For the year 2013, the CWA has chosen Morocco as the country for study. Right up my street but I’m a man and excluded from membership at present. Not to be deterred, I have aligned myself with the Pungenna people down there in the lower eastern region of Tasmania. It’s been a worrying time of late to these friends of mine with the rampant fires causing so much heartache down Dunalley way. Judith McDonald has assured me that they were unscathed and that the craft projects are going ahead as normal.

Pungenna - Judith McDonald
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Judith McDonald at the Pungenna Community Art Exhibition in Dunalley

Tasmanian Aborigines: Lots to Learn

by Roger Findlay

After just one hour in the company of Judith and her partner, I had made up my mind to find out more about the original Tasmanians and the more recent history of the Tasmanian Aborigines after the first white man arrived. I won’t bore you with screens of history but I will mention some simple facts as well as theories that may help your understanding of a complicated subject.

Tiagarra - Aboriginal Culture Centre and Museum, Devonport
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Mersey Bluff Devonport, home of the Tiagarra Aboriginal Culture Centre and Museum
Photos Dan Fellow (top), Len Langan (bottom left) and Gavin Horne (bottom right)

There are many theories on how aborigines arrived in Tasmania. Some say by boat from the eastern seaboard of Australia or from New Caledonia and New Guinea. Others say that they arrived overland from the southern parts of Australia when the land bridge still existed.


 

When Tasmania got cut off from mainland Australia it left an unknown number of people totally isolated for between eight and ten thousand years until the arrival of the first Europeans. Over that period of time, with a separate gene pool, Tasmanian aborigines became a distinct people not only in appearance and structure but also in their ways. Faces were a different shape to those on the mainland and the hair was mostly tightly coiled.

Diet of Tasmanian Aborigines

Because of limited food types, Tasmanian aborigines were hunter-gatherers. Men hunted kangaroos and wallaby while the women dived for abalone and crayfish. It is thought that nearly every food type in the surrounding environment was used. Swans, eggs, mutton birds and possums almost certainly became part of the diet.

Par Avion - Aboriginal Canoe on the Needwonnee Walk
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Aboriginal Canoe on the Needwonnee Walk, south west Tasmania (photo by Gavin Horne)

At the time of European settlement, Tasmanian aborigines did not eat scale fish but studies have shown that fish did form part of the diet 4,000 years prior to settlement. Tasmanians had no means of catching fast moving fish but a slow moving fish called a bluehead was taken when diving for crayfish in the offshore rocks of north west Tasmania.


 

Stone tools were basic and without handles. This is where they differed from those used on the mainland. A firestick was kept alight and carried everywhere. Starting fire with flint was unknown. Archaeological research has found that caves at Rocky Cape were first occupied 8,000 years ago.

Diverse Island - Rocky Cape NP, Indigenous People
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Rocky Cape, where aboriginal heritage is preciously preserved (Photo by Carol Haberle)

Hybridisation may have occurred with the visits of explorers and long before settlement; maybe as early as 1793 when D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition met with aboriginal women in south east Tasmania.

Pungenna Art Aboriginal Tasmania

For all of those wonderful artists of Pungenna Art Aboriginal Tasmania it is unfortunate that little is known about the art of Tasmania before European settlement. As specialists in your field, you will probably know that the terms art and decoration divide the graphic work of Tasmanians into two historical periods. The ancient practice of artistic symbols and their meanings has gone forever whereas the modern form of decoration has survived. Circles, lines and dots were most common.

Pungenna - Aboriginal Art by Judith McDonald's Mother
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Judith McDonald allowed a photograph of her mother’s Aboriginal artwork

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has seen the petroglyph at Nubeena (Tasman Peninsula) and your thoughts on the authenticity. In this motif there are lines and shapes that are said to represent animals, tracks and figures.


 

Take a look at Pungenna Art Aboriginal Tasmania on Facebook. Support them by buying a unique painting or a pack of greetings cards. Marvellous value!

Pungenna - Aboriginal Art
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Pungenna Aboriginal Art and Craft on display for NAIDOC in Dunalley Tasmania

Tasmanian Aborigines: Suggested Reading Material…

Tasmanian Aboriginals - Reading Material
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Roger Findlay spends all his holidays in Tasmania, then writes about the
experience for Think Tasmania. If you’d like Roger to visit you in the name of
research (so we can publish information about your business), please contact us.

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Map: Dunalley Tasmania