Truganini or Trugernanner (1812-1876), Tasmanian Aborigine, daughter of Mangerner, a Lyluequonny man of the south-east tribe, was born at Recherche Bay in 1812, nine years after British occupation of the Derwent river area. Her childhood and adolescence were spent on the violent frontier of British settlement. By March 1829, when Truganini and her father met the secular missionary George Augustus Robinson on Bruny Island, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister Moorinna abducted and shot by sealers, and Paraweena, a young man who was to have been her husband, murdered by timber getters. In July 1829 at Bruny Island mission Truganini 'married' Woorraddy, a Nuenonne man from Bruny Island. From 1830-35 they were associated with Robinson's expeditions around Tasmania to 'bring in' other Aborigines before they were exterminated by British settlers. Truganini and Woorraddy acted as guides and instructors in their languages and customs to Robinson, who recorded them in his journal, which became the best ethnographic record now available of pre-contact Tasmanian Aboriginal society.

The results of these journeys became clear to Truganini in November 1835, when she joined the 100 or so 'rescued' Aborigines on the supposed asylum on Flinders Island, where she was expected to relinquish her own culture and be retrained as a domestic servant. As part of the transformation process Robinson renamed her 'Lallah Rookh' in memory of the princess who was the last of her people in the then popular poem by the Irish poet Thomas Moore. In March 1836 Truganini returned to mainland Tasmania with the other 'mission' Aborigines to search for the last Aboriginal family still at large. When these were located, Truganini warned them 'not to come in'. Returning to Flinders Island in July 1837, she found so many Aborigines had died that she told Robinson all would be dead before the houses being constructed for them had been completed.

Truganini was saved from this fate in 1839 when, with Woorraddy and fourteen other Aborigines, she went with Robinson to his new job in Melbourne as Protector of the Aborigines in the Port Phillip district. In 1841 Truganini absconded with two female and two male compatriots to Western Port, where they terrorised shepherds and shot two whalers, one of whom may have abducted and shot her sister Moorinna in 1828. The two Tasmanian Aboriginal men were hanged, and the three women bundled back to Flinders Island with Woorraddy, who died en route. There she lived with the Aboriginal Alphonso until the asylum was removed in October 1847 to Oyster Cove, a disused convict station 32 km south of Hobart. There the Aborigines were expected to die out.

Over the next 25 years Truganini maintained strong visiting relationships with Fanny Cochrane Smith (q.v.), visited Bruny Island by catamaran, dived for shellfish, gathered shells and seaweed to make necklaces, and hunted in the hinterland, all of which probably helped to prolong her life.

In 1874 floods at Oyster Cover forced her to move to Hobart with her guardians, the Dandridge family. There Truganini died in Mrs Dandridge's house on 8 May 1876. She was buried at the old female factory at the Cascades. Since she was considered the last 'full-blood' Tasmanian, her body was exhumed in 1878 by the Royal Society of Tasmania, which was authorised by the government to take possession of her skeleton on condition that it was not exposed to public view but 'decently deposited in a secure resting place accessible by special permission to scientific men for scientific purposes.' These conditions were not observed. First, the bones were displayed in a box at the Centenary Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888, and then in 1904 the skeleton was articulated for public display in the Tasmanian Museum in Hobart. There it remained until 1947, when press agitation claimed that it was in bad taste, so it was stored in the vaults of the museum where only scientists could view it. In 1975 the Tasmanian government reclaimed possession of the skeleton and on 30 April 1976, to mark the centenary of Truganini's death, it was cremated. On 1 May the ashes were given to the Aboriginal community who scattered them over the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.

For the contemporary Aboriginal community in Tasmania, Truganini has become a symbol of struggle and survival; for whites she has become a useful scapegoat, responsible for the extermination of her people. She has been the subject of novels, plays, poetry, paintings, and a biography. She continues to defy her critics.

Lyndall Ryan

Lyndall Ryan The Aboriginal Tasmanians l981.