A Tragic Spirit Looming and the Majestic Tasmanian Island of Bruny
We take our seats gingerly in the adventure speedboat, ready to carve up the waters of the green Tasman Sea. I’m worried about seasickness. It’s a cold, cloudy day and I decide to pop a couple of travel calm tablets before we depart for a three-hour wilderness trip. Today I’m exploring Bruny Island by sea, also known by its traditional Aboriginal name, Unawanna-allona. This island is a wonderland, known for it’s spectacular wilderness, seafood produce and wildlife. Situated on the South-East Coast of Tasmania, Australia, Unawanna-allonah is one of Tasmania’s leading tourist destinations.
Spirits buoyed My spirits are buoyed because I am on holidays in the pristine state of Tasmania. I feel lulled into that blissful holiday feeling, where time is of no importance.
The boat quickly gathers momentum when the throttle is cranked up, silencing a bunch of chatty tourists. In a heart-pounding moment we speed through a gap between towering cliffs. The beauty of this island and the diverse wildlife transfixes me. Before I know it, the boat slows to a pause as we descend upon a large colony of Australian Fur seals. I am utterly mesmerized as they bark and slap their fins, moving their awkward bodies slowly along the rocky outcrop. I breathe in the salty ocean air and lean into the rails of the boat, keenly observing these amusing creatures.
Before I know it we are off again and the boat carves through the ocean where whales migrate. As I search in the distance for whales, we are quickly joined by a playful pod of dolphins. My happiness soars at the sight of these dolphins and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. These cheeky dolphins keep up with the speed of the boat. They have an instant audience, turning on a quite a show and impressing all on board. I am reminded how animals have an instantaneous effect upon me. They elicit both wonder and curiosity within me, lulling me into a pure state of mindfulness.
Heaviness in my spirit Despite being swept up by stunning scenery and wilderness, I cannot shake a heaviness. Before boarding our boat, I read a sign on the island. Dedicated to a local Aboriginal woman- Truganini (1812-1876). This is no doubt one of the most tragic stories in Australia’s history. Truganini’s life was as brutal as could be imagined. She was a courageous survivor during white invasion, which decimated her people, the Nuenonne mob. A snapshot of Truganini’s biography reads: (australianmuseum.net.au)
Age 17, Truganini witnessed her mother brutally stabbed to death by men on a whaling ship.
Two sisters kidnapped by sealers.
Truganini’s betrothed was tossed overboard a boat by timber-cutters. Shockingly, as he scrambled fervently to try and climb aboard, his hands were cut off. Witnessed by Truganini, who was then raped.
Stepmother kidnapped by convicts on the run and her Uncle killed.
Father died of a broken heart.
Truganini survived all these tragedies and was the last living full blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal. Tragically, even death could not free Truganini from the pervasive ways of white invasion. In 1947 when Truganini passed at the age of 64, she was buried according to her wishes. Two years later, the Royal Society of Tasmania exhumed her skeleton for display at Hobart Museum. I cannot comprehend this utter disrespect.
Interwoven conflict I encounter this island’s wilderness wonderland- a colony of seals, migrating whales, a forest of Eucalyptus trees; all enshrouded in a dark and violent history of murderous sealers, whalers and timber-cutters. I am profoundly struck by how these elements are interwoven in Truganini’s life, in the most tragic of ways. I consider Truganini’s early years and her peaceful connection to earth, the land and animals. Then suddenly, my attention is drawn to a beautiful white-bellied sea eagle high up in the trees. According to our guide, the white-bellied sea eagle is commonly found soaring above the Tasman sea or nestled in the trees around the island. The eagle is uniquely designed to have acute vision, 8 times stronger than humans; hence the saying “an eagle eye.” Upon seeing the eagle, I have a quickening sense that throughout history, a close watch has been kept upon Truganini. Her pain has not gone unnoticed from the eagle’s eye. It’s almost like I’ve had a spiritual awakening as I meditate upon this thought… Far up in the heavens, the eagle’s eye has seen Truganini’s life on earth. I sense the spirit of the eagle, as it takes flight and I see Truganini soar on the wings of the eagle -
The Eagle’s Eye The eagle knows, the eagle sees- Truganini The seas roar and waters glisten The eagle watches and listens The cold catches her breath A rugged wilderness Pods of dolphins care free Contrary to her history Her peace, her land shattered Only the white mattered Seals, whales and timber trees Caught up in this tragedy Pain echoes in the skies Unawanna-allonah’s genocide Truganini’s spirit wrestles and cries High up on the cliffs, in the rustling of the trees The eagle knows, the eagle sees- Truganini. A shocking blight on humanity Decimation of Aboriginality Unawanna-allonah bleeds Truganini is now set free The eagle’s wide wingspan A surveyor of the land She rises upon his wings Unawanna-allonah sings.
Natalie is passionate about human rights issues, matters of the mind and interfaith insights. When not in deep thought, Natalie loves to travel, drink good coffee and keep fit where she resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. See all previous articles by Natalie Alexander