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July–August 2010, no. 323


July–August 2010, no. 323


Dear Editor,

In his essay ‘Seeing Truganini’ (May 2010), David Hansen focused on the politics around the Benjamin Law busts of Truganini and Woureddy. As an aside, he mentioned that ‘Law’s only other known bust, of Robinson himself, has been lost’. It is ironical that, as Hansen’s essay was going to print, Gareth Knapman (Museum Victoria) and Olga Tsara (State Library of Victoria) located one of the George Augustus Robinson busts in the State Library of Victoria.

As the Protector of Aborigines in Tasmania, during the 1830s, Robinson persuaded the Aboriginal community to surrender into government protection, an approach mythologised as the ‘conciliation’, but one that resulted in the Aboriginal population being exiled to Flinders Island. By 1835 Robinson had achieved his mission of ‘conciliation’ and chose to represent his importance as a public figure by commissioning Benjamin Law to produce what was an archetypal Victorian-era bust of himself. Draped in a toga, Robinson appeared in neoclassical grandeur. The bust provides an insight into Robinson’s desire for self-promotion. Rather than inscribing the bust as ‘protector’ or ‘conciliator’, Law – probably at Robinson’s direction – inscribed it as ‘pacificator’ of Aborigines, suggesting that Robinson saw conciliation as an imperial ruse.

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