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Truganini, 1886 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Truganini (Trugernanner, Trukanini, Trucanini) (1812?–76), Aboriginal woman, was the daughter of Mangana, leader of a band of the south-east tribe. In her youth she took part in her people's traditional culture, but Aboriginal life was disrupted by European invasion. When Truganini met GA Robinson in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé murdered by timber-getters. At Robinson's Bruny Island mission she married Woorady, and they were associated with Robinson's travels around Tasmania from 1830 to 1835, acting as his guides and teaching him their language and customs, which he recorded. They went to the Flinders Island settlement in 1835, Robinson renaming Truganini 'Lallah Rook', but she retained her traditional ways, and was dismayed at the broken promises that made the settlement a death camp for Aboriginal people.

In 1839 Truganini, Woorady and fourteen others accompanied Robinson to Port Phillip, but after two of the men were hanged for murder, the rest were sent back to Flinders, Woorady dying on the way. With the other Aborigines, Truganini went to Oyster Cove in 1847. Here she resumed to some extent her earlier lifestyle, diving for shellfish, visiting Bruny Island and hunting in the bush. By 1869 she and William Lanne were the only two 'full-bloods' alive, and in 1874 she moved to Hobart, where she died. She was concerned, rightly, that after her death her body would be mutilated by 'scientists', and it was on display in the Tasmanian Museum until 1951.

In 1976, a century after Truganini died, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community requested that Truganini be cremated and scattered in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel near her homeland. The ceremony was a moving and significant occasion which encouraged Tasmanians to recognise the ongoing existence, rights and cultural responsibilities of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Alison Alexander