'Trucanini' Queen or Traitor? - Book Review

Book Review by Jo Toscano Anarchist Age Weekly Review

'TRUCANINI' Queen or Traitor? - Vivienne Rae Ellis
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Canberra 1981
First Published 1976 - ISBN 0 85575 121 3

I get the feeling although Trucanini "had every reason to loathe the white man. By the time she was 17 years old the invaders of her island had stabbed her mother to death, murdered her husband to be, shot her uncle, kidnapped her stepmother, abducted her sisters and violated her own body" the author disapproves of the decisions Trucanini made during her life in her quest for survival. Born in 1812 on Bruny Island just south of modern day Hobart, she died aged 64 on the 3rd May 1876. Just two years after her death her body was exhumed, the bones denuded of flesh and her skeleton was handed over to the Royal Society.

Trucanini's extraordinary life is recounted by Vivienne Ellis in eighteen fascinating chapters. The "Last Tasmanian Aboriginal" learnt early in her life she could trade her sexuality for survival. Survive she did despite the brutality that in three short decades almost led to the extermination of a people that had lived in Tasmania for over 20,000 years.

The book is illustrated with drawings and photographs that give a dimension to Trucanini that no mere words can. Her suffering did not end with her death. Early in the 20th century "her skeleton was placed in a glass case at the entrance of the Aboriginal exhibition room in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery where it remained until 1947". In May 1965 her bones were placed in a vault in the Tasmanian Museum.

In January 1975 a special Act of the Tasmanian Parliament was passed that made her bones "the property of the Crown". After bitter long drawn out discussions it was agreed her bones should be cremated. On the 1st May 1976 one hundred years after her death her ashes were scattered in D'Entrecasterux Channel close to the place she was born. Trucanini a tiny woman barely measuring 140cm (4 feet 7 inches) has had and continues to have a significant impact on the Australian psyche. Her story was retold by Vivienne Ellis is a story that needs to be told and retold time and time to ensure what happened to Tasmania's Aborigines never happens again.

Try your local library or the internet to learn more about this remarkable woman who 135 years after she died continue to have an impact on Australian society. Thanks to Jude for lending me her copy of Trucanini to review.

Anarchist Age Weekly Review
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