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Research Guides


Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


The 1970s and 1980s

As Commonwealth funds began to flow for Aboriginal housing for communities on mainland Tasmania and Cape Barren Island, and the Tasmanian Government took steps to encourage the latter to resettle, a renewed activism was evident. In late 1968, Charlie Perkins, a leading Indigenous Commonwealth Government official, criticised Tasmania for lack of consultation. Advertising by the Tasmanian Government in April 1970 for a 'resettlement officer' to be based in Launceston was strongly opposed, then within a year changed to a 'community development officer' located on Cape Barren Island. In August 1971, ABSCOL, an Aboriginal scholarship scheme formed by the national student organisation with strong support from the University of Tasmania, ran a conference in Launceston, which strengthened a sense of identity and destiny.

This and similar initiatives took organisational form in Hobart in November 1972 around a Commonwealthfunded Aboriginal Information Centre, later called the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC). While it was 'by far the most prominent and professional body' to represent Tasmanian Aboriginal people, as Henry Reynolds noted, there were numerous regional sporting and cultural bodies and the TAC was 'often opposed by the regional organisations'.

Selected items relating to the Aboriginal Information Centre/Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre
National Archives, Canberra
Establishment of an Aboriginal Information Centre, 1971–89 A431, 1974/955
Correspondence and exhibits – Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, 1981–82 A12884, 44
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Incorporated – general representations, 1982–91 A463, 1987/G281
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Incorporated – general representations, 1983 A463, 1987/G281 ATTACHMENT 1
National Archives, Melbourne
Aboriginal Information Service – Tasmania – demand for grant, 1975 B4523, [138]

The TAC in the 1970s and following decades became one of the most prominent and influential Aboriginal organisations in Australia. Naturally, the question of land rights was part of its objectives, but in 1975 it took up a campaign to settle unfinished business – the inappropriate treatment of Truganini's remains. They had been on display in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery from 1904 to 1947, and remained there in a vault. Led by its secretary, Roy Nicholls, the TAC focused on the year 1976, the centenary of Truganini's death, as a fitting time for the cremation of her remains. The museum's trustees resisted, but the Tasmanian Government of Premier Doug Lowe insisted, and ceremonial scattering of her ashes in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel duly happened on 30 April.

The ceremony encouraged Tasmanians to accept and recognise the ongoing existence and rights of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, and resonated culturally within the national psyche too. For its 1980 Boyer Lectures, the ABC broadcast a series of five talks by Emeritus Professor Bernard Smith under the general title 'The Spectre of Truganini'.

Selected items relating to Truganini
National Archives, Canberra
Truganini's remains – Tasmania, 1970–76 A2354, 1970/197
National Archives, Brisbane
Photographic negative – stamps display, Australian women: Constance Stone (1858–1902), Catherine Spence (1825–1910), Truganini (1812–76), Edith Cowan (1861–1932), Louisa Lawson (1848–1920), Henry Handel Richardson (1870–1946) – 28 July 1975, 1975 J2364, 5157/16
National Archives, Sydney
Bernard Smith and Truganini (with Robyn Ravlich) [includes 6 photographs, 6 negatives and 7 transparencies], 1980 C1849, 35
Boyer Lectures – The Spectre of Truganini, Bernard Smith [Part 1], 1980 C1849, 34 PART 1
Boyer Lectures – The Spectre of Truganini, Bernard Smith [Part 2], 1980 C1849, 34 PART 2
Boyer Lectures – Bernard Smith – The Spectre of Truganini, 1980 (also tapes 2–5) C100, 81/7/110.1 M– C100, 81/7/110.5 M
Lateline [no 495] – Truganini and Tasmanian Australian Aboriginals, 1963–80 C100, 76/10/1101 M

Truganini's spirit respected, the new activists pursued other ancestors' remains in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery's Crowther collection and in overseas museums, and also campaigned for the identification and protection of archaeological sites. Efforts in Tasmania were noted by the Commonwealth, with the Parliament and government having independently become aware of the need to protect the national estate and sites of religious, historic and cultural significance to Indigenous people. Eventually, there was national legislation in the form of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984.

Selected record items relating to Tasmanian Aboriginal sites
National Archives, Canberra
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies – conservation of the Mount Cameron West Aboriginal site in Tasmania, 1963–64 A3211, 1963/5483
Conservation of Mount Cameron West – Aboriginal site in Tasmania, 1963–64 A463, 1964/307
Aboriginal rock engravings at Mersey Bluff, Tasmania, 1973 A3382, 1973/292
Inquiry into the Environmental Conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the Preservation of their Sacred Sites – correspondence with nongovernment organisations – Aboriginal Information Service (Tasmania), 1973–75 A13154, ATS 173
Rock carvings, Mersey Bluff, Tasmania, 1975 A8739, A8/4/75/4
Rock paintings, Tasmania, 1976 A6180, 5/4/76/13
Evidence of ancient Aboriginal race found in Tasmania, 1981 A6180, 2/2/81/35
Aboriginal man at demonstration against the public use of burial grounds on Flinders Island in Bass Strait, 1984 A6135, K5/10/84/75
Rock painting found in north west Tasmania, 1986 A6180, 1/4/86/1

In the 1970s and 1980s, the TAC became, according to Lyndall Ryan, 'one of the most prominent and influential Aboriginal organisations in Australia'. It was fortunate to have a cadre of strong leaders including Rosalind Langford, Greg Lehman, Jim Everett and Heather Sculthorpe. However, the best known, Michael Mansell, was in a category of his own. Mansell was born in Launceston in 1951 to a third-generation Islander family and joined the TAC Launceston branch in 1973. By 1976 he was state secretary and exhibiting what journalists like to call 'a flair for controversy'. He created a media sensation when he made an unscheduled presentation of artefacts to Queen Elizabeth II when she arrived for a reception at the Wrest Point Hotel Casino in May 1977. Later, travels to Libya, visits to overseas museums seeking the return of Aboriginal remains, promotion of an Australian Aboriginal nation and in 1990 an Australian Provisional Government, reinforced his profile and cause. Inevitably, he came under the notice of ASIO.

Selected items relating to Michael Mansell
National Archives, Canberra
National Aboriginal Government – application for post office box, 1979 A1209, 1980/744 PART 1
Mansell, Michael, Volume 1, 1982–83 A6119, 5505
National Archives, Perth
Resource information database sheets (Broome) – police – M Mansell, 'Police/Aboriginal relations: a Tasmanian perspective', 1984 D4152, 829

In the early 1980s, Mansell and others in the TAC began determined campaigning for land rights. They formed an Aboriginal Land Council and concentrated initially on the ownership of Oyster Cove, a former Aboriginal station, and the return of the remains of Oyster Cove ancestors held in the Crowther collection at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. This period coincided with the governments of Bob Hawke, whose Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for more than two governments (1983–87) was Clyde Holding.

Series recorded by Clyde Holding (CP 434)
National Archives, Canberra
Subject files maintained by Mr Clyde Holding as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, 1980–87 M2142
Binders of transcripts of press conferences and speeches by Mr Holding as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, 1983–87 M2159
Folders of press cuttings maintained by Mr Holding as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, 1986–87 M2161
Folders of 'correspondence pinks' relating to the portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs, 1986–87 M2165
Folders of papers maintained by the Hon Allan Clyde Holding relating to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio, 1983–87 M3555

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Chapter 6
Tasmanian Aboriginal people