Aborigines on Kangaroo Island

When Matthew Flinders first mapped Kangaroo Island in 1803, he found a humanless sanctuary. Seal hunters soon arrived and, as in Bass Strait, a cross-cultural community emerged of British sealers and the Aboriginal women they took from Tasmania and the nearby Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri countries. Kangaroo Island became a place where skins replaced coats and where the English language might be forgotten where Aboriginal women, at first mistreated, were eventually respected for their knowledge of how to live in an uncolonised land.

In 1836 the South Australian Company arrived to establish a new province. Many of the first Islanders were displaced as a farming community grew. But until the late 1870s, three Tasmanian Aboriginal women Sal, Suke and Betty remained. They continued to live traditionally, clearing the land with fire and hunting with dogs. All three women outlived Trukanini. Betty's descendants still live on Kangaroo Island, but have only recently discovered their ancestry.

Blood alone cannot sustain memory. Much of their history is remmbered in the land on Kangaroo Island. There are creeks, gullies and paddocks with names that recall the stories of the Aboriginal women and their sealer partners. The people who tell them are the island's colonial descendants who have continued to farm the land on Kangaroo Island for over five generations. A history of exclusion resulted in a history lost. But as Betty's descendants return to the land and recover the history it retains, they are forming a new identity.

Further reading: R Taylor, Unearthed, Kent Town, SA, 2002.

Rebe Taylor