Saturday, June 19, 2010


Something has happened, and is happening, to the ways in which we might see Truganini. How Truganini is envisioned seems to be in a state of flux. Likewise, there has been something of a paradigm shift in the ways in which we might envision “Truganini’s Necklaces”. That is the maireener shell necklaces Truganini is typically depicted wearing along with those attributed to her – plus those named after her.

In Tasmania’s ‘Antipodean Wunderkammers’ the Tasmanian Aboriginal people’s shell necklaces figure large. Deep in the museums' memory banks, and in their exhibition spaces, they have catalogued the shifting paradigms within which these ‘loaded artifacts’ are, and have been, imagined.

Then there is the Truganini story itself. Truganini and her shell necklaces are deeply ingrained in Tasmaniana storytelling. Somehow, Truganini seems to be somewhere in either the foreground or background of just about every story to do with Tasmania’s colonial history. For some Truganini is iconic; for others she has been canonised as a venerated ancestor; for some she is branded as a traitor, collaborator, bushranger and curio; for others she is remembered as a survivor. However, she is most contentiously spoken of “as the last of her race.”

Truganini is a complex identity, and an identity who is typically presented wearing a shell necklace. Truganini and her necklaces are a part of the ‘Tasmanian Brand’ – the quintessential Tasmaniana brand. It is not so surprising that necklaces such as hers were imagined as ‘Truganini Necklaces’ – albeit most often as a subliminal subtext.NOTE: Both necklaces above have unquestioned Aboriginal authenticity but the "Truganini Necklace" is circumstantially unlikely to have been made by Truganini as she was unlikely to have had access to these particular shells for the dates attributed to them.


Shane Newson said...

Trugganini lived on the southern coast of Tasmania, the mentioned shells and many others are and for sure would have been plentiful! How long is the element of doubt going too be placed on Tasmanian Aborigines and Tasmanian Aboriginal culture....

rn7250 said...

There is no"doubt [being placed] on Tasmanian Aboriginal culture" and indeed this paper celebrates the ongoing expression of their culture.

It is just the case that the kind of necklaces Truganini made and wore were mimicked by 'colonial producers' in very large numbers and within what can now be understood as an 'industry'.

It is also the case that contemporary Tasmanian shell necklace makers, and the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, have advised that 'rice shells' do not seem to have a habitat in Southern Tasmania.

Nonetheless maireener shells do and were in abundance in Southern Tasmania and provided the resource for the colonial industry. They were also in abundance elsewhere in Tasmania, Bass Straight Islands in particular, and are used by Aboriginal maker till this day.