Despite colonial Van Demonian (oh yeah!) attempts to exterminate its aborigines in the 1820-30s, it seems that the extant Tasmanian aboriginal population is growing abnormally well. In the latest census Tassie’s resident population comprises 5.5% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, compared to 3.3% nationally.
The data collection is through self-identification, with the latest figure up from 4.7% in the previous census, which prompts speculation. Perhaps ‘stolen generation’ cultural renewal is encouraging people to reclaim their previously suppressed aboriginal heritage. Maybe more aboriginal people are moving across Bass Strait, and/or ‘natural increase’ is occurring?
Aboriginal Land Council estimates around 20,000 aborigines in Tasmania, so Chairman Michael Mansell reckons the census figure of 28,537 is too high. Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre CEO Heather Sculthorpe says aboriginal numbers were reduced to a few hundred after the Black Wars and could not have grown through natural increase and immigration (from the mainland) to be the highest proportion in Australia.
So, something is going on in Tasmanian minds when they increasingly self-identify as aboriginal. Mansell says that some might be ‘mistaken’ and others ‘opportunistic’. But I reckon it’s much more positive than that: perhaps being aboriginal is the new cool, hip trend and Tasmanians are at the pioneering cutting edge, out on the fringe, so to speak. Dare I say, the new black?
Imagine if more of us claim aboriginal heritage and we go way past apologies and reconciliation into a new nirvana of collective pride in our ancient land’s earliest culture. We latecomers could then be assigned honorary belonging to ‘country’ somewhere, maybe learn some local language and take care of that country?
* Thanks to Anne Mather (The Mercury, 09 Sept 2018) for her report and interviews, which prompted this reflection. Inflection?