Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse follows the life of the strong Nuenonne woman who lived through the dramatic upheavals of invasion and dispossession and became known around the world as the so-called ‘last Tasmanian’. But the figure at the heart of this book is George Augustus Robinson, the self-styled missionary and chronicler who was charged with ‘conciliating’ with the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples. It is primarily through his journals that historians are able to glimpse and piece together the world fractured by European arrival.
In this book and in earlier works, writer and historian Cassandra Pybus provides one of the most complex and compelling portraits of this vain, ‘problematic fellow’, with his class aspirations and ‘cramped puritan spirit’. He oversaw and led the decimation of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population, and yet was often fighting back against even more indifferent authorities. He also ‘fancied himself an ethnographer’ and took detailed notes of the life of his companions, which confers on him an outsized role in Aboriginal histories of Tasmania. As Pybus laments, ‘Truganini and her companions are only available to us through the gaze of pompous, partisan, acquisitive, self-aggrandising men who controlled and directed the context of what they described.’