When looking at Truganini and the impressions she left throughout her life there have been a lot of different interpretations by different historians. There is the side that states that the actions that happened throughout her life can be seen as labeling her as a traitor. While the other side that the historians show is that she was only doing what she needed to in order to keep her people and herself from harm.
Truganini was born in 1812 in Van Diemen’s Land on the western side of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Her father was one of the leaders of her tribe and while she was young she was heavily involved in the traditional culture of her community. Her life was then disrupted when European sealer, whalers and timber-getters landed in Tasmania on March 1829. A lot of tragedy occurred throughout Truganini life as by the time she was seventeen the Europeans had stabbed her mother to death, murdered her fiancé, shot her uncle, kidnapped her step-mother, abducted her sisters and violated her own body.
All historians have held onto this point that she faced a lot of death throughout her life with historians such as Vivienne Rae-Ellis and James Bonwick calling her a traitor for her actions. While on the other side there is Lyndall Ryan and Hugh Bohun who see the more positive attributes that Truganini carried with her
The main aspect that the historians seemed to have contention about was the sexual nature of Truganini relationship with Robinson. There was the side that Vivienne Rae-Ellis presented that throughout Truganini life she always had preferred young white-men then those in her own tribe. She describes how everyone around saw the romantic relationship that was occurring between Truganini and Robinson and this included her husband. The same explanation of the event can be seen in both James Bonwick and Vivienne books where one night shortly after the expedition began Robinson was sleeping when Woorrady who was Truganini husband at the time, jealous of his influence over Trucanini, sprang at Robinson with a weapon in his hand and murder in his heart.
There also seems to be credibility within the all the historians writings that her own countrymen were starting to dislike what she was doing with Robinson. Truganini was taunted with threats from them that she would live to be the last of them as a punishment for her actions. Although there is also evidence where Truganini was sent off to collect the people of the Northern Tribe but ended up coming back empty handed after she told the people not to come to the mission.
It can be seen that Truganini was sad and broken-hearted as she watched the people she had tried to save slowly die at the mission from poor treatment. A few did escape but were eventually rounded back up and taken back to the mission to spend their last days.
Truganini died in 1876 at the age of 64 and a few years later in 1878 her body was then exhumed and put on display in the Tasmanian Museum until 1947 when they decided to cremate it and return it to her people. It just goes to show that even after her death she still lead a life of mystery and as stated by Metro Magazine “It is hardly surprising in a country like Australia, with its obsession with purity of race, Truganini was idealised, eroticised and mythologised.
We cannot be clear about Truganini true actions because she never learned to read or write. Without these skills she was never able to document how she felt about what she was doing. All we have is the accounts from others which presents a one-sided view of events as it would have been enlightening to see how Truganini herself had felt about Robinson and the her own reasons behind rounding her people up In Robinson expedition. We can only draw conclusions from what we have in front of us. It has been years since the events that led to the almost extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines and we are still at a loss to understand why Truganini did what she did.
The question still remains was she a traitor to her people, or was she just doing what she had to so that she was just trying to survive?
Bohun, Hugh, and Bernard Cronin. Black tragedy. Sydney: Midget Masterpiece, 1933.
Bonwick, James. The last of the Tasmanians; or, The Black War of Van Diemen’s Land... New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970.
Cato, Nancy, and Vivienne Ellis. Queen Trucanini. London: Heinemann, 1976.
Ellis, Vivienne. Trucanini: queen or traitor? New, expanded ed. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies; 1981.
Ryan, Lyndall. The Aboriginal Tasmanians. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981.