Adventure Bay, Bruny Island by George Tobin, 1792. The sound of the waves in this composition were recorded in the same area in 2013. Listening to the gentle movement of water it is hard to believe this region has a history of genocide.
The arrival of British ships to Bruny Island in Tasmania during the late 1700s marked a bloody turning point in the lives of the local indigenous population. It is estimated that between 6,000-10,000 Aborigines lived in Tasmania before the colonisation of the island in 1803. By 1830 acts of violence and introduced diseases had all but wiped out a people who had inhabited the island for over 35,000 years. This devastation was not isolated to Tasmania. It was a period of frontier warfare throughout other parts of colonial Australia.
Despite its picturesque images, the damaging effects of colonisation, dispossession, and genocide continue to be an intrinsic part of Australia’s social and cultural fabric.
This week, NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observers Committee), we celebrate the survival of the worlds oldest continuing culture. However, it is also a time to consider certain statistics. According to the Australian 2006 Census:
1. Less than 3% of Australians identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. Although this percentage is increasing each year individuals continue to feel uncomfortable about being publicly identified as Indigenous.
2. 12% of Indigenous respondents reported speaking an Indigenous language at home; three quarters of those recording they were also fluent in English. The majority of Indigenous language speakers come from the older generations, while younger generations are moving towards being monolingual English speakers.
3. Indigenous peoples’ life expectancy appears to be similar to that of people in developing countries. Indigenous males’ life expectation was estimated to be 59.4 years over 1996-2001, while female life expectation was estimated to be 64.8 years: this is a dramatic gap when compared to the general Australian population of approximately 17 years for the same five year period.
4. For the period 2001 to 2005, approximately two to three times the number of Indigenous infants died before their first birthday, compared to non-Indigenous infants.
5. In 2004–05, half (50%) of the adult Indigenous population were current daily (or regular) smokers, approximately twice the rate in the non-Indigenous population.
6. Excessive alcohol consumption also accounted for the greatest proportion of the burden of disease and injury for young Indigenous males (aged 15–34 years) and the second highest (after intimate partner violence) for young Indigenous females.
7. In the 2006 Census, the mean equivalised gross household income for Indigenous persons was $460 per week, which amounted to 62% of the rate for non-Indigenous Australians ($740 per week).
8. In the 2006 Census, 55% of Indigenous peoples aged 15 years and over were participating in the work force.
9. Between 2001 and 2006, the proportion of Indigenous peoples aged 15 years and over who had completed Year 12 increased from 20% to 23%. There was also an increase in the proportion of people who had completed a non-school qualification (20% to 26%).
10. Indigenous prisoners represented 24% of the total prisoner population (6139 males and 567 females) as of the 30th June 2008.
And what of the Indigenous Tasmanians?
For decades a myth existed concerning Truganini, the last Tasmanian Aborigine, who died in 1876. Her bones were sent to museums around the world, her death being the end to a shameful chapter in out past. Yet in recent years the story of the last Tasmanian has been shown to be untrue, perhaps a story assuaging white guilt for the crimes of the past. The exposure of this lie is no better demonstrated than through the photography of Ricky Maynard.
I stood in a natural shelter at Adventure Bay recording the ocean. Looking at the settlement of houses metres from the beach I wondered what the residents and holiday-makers heard in the waves.