THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL SELECT COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL LANDS MET IN COMMITTEE ROOM 2, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, HOBART ON MONDAY 10 APRIL 2000.
 
 
 
 

Dr CASSANDRA PYBUS WAS CALLED, MADE THE STATUTORY DECLARATION AND WAS EXAMINED.
 
 
 
 

CHAIRPERSON (Mrs Sue Smith) - We welcome you this morning, Dr Pybus. I note your information of 16 March 2000 and your particular desire to address the committee, particularly on the question of aboriginality. I do apologise for the fact that we are running substantially late but it is important on the last day of our hearings to try to ask every question we feel necessary.

The process the committee has used is that they ask you to speak to your submission on the particular issues, add anything to it you feel necessary and then the committee will ask any questions they feel they need to expand on. We will pass over to you and allow you to address the committee.

Dr PYBUS - I think I might perhaps identify my interest. I am a historian and for the past several years I have been specifically working on race relations in colonial Australia. My first book, which was published in 1990, was also on race relations in Tasmania. I gave evidence as an expert witness at the case referred to, which was the Federal Court case which was heard by Justice Ron Merkel, and as a subsequent to that case, because of issues that Justice Merkel himself raised about why was it that there were so many people identifying as Aboriginal or ticking the box on the census form when the historical evidence would suggest that that large cohort couldn't possibly exist, I found this a paradox and it is a paradox that I have been particularly interested in exploring. I currently have signed a contract with a publisher for a book which is probably going to be called 'The Other Blacks', which is actually focusing on the extent of Afro-American basically and Indian population in the first five decades of colonial settlement of Australia.

That is my expertise, if you like, and I specifically asked to address the committee because I was concerned by stories that I had been reading in the press about various Aboriginal groups in the south and in the north-west who were claiming to be excluded from various processes, who were setting up their own organisations, and indeed in the case of one organisation in the south, making land claims. I felt that this kind of media exposure could reflect poorly on the legitimacy of the Aboriginal community's claims in Tasmania, especially outside of Tasmania. I am aware of the fact that there is a lot of concern in both the non-indigenous and indigenous communities outside Tasmania about what is going on here and I have a concern as a Tasmanian, non-indigenous Tasmanian, that we need to be careful that we do not bring the question of Aboriginal reconciliation into some disrepute by drawing too long a bow, if you like, in terms of who might legitimately be seen to be the recipients of any acts of reparation that the community wishes to make.

My evidence to the Federal Court case has not substantially changed despite the fact that I have a much more historical basis for the kinds of things that I said then and that is that it is relatively easy in my view - and I might say that I have discussed at length with both Lyndal Ryan and Henry Reynolds - it is that indigenality in Tasmania, descent from an indigenous person in Tasmania, is relatively easy to establish because of the unique and terrible circumstances of the near genocide of Aboriginal people in Tasmania in the early nineteenth century. The fact that, because they were seen as being of such official and scientific interest, there was an extraordinary surveillance of Aboriginal and part Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century so the likelihood that non-Aboriginal people have, as it were, slipped through the net, is very low in view and it is not only my view.

Mr Justice Merkel did accept the evidence that was tendered to him about oral histories of Aboriginal people, particularly in the Huon and Channel. He was referred to a book called 'We Who Are Not Here' - which some of you may have seen. At the time I pointed out to Justice Merkel that that book was written as part of a project that was managed by my company and that it was an oral history project of people in the Huon who identified as being of Aboriginal descent. At the time the book was published I raised with the person who wrote it the gross historical inaccuracies in the book in relation to people claiming descent from two women whose archival records clearly show they are white convict women. One of the things about white convict women and men was that the first thing that happened to them when they arrived in the colony was that their descriptions were taken down. So not only do the birth certificates indicate that these are Irish women but also we have clear descriptions of them; they cannot be in any way, shape or form seen as being Aboriginal people.

The fact is that an oral history has grown up in the Huon and Channel to the effect that they are and there are various reasons why this might be. But I was - and I think every historian of Van Diemen's land is - concerned that this kind of oral history has been given some credibility by Justice Merkel, who by his own account didn't know anything about Tasmanian colonial history. I think also in relation to Justice Merkel's judgment, because I heard it raised here earlier this morning, Justice Merkel makes it very clear in that judgment that he is referring to the ATSIC act and that his judgment only refers to the ATSIC act and also to the ATSIC election of that particular year. So that one person who was excluded by Justice Merkel in that act stood again for the next ATSIC election and once again went to the Federal Court. That court case was never heard because the ATSIC election would be held before the judgment could be bought down and the judge indicated on that case that these Federal Court cases can only apply to the operation of the ATSIC Act for the purposes of that election. I had discussions at the request of the members of the Federal Electoral Commission who were a party to that act concerning the question about aboriginality in Tasmania and they expressed to me, certainly off the record and in private, their view that what is needed for ATSIC is an electoral roll and that the Commonwealth Government is unwilling to do this because they can see that there would be political problems. But from a point of view of administering the ATSIC act they were quite candid that there is a problem of the number of people who are claiming Aboriginal status who would not meet the criteria if they were ever made to but ATSIC does not apply it's criteria, it simply has it, and they would be the first people to admit that that is a problem.

One of the things that concern me in terms of what I was reading in the paper and also in terms of some of the questioning I heard here this morning was that I do not believe that the rulings on ATSIC, the act that governs ATSIC, or the way in which ATSIC administers their electoral role is an appropriate way to go because everyone knows that it is open to abuse and is being abused. The same thing is true in relation to other Commonwealth rights and benefits such as Abstudy and that is commonly acknowledged. But until such time as the Commonwealth Government is prepared to have an open, transparent and accountable process for making judgments about who is and who is not Aboriginal I suspect that these issues are going to continue to bedevil Commonwealth projects. I therefore was very pleased to see that the State Government was planning to follow Justice Merkel's recommendations which are the questions of aboriginality should be determined by the Aboriginal community.

That brings me to the issue of what I would believe constituted the Aboriginal community and I would say again, that as a non-indigenous person that is not for me to say. However, as a historian, I can say with a good degree of certainty in my own mind that it is fairly easy to determine questions of Aboriginal descent in Tasmania and that those people whose affidavits were referred to me for my historical analysis who claimed Aboriginal status by virtue of being on the ATSIC roll could not sustain it. And, indeed, in almost every single case, had the problem of tracing their descent to Europeans who arrived in the colony around the 1830s and Europeans who were nearly always a convict and therefore had clear descriptions of them as being of European descent, which is not to say that the great majority of convicts who arrive in the colony or indeed free people are entirely of European descent. That is the other issue that I think that to be taken into account. My research has shown that 1 per cent of the convict - and that is a conservative estimation - that 1 per cent of the convict population is Afro-American. We can probably presume that there are about 500 or 600 people of colour who are not Aboriginal in the colony up until 1850 and that amongst free settlers the percentage is probably considerably higher than 1 per cent - for example, in the archives on Friday I was looking at the arrivals from Norfolk Island on the Lady Nelson and it will come as a surprise to the committee, I am sure, to discover that ten of those people who then went to take up land grants in New Norfolk, Sandy Bay and up the Derwent Valley and the Norfolk Plains were either African or Indian. And on the 1818 muster for Hobart, I have been able to identify twenty people who are not of European descent and who are in fact either what is called lascars, which are Indians, or Afro-Americans.

Now, the question that we have to ask is what happens to these people? They marry Europeans, they disappear into the community as far as the officials are concerned. Unlike indigenous people they are not being scrutinised, they are not under surveillance, the police don't keep an eye on them unless they are convicts, so they do not actually disappear because physically they are very noticeable. And indeed their children are likely to be, but for all intents and purposes there is not the word 'Negro' written after their name or 'a person of colour'. You have to really search often to find this and it seems to me that stories I have heard about, for example, an Aboriginal community that survived on Bruny Island probably derived from the fact two African convicts who were then emancipated went and took up land grants on Bruny Island - both had very large families I might add. Another case I've often heard about is that there were Aboriginal people on the east coast of Tasmania who had obviously not been rounded up by Robinson. This is one that has often puzzled me but I was interested to see when I was looking for an African transporter from the Cape colony whose name was Skippio Africanus which is a grand slave name, so therefore again quite a good name to track.

Mr WILKINSON - It wouldn't be hard, would it.

Dr PYBUS - I discovered a magistrates bench book from around Swanport which had a number of entries for Skippio and his companion, who was also described as a man of colour. They had tickets of leave and they were living off the land around Swanport in the 1840s. They appeared in front of the magistrate on several occasions for taking kangaroo without a licence. What you have here is a couple of black fellas living in the bush, but they are not indigenous people.

I think that a lot of what we have picked up in the oral history of Tasmania may refer to people of colour who are not indigenous people. The question it seems for all of us to grapple with is, if you have grown up believing that you are descendant from a black person, if you know that to be the case, if it has always been known in your family - and indeed this is the story that one hears, 'It's always been known in our family.' - that there are photographs of people who clearly look to be darker than would normally be expected for a European community. If you have genuinely believed that your ancestor was black but you cannot find a way to tie it to the known indigenous population in Tasmania before 1840, I think that this is all a perfectly understandable circumstance, but does that therefore mean that you have the right to claim indigenous status and the reparations that these land transfers represent? This is where my problem is. My problem is that we have to be able to make a distinction - and I might say this is not just a Tasmanian issue; this is an issue Australia-wide. You may or may not know that Australia's most distinguished indigenous writer, Mudaroo Nungah, has now been discovered to be descendant from an Afro-American runaway slave who came to the colony of New South Wales in the 1860s. He wasn't to know that that was the case but research into his family background has proved this to be the case. Bobby Sykes, likewise, is probably descended from an Afro-American.

They are nevertheless important and critical people within the black community of Australia, the difference is they are not indigenous people. I think that Aboriginal communities wish to make a very clear distinction between questions of being black and questions of being indigenous and this is something that we have to grapple with in Tasmania too, where blackness is perhaps a problematic issue for us because the Aboriginal community of Tasmania is one that is a community of descent.

I guess that that's what I would have put on the table and perhaps people could ask me questions about it. I should say that I see myself as having no particular barrow to push in this matter except that I can see down the line for not just Tasmanians but for Australia generally that this whole issue of indigenality is going to be one of the big controversial issues for the twenty-first century and it is something that we are going to need to grapple with.

Mr WILKINSON - Can I start the ball rolling by not talking about aboriginality but reconciliation, that's an area I have been interested in over the last month or so. We've heard a lot that the transfer of land is going to assist in 'reconciliation'. That word has been thrown around a lot during the submissions and what I have been endeavouring to look at is a fair definition for reconciliation, firstly. Secondly, how do you believe the transfer of land can assist this reconciliation? Are you able to assist with that?

Dr PYBUS - Along with my colleague, Henry Reynolds, we take the view that the Aboriginal community of Australia has been very clear about the importance of land and the need for a recognition of their rights to land. In Tasmania, I have no doubt that the parcels of land that have been identified are of major significance to the Aboriginal community and I think that this is a community, perhaps more than communities perhaps in the north of Australia, that needs these kinds of significant land masses in order to reaffirm themselves. One of the great things that we have in Tasmania of which we non-indigenous people, particularly like myself who are sixth generation Tasmanian and therefore can track our descent to the usurpers of the land, that in amongst the amount of concern and shame perhaps that we might carry for that there is a real pleasure on my part that the Aboriginal community has survived. For a community to survive a process of genocide is a remarkable thing and that community needs our help as non-indigenous people to cohere and to go into the twenty-first century with a sense that they are survivors and that they do carry on their own traditional sense of themselves, albeit as a modern people and certainly not a people who can any longer relate to the original tribal groupings that Mr Fletcher mentioned earlier on.

Mr WILKINSON - It is important for land to be transferred for reconciliation.

Dr PYBUS - Yes.

Mr WILKINSON - Are you able to assist with the definition of 'reconciliation'? There it is just sitting up there in lights, 'reconciliation', how do you define it?

Dr PYBUS - I think that reconciliation is a very emotive and very personal thing so all I can do is give you my emotive response to it which is that reconciliation is something that is necessary for us as the non-indigenous people to give something back since we have taken all the time. It has been such an uneven process, it has been a process of taking and giving. We never gave, we always took.

The other thing that is striking and remarkable about indigenous people in Australia is their capacity to continue to give and even to forgive, I might say. For my purposes, as a long-standing Australian who is very proud of being sixth generation Australian and as somebody who has studied Aboriginal history and who has close relationships with the Aboriginal community, I would say that it is for us to give if we want some reconciliation since we have done all the taking. My family arrived here and were given a huge land grant on Bruny Island of land that belonged rightfully to Truganini's people. They may have frittered that land away, they may not still have it today but it is the basis of the status that my family hold in this community. I have never had to give anything back for it and neither has anybody else in my family. The fact that my government is prepared to do this is a source of huge pride to me.

I might tell you that amongst people who work in the area of reconciliation Australia-wide it is a source of considerable respect. I think that people are hugely impressed with what the Tasmanian government is prepared to do without having to go to the Native Title Tribunal. Of course, the South Australian government many years earlier did a similar thing in relation to the Pitjantjatjara people. I think not to have to go through the Native Title Tribunal is the way to go in these matters.

CHAIRPERSON - If I might expand on that to some degree. In 1995 the Aboriginal Lands Act transferred land as part of reconciliation. There is a proposal, the amendment act, to transfer more land. Your response to a community who says, 'What about in 20 years time, 25 years time?' How long do we continue to transfer land under the auspices of reconciliation?'

Dr PYBUS - I suppose that that is exactly the reason why I asked to come and talk to you because I was deeply alarmed at the reports that I read in the Mercury about a group of people whom I considered to be not of Aboriginal descent identifying parcels of land and saying, 'We're going to ask for this land to be transferred.' My own experience over a period of ten or twelve years in this State has been that the Aboriginal community, as I understand it to be, has identified the land that they want transferred. They have identified the land that is significant to them and I don't believe that this is an endless process. It may be an endless process if you continue to draw such a long bow that anybody who wishes to stand up and call themselves Aboriginal can be admitted to the process and who then says, 'Well, of course my family has always lived in the south of the State and I'd like to have' -

Mr WILKINSON - Bruny Island.

Dr PYBUS - Bruny Island, that's right. To be perfectly cynical about the process, I can call myself Aboriginal and put a claim on Bruny Island. It would be an extremely vexatious thing to do but there are people doing this and I could do it on the grounds that my family have been here since 1829. There were Aboriginal people on Bruny Island in 1829, I could very readily be descended from one of them. I think that we have to be hard-headed about this.

Mr BAILEY - Dr Pybus, in the Shaw and Wolf case in which you gave evidence, evidence was given that blacks were working for Mr Clarke, the Chief District Constable for Hamilton, for a Mr Young, and that was in 1843. Do you think that is possible that they would have been there?

Dr PYBUS - I think it is quite likely that there were numerous natives of New Holland, as they were often referred to in the records - that is, Aborigines from the mainland, who were in Tasmania in the 1840s. As I have already said, there were numerous blacks who were not necessarily indigenous Australians also. I think we do have to be careful about who we are talking about here. In 1843 there were certainly Aborigines from the mainland working in Tasmania; there were half a dozen Aboriginal convicts transported here. People did bring Aborigines from the mainland down to Tasmania, they often did not stay here or they often did not survive but you would not need to presume that these are Tasmanians.

Mr BAILEY - But you couldn't conclusively presume that they weren't?

Dr PYBUS - I can actually.

Mr BAILEY - You can?

Dr PYBUS - I will, yes. It just flies in the face of everything I know about the operation of the process of removal to suggest that any Tasmanian Aboriginal people have been permitted to continue to reside on the mainland.

Mr BAILEY - What about the 20 or 30 men and women who were sighted in the Huon River area in 1853?

Dr PYBUS - Yes. Those people - the first two things about that, there is no contemporaneous account of that; that account is an old man remembering which is then recounted. I remember seeing this when I was a child, he tells that to somebody as an old man and then it is reprinted again. There is no contemporaneous account of it. It is quite clear to me that those are the people from Oyster Cove who used to go hunting in the Huon Valley on a regular basis, that these are not Aboriginal people who have somehow again slipped through the net.

Mr BAILEY - His evidence was that when travelling up the Huon River in 1853.

Dr PYBUS - That's right, that was his evidence.

Mr BAILEY - That's a specific date.

Dr PYBUS - That's right.

Mr BAILEY - Do you believe that Robinson collected all the Aboriginals in Tasmania?

Dr PYBUS - No, I don't believe that Robinson collected them all. I think there was a kind of process by which a number of people conciliated - to use the appropriate nineteenth century term - and that I do believe that there were pockets of Aboriginal people who were not conciliated by Robinson in the early 1830s who may have survived in Tasmania as late as the 1850s, possibly in pockets on the west coast. We know that William Lanney's family did survive until they gave themselves up to Robinson's son. I do not believe however that they survived in the settled districts of the Huon under any circumstances because at the time Robinson went through the west coast the people he came into contact with were healthy and living a sustainable lifestyle. That was not true of the people in south eastern Tasmania.

Mr BAILEY - Your evidence in that case - and if I can quote - 'Dr Pybus gave evidence of her historical records and it shows that there were no Aboriginals present in the Huon and Channel areas after 1830. She states that the absence of Aboriginal people in the area was established by the fact that George Augustus Robinson, when rounding up the Aboriginal tribes to take then to the island settlement, having taken five Aboriginals from Bruny Island, found no Aborigines on the trip across the country from Recherche Bay to Port Davey'. That is a big area of land and you wouldn't be suggesting that he would have had an opportunity to have seen every person or animal that was moving in that area. It seems a long bow to draw, that just because he walked through there and didn't see any that there might not have been any there.

Dr PYBUS - Yes. If that was all that you were dealing with I think that would be a very long bow to draw but where is the evidence to the contrary, where is the evidence to suggest that there are Aboriginal people in this area?

Mr BAILEY - But by the same token there is no evidence to say that they weren't there, if you adopt that principle.

Dr PYBUS - Historians don't adopt that principle actually; historians adopt the principle of what we can know we know from contemporaneous accounts. As I said at the very beginning, we have a problem with absolutes, right, all historians have a problem with absolutes. You can't absolutely say that this was the case, however, there is no evidence to the contrary, not just Robinson, everybody else who travels through there. The people who call into Recherche Bay where Aboriginal people always used to come down to the ships and then suddenly they weren't there anymore. The likelihood -

Mr FLETCHER - There's anecdotal evidence to the contrary but no contemporaneous evidence to the contrary, I think that's what you are saying.

Dr PYBUS - Yes. The anecdotal evidence is very difficult because these stories become like folk dance. Certainly there is some anecdotal evidence that Aboriginal people survived in south-eastern Tasmania. However, I have seen no trustworthy evidence that people claiming Aboriginal descent can show that these are the people that they are descended from. Unfortunately they have family trees that show them to be descendent from European people. This is a problem and the way around this problem is to talk about illegal adoption. I have a lot of difficulty with that.

If I was dealing with somebody whose family tree kind of just stops abruptly - as often happens with the stolen generation - there are no explanations as to who this person may have been descended from. I haven't been presented with any of that evidence so far. It is one thing say there is anecdotal evidence that there were Aboriginal people still in south eastern Tasmania. I would say I and every other historian are deeply suspicious of that evidence. However it is drawing a massively long bow to go from there to a whole lot of people in 1999 or the year 2000 saying, 'We're Aboriginal' because I always heard stories that there were people still left here. I mean, we're talking about important matters of policy here and they've got to be determined on something a little more substantial than anecdotal evidence and suggesting that for some reason the formal records of your births, deaths and marriages have been tampered with.

Mr BAILEY - But would you agree that those people claiming aboriginality who are only relying on oral history would find it very difficult when there's no documented evidence to support that proposition?

Dr PYBUS - I do agree that they find it very difficult but I can only say again that the questions that were referred to me and that were referred to that you have in front of you from Mr Justice Merkel's hearing in that case they did have very clear family trees. They inserted other people into those family trees, you will agree -

Mr BAILEY - I don't because I don't know.

Dr PYBUS - If you were to read the transcripts of the evidence this is indeed what happened. The evidence was given very clearly by the State Archivist about this issue. The question is, are you going to accept that there was wide-scale, illegal adoption of Aboriginal children in the 1830s and 1840s - who knows where they could have come from - into families, thereby explaining why there's a whole lot of people who apparently are descended from Europeans are descended from Aboriginal people? I think that if you start accepting something that cannot be verified by the record, that runs totally counter to the births, deaths and marriages record, then it's open slather.

Of course, if the whole of Tasmania wishes to call themselves indigenous people that might solve the problem; we could all be part of the Aboriginal community, but I don't think that's what anybody has in mind and it would be a gross insult to the survivors. I regard a lot of this talk as a gross insult to them, I might say - 8 000 people who somehow survived in south-eastern Tasmania - because it suggests that the horrendous processes that are so well documented that took place in Tasmania didn't happen or if they did happen they didn't have the appalling consequences that indeed we know they did have.

Mr BAILEY - What about the half-caste women of Aboriginal and European descent that you referred to as having worked in households as servants or as prostitutes or as live-in partners? Do you think it's possible that people could be descendants of theirs and therefore not be able to trace their ancestry back because of a lack of documented evidence perhaps?

Dr PYBUS - Well, there are a group of young women who are described as half-caste who I cannot entirely account for - and I said so in my evidence - so therefore it is perfectly possible that there are people who are descended from those young women. However, I haven't seen any evidence of that, I would have to say because, again, you have a situation where there aren't too many unrecorded births. I'm not suggesting that unrecorded births don't happen but there are not all that many unrecorded births. Also I suppose the question that I would have to ask about this is if we are now talking about people who are descended from half-caste women in the 1830s and 1840s who have had no identification as Aboriginal people, have no involvement with the Aboriginal community but who suspect, guess, hope, that their great-great-great-great-grandmother may have been a half-caste girl who has not been identified in the colonial records as such, I would have to say, 'What claim does this person have to be a member of the Tasmanian Land Council? What claim does this person have to land transfers in Tasmania?' Again, to go back to my original metaphor, I do think that it is drawing such a long bow.

Mr BAILEY - If it were possible for DNA testing to establish some degree of aboriginality, how would you feel if a number of the people that you would find as not being of Aboriginal descent and who had been denied these rights and privileges only to be restored or regained through DNA testing? As a historian, how would you feel about that?

Dr PYBUS - There are a number of people in the Aboriginal community Australia-wide who are calling for DNA testing, as you know.

Mr BAILEY - I think it's difficult to do at the moment, from my knowledge.

Dr PYBUS - Furthermore, I think it's appalling. As a historian I'm anxious about such a notion, I'm anxious about tying indigenousness purely to genetics. Indeed, the definition of aboriginality is three-pronged and genetic descent is only one of them. I think that if you did in fact have DNA testing - and God help us, I hope we never do because it sounds appalling to me, but I have to acknowledge that a lot of Aboriginal communities are asking for it - but if, for example, people who on the basis of my understanding of the historical record I said could not be descended from Aboriginal people were found to have DNA that would indicate that they were, I would have to admit I was wrong but it would make me necessarily agree that these people met the criteria of being indigenous people simply because of a small amount of genetic material that might be identified as Aboriginal.

Mr BAILEY - But wouldn't that take them back to being a descendant of an Aboriginal? I mean, we're talking about an Aboriginal person -

Mr FLETCHER - One test of three or four -

Dr PYBUS - Yes, one test of three or four -

Mr BAILEY - Yes, one test of three but the second one is they claim, so they claim, so they've got two out of the three and why wouldn't the Aboriginal community then accept them?

Dr PYBUS - They may, but it would be for the Aboriginal community to determine.

Mr BAILEY - I agree with that.

Dr PYBUS - It is also very speculative. As far as I know, there is no suggestion that DNA testing is going to be introduced. I think there would be a great deal of concern in the international community if Australia went down that path, even if the Aboriginal community wanted it. It runs against the kind of humanist impulse in the modern world, I fear.

Mr BAILEY - But the only ones who would want it would be those who haven't been accepted by the Aboriginal community.

Dr PYBUS - That may be true in Tasmania, but it certainly isn't true in the rest of Australia.

Mr BAILEY - I'm talking about Tasmania only - that's all we're talking about.

Dr PYBUS - In the rest of Australia the people who want it are people who are concerned about the very thing that we're talking about in fact.

Mr FLETCHER - I'd like to follow the proposition from Dr Pybus with regard to the links with the ancient history and the complete breakdown or destruction of the ancient culture and therefore it is different nowadays. It just seems to me that no matter where I go there are groupings of Tasmanian Aborigines who claim their community and claim that nobody as spokespersons for a single group speak on their behalf; indeed, they claim they are a self-contained community and they will make judgements related to their own affairs and that to me links back to the tribal grouping band, a situation that was territorial with different languages and separate, I suppose. Why isn't that valid in this day and age or do you accept that it is valid or do you think there should only be a single nation or a single grouping nowadays?

Dr PYBUS - The indigenous communities everywhere like European communities are very fractious and they tend to factionalise just as all other groupings do. I had quite a lot of experience working with the Aboriginal community in Victoria who were attempting to establish a kind of central overarching organisation, which was very difficult for the very same reasons - regional differences, where groups from the Mildura region didn't really want to be involved with people from Fitzroy and things like that. I think that this is just part of the way people operate in the world. However, at a more general level of policy, I think that it is legitimate to talk about one Aboriginal community because of that extraordinary process of pulling everybody together, getting hold of everybody, pushing them together and the survivors of that process are dependent on each other for their survival. So we have people who clearly would never have had any dealings with one another only a decade earlier - for example, the people on the west coast who are overtly hostile to people from the north-west coast who are overtly hostile to people from the south-east of Tasmania - who will on Flinders Island within a decade be intermarrying with those people.

So what you have is a real mixing-pot of forced and traumatised - and the impact of trauma is so huge in this circumstance that I think you can talk about a single community which will and does argue with one another. But to take the north-west coast as a case in point, I would find it very difficult to accept that there was any remaining distinctive Aboriginal community on the north-west coast for the simple reason that everybody in my view was removed from that area and even if people went back there they weren't necessarily the people of the north-west coast who went back there.

Mr WILKINSON - The land that you're talking about that we've been meeting about over the last month or so, are you saying that that is the land that was identified by the Aboriginal community back in 1975 as being of some significance to them?

Dr PYBUS - Generally speaking, yes. If you take Mount Cameron West, for example, one of the things that's very clear and interesting in terms of the relationship to these people being deeply territorial is that when Robinson is travelling around Tasmania with people who are made up from various different bands as he collects them - the small group that travel with him are not all just from Bruny Island - the importance of Mount Cameron West to all of the people in Tasmania, regardless of their territoriality, is quite extraordinary. So although that's an area that's somewhere within that area of certain bands who I think may very well have become extinct, its significance to all Aboriginal people in Tasmania was quite clearly documented in the early nineteenth century, so there's never been any question that that's a site of huge significance. I think that's probably true of most of the areas of land, that they have had a kind of universal significance, at least for the post-genocide generations.

Mr FLETCHER - I wonder if you would refer me to your reference for Mount Cameron West when you say this is well-documented.

Dr PYBUS - It's in the Friendly Mission; I'd have to pull the detail out for you but I can certainly do that and fax it to you.

Mr WILKINSON - I know it's a question Tony's been asking a number of witnesses but, as a historian, if you were born in 20 or 30 years' time and were looking at a Legislative Council select committee that may or may not transfer land to the Aboriginal community you might say there's got to be a procedure or criterion in order for the transfer of land because if it's just that Aboriginal people walked the land before we did the whole lot of Tasmania should be handed back to the Aboriginal people and we know that that just won't occur. So are you able to set down in concrete at all any criteria so a historian can come forward in 100 years' time and say, 'I can understand this because of certain criteria that were set and adhered to'? If the bar's too low the whole of Australia goes and if it's too high there's no transfer. It's probably too simplistic to say that but I'm just after your views.

Dr PYBUS - I think that what is being proposed is very good; I think it is very cautious. I know that there are members of the Tasmanian community who don't think that but, on the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind about the significance of this land to the Aboriginal community and the importance for reconciliation in the rest of the Tasmanian community being prepared to make that gesture to them. I think that in 20 years' time people will look back at the decisions that have been made in this matter, without having to be forced by the courts to do it, as one of the most generous and forward-thinking pieces of legislation in the whole area, basically since the South Australian government did a very similar thing with the Pitjantjatjara many, many years ago now. The fact is that most land transfers in Australia have been forced. There's been this dreadful process of litigation and counter-litigation and so on. Even if the Tasmanian community is prepared to make a gesture of this magnitude and accept the Tasmanian community at their word as it were - this is what we want and we believe we know who we are - I am full of admiration for it, I'd have to say and I think that in 20 or 30 years historians will still be talking about it in those sorts of terms, the same way that people who work in the area of reconciliation and race relations talk about the decision of the Don Dunstan Government to give large parcels of land to the Pitjantjatjara.

CHAIRPERSON - If I might expand a little on that, the community of the Furneaux Islands area are being asked to transfer 20 per cent of their entire area as part of a reconciliation process on behalf of the entire Tasmanian community. Do you believe that the rest of the Tasmanian community owes something to the Furneaux Island community, who will lose some of their European heritage and traditional occupations et cetera in this particular proposal?

Dr PYBUS - You know, Henry Reynolds has a very persuasive thesis. I've had some arguments with him about this but nevertheless he has a very persuasive thesis to the effect that if there is a case for land title in Tasmania it is most likely in the Furneaux group, not because they have had an unbroken connection but because the Government very clearly made that land over to Aboriginal people. The fact is that these were not even within the time that Wybalenna was still operating as an Aboriginal settlement. These promises that were made that Flinders Island, for example, was to be given to the Aboriginal people in recompense for the loss of mainland Tasmania were not adhered to and the grazing leases were started to be given to people. The European settlement started at the same time as there were Aboriginal people living at Wybalenna.

This is an historical misfortune and it is a misfortune for the people of the Furneaux Islands but insofar as we can say that there was a recognition of native title in Tasmania - and this is a point over which historians might have some arguments but I think Reynolds' thesis is a sound one; that indeed Arthur did recognise native title, as we know the British Government did, and recognised that he was doing a trade with the islands of the Furneaux group for the island of Tasmania - there could be an argument made that 20 per cent is nothing like enough and there should be 100 per cent. I recognise that that is not answering your question and that the people of the Furneaux are being asked to give up a lot but perhaps that's - again I come back to insofar as there were people, and Manalargenna is one, who clearly understood that they were getting land to replace the land they were leaving, that promise was never kept to them. That land was never given to them, so this is something I think we all have to bear in mind.

Perhaps the rest of Tasmanian does have to make reparation to the Europeans in the Furneaux. We are all beneficiaries of this process and we all have to shoulder the burden in some way but my understanding is that there is a willingness in the community to do that. Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps this is Pollyanna-ish of me.

Mr FLETCHER - Certainly I think that Henry Reynolds' book is good reading. You have some argument with it and others I've spoken with have argument with it as well so I don't think it is an open and shut case.

Dr PYBUS - Neither was the Mabo case.

Mr FLETCHER - No, but if we step aside from that the links to the Furneaux group are pre-Bassian land bridge days and then post the sealer days where there was a shared European Aboriginal culture, I suppose, and if that's factual then the claim for the return of Bruny Island would seem to be far stronger than the claim for Flinders Island because there were Tasmanian Aborigines living and occupying Bruny Island from the days of the earliest white settlers, whereas they weren't on the Furneaux group of islands. They were absent for a long period of time until returned there by the sealers. How do you justify the legitimacy of the Flinders Island claim whilst rejecting the Bruny Island claim?

Dr PYBUS - In relation to Bruny Island, I would argue that there's been no Aboriginal occupation of Bruny since 1829 and it has developed no significance for the current present-day Aboriginal community. Therefore I cannot see anybody would put a land claim on Bruny Island.

Mr FLETCHER - But it's not a matter of land claims at this stage, is it? It's a matter of graciousness and reconciliation.

Dr PYBUS - I was not aware of the fact that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community were asking for Bruny Island or that they ever would ask for it. The claim on a large part of the Furneaux is related to the fact that that is the place in which the present-day community was forged - under duress in appalling circumstances and not their choice but nevertheless you cannot deny the significance of those places to the community.

Mr FLETCHER - But as a historian isn't the Furneaux group a forging of a culture of a mixed race?

Dr PYBUS - That is undeniable, but one of the things again about that community is that it is a community that would most appropriately be called by the term Creole in that it's a community that is neither wholly European nor wholly Aboriginal. My understanding - and this is backed up by the work that's been done by Lyndal Ryan - is that that was a community which developed its own Aboriginal culture because they all came from different places. Mostly they came from the north-east and the sealers who settled there, as opposed to the ones who blow in and out, are basically co-opted into that culture. I mean, it is more of an Aboriginal culture than it is a European culture and for the second generation it has become their culture. It is an Aboriginal culture; it may not be the same Aboriginal culture as pre-settlement but it is an Aboriginal society and culture. I don't think that anybody who works as a historian or anthropologist or archaeologist disputes that that is a unique Aboriginal community. It is unique because it has mixed genetic stock but its culture makes it Aboriginal.

Mr FLETCHER - But to test your previous argument, is it Aboriginal or is it indigenous? Is it the truly indigenous people of Tasmania?

Dr PYBUS - The definition of 'indigenous' includes being of indigenous descent. We haven't got down to the situation where you have to be a certain percentage, as in the United States for example, where you have to be at least a descendant of a fully indigenous person. The important thing to me in determining indigenousness - and I don't believe it's for me to determine anyway, but if I had to in my own mind - is to me a matter of culture and genetics. You can't have one without the other. I come back to the point that I made earlier: even if, for example, DNA testing were to show that a greater proportion of the Tasmanian population were descended from Aboriginal people than had previously been thought, I don't quite understand how this would make them have claims to indigenousness if they hadn't lived within an Aboriginal community or had not identified as being Aboriginal or had a sense of a shared-world view. That is what distinguishes the Aboriginal people of the Cape Barren islands who were the first people to get recognition in Tasmania as being an indigenous community.

Mr WILKINSON - In relation to the question from Tony about Bruny Island, I asked Richard Bingham back on 1 February if there were any other areas of land that were requested or was it just those. There was certainly discussion about other areas of land, particularly in the south of the State on Bruny Island and I think there was some comment in the press about some of those areas but they never did form part of the terms of reference with that working group. But your view would be that because, as far as your studies have shown, the last known continuous occupation was up to around about 1820, did you say?

Dr PYBUS - 1829, that's right. I think that questions about land claims outside of the ones on land in the south - I didn't look very closely because I only saw two media reports about this; I didn't look very closely about the parcels of land that were being claimed but I didn't notice that part of Bruny Island was included in it. I feared that this was mischievous; it may not be but my own feeling is that it is for ALCT to suggest what is significant to the Aboriginal community and what is important if there are further land grants to be made rather than people whose claim to indigenous status is perhaps problematic and certainly hasn't been accepted by the Tasmanian community, however much they believe it to be true.

CHAIRPERSON - Thank you very much for your time this morning; it has been greatly appreciated.
 
 
 
 

THE WITNESS WITHDREW.