Thursday 18 September 2008
The first photograph added to the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection was this remarkable and disturbing Australian photograph titled The Last of the Native Race of Tasmania. It was acquired in 1893 (1893/2) and was a gift from Sir George Grey. Taken by Henry Frith about 1866 it includes, from left, Mary-Ann, William Lanne, Bessie Clark and Truganini.
Truganini was born about 1812 on Bruny Island, south of Hobart. Her name means the grey saltbush (Atriplex cinerea). Truganini’s mother was murdered by whalers, as were most of her family.
In 1873, Truganini was thought to be the sole surviving Tasmanian Aborigine, as her husband William Lanne died in 1869. When Truganini died in 1876, she was given a government funeral but her coffin was deliberately left empty and her body interred in the Hobart Penitentiary’s vault. Truganini’s body was exhumed two years later, her bones cleaned of their flesh, and her skeleton articulated and placed on public display at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Her skeleton remained on exhibit until 1947. Only on the centenary of her death in 1976, did Truganini gain her dying wish that her ashes be scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
Knowing this, the hand-coloured sepia photograph becomes a testament of cruelty. All the figures are attired in their missionary ‘Sunday best’ and come across as sentinels who actually mark the passing of Tasmania’s indigenous people. The photograph’s title reinforces such a reading. The Corinthian columns further accentuate the image’s colonial reality as a visual document of genocide.
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