE RACE. The Mercury – Hobart, Tas: Saturday 15 October 1904
    "In many of the principal museums throughout the world may be seen interesting exhibits that are looked upon as unique. Few museums, if any, can, like the Tasmanian institution, claim to have a specimen which is absolutely one of great scientific rarity, viz, the complete skeleton of the last of the Tasmanian aboriginals.

    Many residents in this city will remember "Lallah Rooke," or "Truganini," the last Tasmanian aboriginal, and who died in the year 1876. Some few years after her death the hon. secretary of the Royal Society of Tasmania (the Hon. J. W. Agnew), on behalf of the Museum, arranged that the remains of Truganini should be deposited in the Museum. For years the remains have been carefully packed away in one of the store-rooms of the institution. During the present year Professor Baldwin Spencer, F.R.S., C.M.G., Professor of Biology of the Melbourne University, and Director of the National Museum of Victoria, kindly informed the Director of the Tasmanian Museum, that he would be pleased to allow the articulator of the Melbourne Museum to clean and mount the skeleton This generous offer was accepted, and the remains of Truganini were sent to Melbourne. The specimen arrived in Hobart yesterday morning by the U.S.S. Co.'s steamer Waikare, and shortly afterwards Truganini was placed in a specially erected glass case in the Tasmanian room. This new addition, from an anthropological view, will be one of the most interesting exhibits in the Museum. In the case a series of photographs have been placed of Truganini the cast of her face taken immediately after death, a "waddy" used by both men and women, also some examples of their shell necklaces, native bags, and stone implements.

    This new addition to the large and valuable collection in the National Museum will be of great interest to all workers in this particular branch of science. The thanks of the trustees are extended to Professor Baldwin Spencer and the able articulator of the Melbourne Museum for the work they have done gratuitously for the Tasmanian Museum."
    "This week's "Mail," which will be published tomorrow morning, contains two bete of illustrations that mo m striking contrast The one is a photograph of an absolutely unique exhibit to be seen in the local Museum. It consists of a photograph of Truganini, the last of the Tasmanian aboriginals, both in her younger and her later days, of Wourreddy, her husband, of the skeleton of Truganini, and of a collection of tho stone axes, waddies, rope, spears, bags, canoes, and other articles made by the aborigines. Photographs are to be sent to some twenty five or twenty six of the principal museums throughout the world. ............ "
  • TASMANIAN FIELD NATURALISTS CLUB: The Mercury Monday 8 May 1905UNCORRECTED SCAN ............ "It was decided to pay a visit to the Museum last Saturday afternoon, so accordingly a number met there at 3 o'clock. They were in a great part juniom, about 20 of whom were present. Taking the party to the Tasmanian Room, Mr. Morton 'gave a brief outline of" this island's early history, referring especially to the aborigines. He told them about Truganini, the last of the race, and showed them her skeleton. The flints used by these people -wore then examined, and the manner of using them described. It was clearly explained that fossils were not to be regarded merely as rocks, but rather as books that told the people of to-day about the plant and animal life of millions of years ago. Great interest was displayed when the cases containing tho native animals and birds were viewed, and the young people crowded round, eagerly listening to what was being said to them.

    The Ethnological Room was next visited; and the uses of the various weapons, musical instruments, etc., wore explain- ed. At the elote, Mr. Morton took the party into the Royal Society's boardroom, where ample seating accommodation had been provided, and he there gave interesting notes on what Museum work should be, the advantages of studying natural history, and bo on. Mr. A. D. Watchorn was appointed chairman ............ "
  • PASSING NOTES "Mrs. Mercurius" The Mercury Saturday 18 October 1919UNCORRECTED SCAN ............ " I am informed, privately and through the newspapers, that the cost of living has greatly increased since the good old early days of 50 years ago. lu those days I was net interested much in the cost of living; I was quite satisfied to live. In those days 1 was more con corned with the cost than with the living itself. However, as a Tasmanian native I can take ¡n academic interest in the concerns of Tasmania's natives of the old d.iys. So far as I know, the Tasmanian natives of a century or two aco lived very cheaply, the main items of diet being" kangaroos, badgers, oysters, and other natural primary products. But ou years ago tho cost of living had gone up enormously. If you go to the Hobart Museum you will see the skeleton of Truganini, a lady who had the distinction of being the last female aborigine of Tasmania. But tho Museum authorities will not inform you how much it cost for the living of the lady. According to Walch's Al- manac ¿f 1SG9 there was at that time two Tasmanian aborigines living. One was ii man, who was then employed on a whaling ship, and probably his living did not cost anyone very much. The other was a woman, known as "Lalla Rookh," whose skeleton you see in the Museum with the name of Truganini. She lived at Oyster Cove in a Government reservation, and the cost to the Government was £300 a year. The Almanac gives no details of her manner of dress or items of her food. tlio Nor i*,.anv statement made about the number of officials who had a cut at the £300. ¡Seither am I interested. 11 simply mention that 50 years ago it cost a single woman in Tasmania £300 a year to live."
  • AS OTHERS SEE US: IMPRESSIONS OF A VISITOR. Mr. Sydney Adeld Killara, Sydney, writes as follows: - The Mercury Wednesday 6 January 1909UNCORRECTED SCAN ............ "On the wharf are a crowd of people who are awaiting relatives and friends. Handkerchiefs and handsaTB bein* wav- ed as a welcome, and wireless messages are sent on board, asking all sorts of questions. All is excitement ... The Museum was visited, and the many objects of interpsr were much admired. The Picture Gallery is excellent. containing many good pictures by eminent artist«: but the piece de resistance is the beautiful statue of Medusa. The work is Bplendidlv oxec-utpd bv the famous sculptor, Franklin Simmons, and was bequeathed to the Museum by Sir James Wilson Agnew. K.C.M.G.. M.D.. M.E.C., November, 1901, the value being estimated at £1,500. Many well-known statues excite but little interest in the beholder, because they indicate neither soul nor feeling, but hero both are present, and ns one touch of nature makes the whole world Jap, wo all sympathise with the beautiful, but unfortunate creature, who is about to undergo a dreadful experience. The next thing of great interest is the skeleton of the last of the Tasmanian aboriginals, a female named Lalla Rook or "Truganini," who died, aged 70 years. It Is not often one has the opportunity of seeing the last of a race. The next museum visited was the one at Brown's River, known more particularly by the name of Williamson's curiosity shop. ............ "
  • OUR MELBOURNE LETTER (From Our Special Correspondent.) The Mercury Monday 19 August 1907 UNCORRECTED SCAN ............ "Unless he be that curious product of modem democracy, a member of Parliament by profession, man cannot live by politics alone; nor, indeed, can he, in nn ago of culture, offer excuses for those moment- ii' his customarily workaday life' ... Incidentally one observes that Professor Baldwin Spencer, reporting on the ethnological branch of tho museum, and in referring to notable additions, points out as "the most important," the case of the skeleton of Truganini, "the last of the Tasmanians"
  • The Mercury Saturday 31 December 1904 UNCORRECTED SCAN ............ "A Distinguished Visitor - Professor Baldwin Spencer, the distinguished ethnological explorer of Central Australia, passed through Hobart on his way to New Zealand with his wife and daughters a few days ago. It was 'otting lo Professor Spencer's good offices that the skeleton bf Truganini, now on view at the Museum, was mounted free of cost to Tasmania. Having visited the Museum and inspected tho skeleton, together with the ethnological collection surrounding it in the Tasmanian room. Professor Spencer declared that no better place could have been found for it, and congratulated the trustees on the possession of a more unique exhibit than could be found many other museum in the world - the last of a race."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Commodification of Tasmanian Aboriginal People

There was a time in Tasmania when the commodification of Tasmania's Aboriginal people as exotic and other, as curios, went unquestioned. This postcard is a clear demonstration of that but it is not alone. Indeed, there is a class of Tasmaniana that demonstrates this 'trophy of empire' understanding of Aboriginal people.

In the 21st C there are different understandings and sensibilities in operation but it is worthwhile to recognise exemplars of older attitudes and understandings. The antique/vintage shell necklaces typically assumed to have been made by Tasmanian Aboriginal people is a case in point.

There is clear evidence that these necklaces are an expression of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people's cultural reality – past and ongoing. Nevertheless, there was a colonial cultural appropriation of these necklace with colonial 'industrial manufacture' of shell necklaces starting in Hobart just a year before Truganini's death if not sometime before. These necklaces were known as "Hobart Necklaces" and it seems as "Truganini Necklaces" as well – at least euphemistically. Clearly Truganini was the/a 'marketing hook' that lent currency to these industrially produced necklaces ... click here to read more.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tasmaniana Shell Necklaces – Dyed Hobart Necklaces with maireener shells

It is now becoming clear that within the USA & UK at least there relatively large numbers of maireener shell necklaces coming up for sale on eBAY. Many of these necklaces appear to have been dyed and with colours not too dissimilar to the colours contemporary fresh water pears are dyed.

Whatever these necklaces qualify for quintessential Tasmaniana status given the various layers of histories these necklace carry.

These necklaces also appear in Australia and reflect to some extent the nature of and the scale of the Tasmania Shell Necklace Industry – albeit an industry not well documented except by Earnest Mawle 1918 and quite briefly by him.

The image above is a sampling of maireener shell necklaces that have recently come up for sale on eBAY except the the white sample. It seems reasonable to assume that – but on necessarily safe to do so – given 'the industry' may have needed to dye the lighter coloured shells – possibly the lower priced shells – to win a market for them. The 'cream/yellow' shells may also have been dyed or they way be examples of shells that were sometimes dyed.

Often this industry's output has been mistaken for the Tasmanian Aboriginal people's necklaces and there is a strong case to be put that the commercially produced necklaces mimicked the Tasmanian Aboriginal people's necklaces. Recent research brings to light information that suggests this shell necklace 'industry' was a proportion previously not well know if at all ... to read more click here ... or here

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Tasmaniana Wrong'ne

This boomerang is so wrong it is wonderful. It IS Tasmaniana nonetheless. But can you spot what is wrong? There are at least three things! Can you see any of them or more still?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tasmanian and Iconic

It is rather ironic, even if it is timely, that Tasmania's Aboriginal shell necklaces, are now deemed to be 'iconic'! The only thing that has changed is that it is now official, or is that a maybe? Anyway, it has been a long time coming.

These necklaces have been 'Tasmanian identifiers' since forever. It is just the case that it has taken until now for Tasmanians and the National Trust to openly acknowledge that it is so. One could argue that it might be the people that should be acknowledged rather than the objects but let's not quibble about that right now.

A cynic could be excused of finding a lot of irony in this little story but let's just celebrate the accolade with the makers and let them savor the moment.

has never been in any doubt at all that the Tasmanian Aboriginal shell necklaces are quintessential exemplars of Tasmaniana. Quite possibly the necklaces' iconic status began with Duterreau and his painting of The Conciliation.

Congratulations all round!


Notes on Duterreau – Click Here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tasmaniana: What is it?

The first thing that needs to be said is that Tasmania is an island and its Aboriginal inhabitants represent at least a 35,000 year cultural continuum that was rudely interrupted by European colonial endeavour – and colonialism ultimately enveloped 'the place’ in its global dimension. Before November 24 1642 the island was the whole world – today it sits at its edge and in its own idiosyncratic way, it mirrors it.

Tasmaniana” is to do with 'placedness' – the celebration of place, placemaking and placemarking. The idea defies clean definitions but when you encounter it you somehow know that you have. Rather than being a ‘concrete’ idea Tasmaniana is ‘liquid’ it seems to seep everywhere and wet everything. Quite apart from all this, Tasmaniana is a layered and loaded idea full of cultural and social tensions.

Indeed, the so called 'Culture Wars' and 'Black Armband Politics' recently alluded to in the Australian political arena are not so far away from much of what is implied by 'Tasmaniana'.

Yes there is a Tasmaniana Library at the State Library in Hobart but that’s not the end of it and nor could it be any kind of 'Tasmaniana prescriptor'.

Tasmaniana is a somewhat elastic concept; an attitude; a sensibility. It is hardly a concrete yardstick against which to measure things. For those attuned, on the island and elsewhere Tasmaniana is somewhat ubiquitous – it’s in imagery; it can be found in a vista; it’s evident in objects; it’s in sounds and fragrances; it’s experienced; it’s to do with memory and sometimes forgetting; histories reek of it; stories reflect it; it is the kind of idea that is sometimes spiked with shame and guilt.

Tasmaniana is an idea with nuances. Some who embrace the idea do the nuanceing, most know what it is about and all are a part of it.

Tasmania proudly wears the “clean, green and clever” badge. Yet some of Tasmania’s waterways are the dirtiest in the world and many of its landscapes are being devastated while others are becoming deserts – none of which exhibits much cleverness but nonetheless it is a part of the Tasmaniana discourse.

In a kind of a way “wilderness" has come to be a characteristic Tasmaniana Idea’ yet it is an enanthema to many of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people. Tasman’s telescope would be the ‘Holy Grail’ of Tasmaniana yet Tasman himself never set foot on the island and nor was it ‘made in Tasmania' – Tasman has however lent his name to the place albeit that he didn't "discover Tasmania". Tasmaniana is a complex idea – nonetheless it is one where local understandings subsume global visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Benjamin Law Woureddy and Trucaninny Busts

The Woureddy and Trucaninny busts by Benjamin Law (1835 & 1836 ) are held at:
  1. A Private Collection – New South Wales;
  2. The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery;
  3. The National Gallery of Australia;
  4. The Art Gallery of Western Australia;
  5. The South Australian Museum – on loan to Art Gallery of South Australia;
  6. The Australian Museum – on loan to Art Gallery of New South Wales;
  7. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery;
  8. The British Museum;
  9. The Musée de lHomme; and
  10. Individual busts are held in numerous other institutions
DESCRIPTION: Patinated plaster; Executed in 1835 (Woureddy) and 1836 (Trucaninny)

Tasmanian Madness – Contemporary Tasmaniana


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World Citizen, Tasmania, Australia
Simply a collector of things who collects by 11s and who networks with other collectors