Accepted Paper:

Not the last: Photographs of Tasmanian Aborigines at Oyster Cove c.1858  


Sandra Bowdler (University of Western Australia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses 19th century photographs of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and how they have been used over time to bolster certain myths about the Tasmanian Aborigines. Other interpretations will be suggested.

Paper long abstract:

About fifty photographs of Tasmanian Aboriginal people are known from the 19th century. The best known comprises at least 21 taken at Oyster Cove, where a group of 47 Aboriginal people were institutionalised from 1847 until 1873. Little scholarly study has been carried out on these photos, apart from work by Julia Clark at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and, more recently, by Indigenous scholar/artist Julie Gough (Gough in press). I have also been studying these photos in the context of a study of other images of Tasmanian Aborigines in the 19th century.

About three or four of the Oyster Cove photographs have been republished again and again, usually with misleading captions and identifications, where there have been any. They have been deployed to represent particular views, particularly the constant labelling of them as "The Last of the Tasmanians". I want to look at the complete set overall, in the context of the other known photographs, and with respect to the possibility of a richer reading of them, including their significance for the modern Aboriginal community in Tasmania. Despite the "Last of the Tasmanians" captions, these photos include images of ancestors of the modern community. Most of the individuals can be identified, and biographical detail about each is available, which together provide an individuated history of this group from the time of the European invasion until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Panel P18
Revisiting the gaze and reinterpreting images across space and time: Photography, subjects, and viewers