Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Reading Robinson: Companion Essays to George Robinson’s Friendly Mission


14

Community Voices

SHARON DENNIS

I HAVE ONLY READ EXTRACTS from Friendly Mission. It is not a book that has been accessible to me in the past and I do not have the time to sit in a library and read the book, or the funds to photocopy extracts. But there is another reason I have not read it, and it is because I feel I need to have my own experiences first, to hear stories from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I want to have enough information to make my own judgement and not make my mind up by reading something and to accept it as the absolute truth. I am also not ready for the sorrow the book might make me face. I already see so much injustice and poor acknowledgement of Tasmanian Aboriginal people past and present. When I see an injustice I want to be able to address it and try and make a positive difference. If I read Friendly Mission there may be so many areas I can identify as an absolute necessity to preserve or pursue that I will get lost in my already laboured work commitments. It is like a self-denial until I feel I am ready to read this book and then to act on what I find.

However I cannot deny that I am curious about the book and its contents. I hear many stories about Friendly Mission and the interpretations that the book has leant towards in documenting details of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The stories I hear are from researchers who have utilised the book and speak of its great importance and how vital it is to their own research and interpretations. The book is associated with being the only true recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and without it there would be no recordings at all and it is information that would have been lost forever. It is a book that is used as a benchmark for all other research relating to Aboriginal people in Tasmania but is not secure in its contents and can still be interpreted to match a research agenda.

Other stories I hear are from some members of the Aboriginal community in Tasmania. These stories tell of how the book is offensive and does not represent Tasmanian Aboriginal people as people, but rather as subjects and that it should not be rewarded or heralded as the keeper of stories of Aboriginal people in Tasmania. It has been regarded in the past and present that this is the only story to be told and that what has been passed on as verbal stories and culture therefore cannot possibly be true if it is different from the book. Interpretations have been that the Protector of Aborigines in Tasmania was viewed as a saviour, a person with integrity and dignity who was helpless in his endeavours to cease the alarming death rates of the Tasmanian Aborigines. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community members are against any suggestions that the Protector of the Tasmanian Aborigines was anything but a hindrance and a man with no values or morals. He is viewed as letting many people die with little or no intervention and as one who lacked the foresight of his actions being devastating, both physically and physiologically.

So as a person who values research and values other Tasmanian Aborigines and the Aboriginal community I feel I am caught in a bind. To access Friendly Mission would certainly assist other researchers and the general public in understanding the past generations of Tasmanian Aborigines. But Tasmanian Aboriginal community members should also be acknowledged and Friendly Mission should include a segment stating that it is not the representation or interpretation that the Aboriginal community necessarily agrees with. Maybe then the Tasmanian Aboriginal community would be more comfortable reading the book knowing that this is a representation by someone who thought they were right in their actions and documentation, who thought they were the saviour of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people but who actually was not nor should be heralded as such.

Reading Robinson: Companion Essays to George Robinson’s Friendly Mission

   by Anna Johnston and Mitchell Rolls