Among the sand dunes that line Tasmania’s northeast coast, a campfire is burning. Carleeta Thomas stands by the fire, tending to the sheep cooking in the flames, surrounded by a series of wooden pods strewn in the brush.
The oily sheep, or short-tailed shearwater, was a palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) forever, and these sleeping cabins were designed to replicate the palawa huts found on the west coast of Tasmania.
Today they are an immersive part of the wukalina walk, a guided hike along the larapuna/ Coast Bay of Fires which is the first tourism business owned and operated by the Palawa community. They are an expression of an ancient culture and a people that even someone as young as Thomas, 21, the main guide of wukalina Walk, has often learned had died.
“When I was in high school there were still people who said ‘I swear Truganini was the last aboriginal in Tasmania’,” she said. “I didn’t really know how to respond to that. I knew I was Aboriginal.
The myth that Truganini, wife of Bruny Island, was Tasmania’s last aboriginal has persisted since her death in 1876, less than 80 years after Europeans colonized Tasmania. During those first decades, Palawa suffered a series of atrocities, from being forced on missions by the state’s so-called chief protector of the state’s natives, George Augustus Robinson, to being “civilized and Christianized” , to the black line of 1830, when settlers formed a human chain moving across the island in an attempt to capture the remaining indigenous population. The settlers were thwarted: only two palawa were reported as captured.
The treatment of the Palawa has been described as genocide, although the lineage has survived, with some Palawa females having been taken to the Bass Strait Islands off the northern coast of Tasmania by British and American seal hunters.