Twelve thousand years ago sea level was rising as the most recent period of global glaciation eased. The land mass now known as Tasmania was cut off and the Aboriginal people living here were isolated. They shared many traits with Australian mainland Aboriginal people but also developed physically and culturally into a distinctive population.
The Tasmanians were hunters and gatherers. They made tools and containers from wood, bone, stone, seaweed, bark, grass and sinew. They managed their environment carefully, moving around their country to harvest seasonal food resources and using fire to maintain grasslands which supported an abundance of wallabies and kangaroos.
Coastal people relied on the sea for much of their diet. Scale fish were eaten in the distant past but apparently not since about 3,500 years ago, however the women collected abalone, oysters, mussels and other shellfish. The remains of these make up enormous middens all around Tasmania’s coastline. The Tasmanians made bark canoes to travel to offshore islands to harvest muttonbirds and seals during summer and autumn. The people camped in family groups several of which formed a band, the land-holding group in Tasmanian society. Several bands spoke the same language and there were nine language groups / tribes in Tasmania at the time of European contact. Bands with reciprocal arrangements intermarried and shared resources.
By the time of European contact, the Aboriginal people in Tasmania had nine major ethnic groups. At the time of British settlement in 1803, the indigenous population was estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 people. Through the introduction of infectious diseases to which they had no immunity, war, persecution, and intermarriage, the population dwindled to 300 by 1833. Almost all of the indigenous population was relocated to Flinders Island by George Augustus Robinson.
A woman named Truganini (1812–76) is generally recognised as the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine.
Some important dates in Tasmanian History
1642 – Abel Janszoon Tasman, the Dutch explorer, sailed passed the west coast of our island. He named it Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of Batavia.
1772 – The first Europeans to land on the island, the company from the expedition of the French explorer Marion du Fresne, came ashore at Marion Bay on the east coast.
1803 – Lieutenant John Bowen, with the British Royal Navy, chose Risdon Cove on the eastern shore of the River Derwent in the south-east for the first settlement of Europeans. In 1804 Lieutenant-governor David Collins moved the settlement across the river and Hobart was founded.
1825 – Van Diemen’s Land, which had been part of the colony of New South Wales, became a colony in its own right.
1830 – The Black Line, a military plan to round up Aborigines, was started. George Augustus Robinson started his mission to protect Aborigines and take them to a settlement on Flinders Island. Both plans failed miserably.
1834 – John Batman sailed from Launceston to Port Phillip in Victoria – he and his associates founded the city of Melbourne.
1842 – Hobart Town became a city. Convict transportation reached its peak – 5,329 in one year.
1854 – The two houses of Parliament (upper and lower) were established.
1856 – Van Diemen’s Land’s name was changed to Tasmania. The title ’governor’ was conferred on the representative of the English crown.
1877 – The penal settlement at Port Arthur was closed.
1901 – The Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed – Tasmania became a state of Australia.