The Last Tasmanian

Tasmanian, any member of the extinct Australoid population of Tasmania. The Tasmanians were an isolate population of Aboriginal Australians, not a separate or distinctive population, who were cut off from the mainland when a general rise in the sea level flooded the Bass Strait about 10,000 years ago. Their population upon the arrival of European explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries has been estimated at about 4,000. They were a relatively short people, with generally Australoid physical characteristics. The Tasmanians spoke languages that were unintelligible to mainland Aborigines.

The island was divided among several tribes speaking different dialects, each with a delimited hunting territory. Subsistence was based on hunting land and sea mammals and collecting shellfish and vegetable food. In warm months the Tasmanians moved through the open forest and moorlands of the interior in bands or family groups of 15 to 50 people; in colder months they moved to the coast. Occasionally, bands gathered together for a corroboree (a dance celebrating important events), a hunt, or for protection against attack.

Wooden spears, waddies (clubs, or throwing sticks), and flaked-stone tools and weapons were produced. Bone implements, basketry, and bark canoes for coastal travel were also made. A few rock carvings depicting natural objects and conventionalized symbols have survived.

The first permanent white settlement was made in Tasmania in 1803; in 1804 an unprovoked attack by whites on a group of Tasmanians was the first episode in the Black War. The whites treated the Aborigines as subhumans, seizing their hunting grounds, depleting their food supply, attacking the women, and killing the men. Tasmanian attempts to resist were met with the superior weaponry and force of the Europeans. Between 1831 and 1835, in a final effort at conciliation and to prevent the extermination of the approximately 200 remaining Tasmanians, the Aborigines were removed to Flinders Island. Their social organization and traditional way of life destroyed, subjected to alien disease and attempts to “civilize” them, they soon died. Truganini (d. 1876), a Tasmanian woman who aided the resettlement on Flinders Island, was the last full-blooded Aborigine in Tasmania. Another Tasmanian woman is said to have survived on Kangaroo Island in South Australia until 1888.

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