A Peek into Australia’s Past – The Palawa & Us All

ben-lomond-viewThe Palawa, is the name by which the Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes were in general known. There were several tribal groups that identified with different area’s of Tas’, such as the Big River tribe, a central tribe associated with the central rivers and lakes or the North Eastern tribe whose lands were those around The Bay of Fires and so on. These tribal people ranged across all of Tasmania in migrations, according to the different season. But they knew their country and their homelands and identified themselves with that region and no body argued about it much.


The Bay of Fires is commonly thought to refer the brilliant colour of the lichen’s that grow predominantly on the rocks in this gorgeous expanse of sandy bay. It actually, however, refers to the numerous camp fires that the European sailors saw as they sailed down the milder east coast of Tasmania in their various pursuit’s… be that sealing, logging, scientific adventure or settlement and so on.

You can still see these same fires, that of campers spread along the beautiful bays down the eastern shores of Tas’ though they aren’t of native tribal groups but are instead of a newer age of campers… enjoying the same freedoms traditionally enjoyed by the early Australian tribal people for 10’s of thousands of years, and now enjoyed by all Aussies on a camp-out, enjoying our freedoms as Australians.

convict womenIt’s only been a little more than 200 years since the Aussie population moved from traditionally tribal, to our version of civilization and the jury is still out on what historical group were the more civilised… My regular readers will know that my own origins come more from convict descent than anything else… for which there are some truly harrowing family histories based in the appalling and inhuman treatment of the colonial convicts. So many barely in their teens and early adult years, left to fight for the freedoms we enjoy today. Those same freedoms our Anzacs fought for also, and the same freedoms some of our people of Aboriginal descent now fight for both yesterday and today. Yes… poverty is a bitch! And it has some strange bedfellows.

What we often lose sight of though is the richness of our beautiful country, that found in its history. If we step beyond the last 200 hundred years, ditch the European history that we are taught to the exclusion of our own, and glance back over our Aussie shoulders, you will see that there is a rich and wonderful history to be seen. And it is about time we took a good look at it.

European history really only goes back some 2000yrs… anything beyond that is either mystic as in the Celts, pixies and Nordic legends and so on… or buried somewhere along in the Egyptian and middle eastern struggles for civilization and supremacy. At the best European and Eastern histories only extend back 4000-6000 years… in Asia… it is a few thousand years more if you follow their legends… all a mere drop in the ocean of time. Now Australian history … well we are talking 50 – 60 thousand years… now THAT is history. So lets take a peek at it for a moment.


As I am sitting comfortably in Tas’ at present I am firmly aware of the monocosm Tasmania is, in that it is indeed a small reflection of Australian society and history. Australia… as in a continent… has been moulded and formed over a long period in geological time. We commonly forget that the last ice age was only some 20,000 years ago… 1/3 of the time period that the continent has been occupied. So I want to remind you, that it is  only in this modicum of time that Tas’ separated from the mainland… that is since Bass Strait flooded, effectively cutting the Tasweigian’s off from their tribal origins.

Effectively the Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes) became a very separate nation from the Mainland long before the Egyptians or Asians ever popped their head over the collective back fences.

There are a number of other names from Australian Aboriginal languages commonly used to identify groups based on geography:

In the flooding of Bass Strait, the old tribes lost what was said to be a wonderful fertile hunting ground. They lost what were no doubt whole swatches of Country. This I have no doubt upset some tribal boundaries, but tribal boundaries were in flux everywhere and they continue to flux in our own civilized concept. We buy and sell land, move and migrate but this has been going on since the Dreamtime, so what is it we actually identify with in terms of Country… can it even be taken from us? Is possession or identifying with a Country really only a concept in the scheme of things?


In the geological history of Australia only a bare 4000-6000 years ago on the Eastern Coastline, and south, in and around Mount Gambier they were experiencing volcanic disruptions as can be found in the wonderful oral histories and stories from the Dreamtime. The old tribal people moved, migrated and also spoke of their history… their story. If you look to the now vast Outback and desert regions… you will find these were once inland seas full of life. These seas in our history dried up to become what we view now as the Outback and deserts. Australia was (and continues to be) as with the rest of the world, in geological flux and the old people of the tribes were adjusting accordingly as we all must do in the evolution of time.

Painting DreamingThis is our history, we need to understand it and appreciate the wonderful depth of it as a continuous culture, the oldest in the world… What is more is that it continues today as our cultures blend, and today becomes what was part of yesterday. From the flooding of the coastal regions, such as around Sydney where the coastline some 20,000yrs ago was some 25 klm out to sea in the last Glacial Maxima , this from where it is now and the effect this glaciation had on the Aussie tribes, right down to the vastness of the Kimberley, which was underwater only some 9000 yrs ago and the beautiful and ancient coral reef there. When does anyone tell us of this our glorious, story? It is a story that we all should be recounting to our children… a history… and an identity as Aussies.

Australia Day has just been and gone… with all its drama, its celebration in that it should be all about our freedoms, our country and our enjoyment of life, as it was back in 1788 when the old people, those builders of the world we know today, both black, white and brindle, first picked the day and occasion together to celebrate, without any instructions or sanction from those who try to rule us.

Australia DayYep… this is the Australia I love, that which I strive to understand as I travel and experience the beautiful diversity of my land. It is my Australia… my Country and I will love her till the day I pass into history, myself. This is what it should be to be Australian, what it is to be free… and what it should be to be human or of this physical world.

It is about time we knew and understood just who we are… take a breath and take a moment to think about the world in which you live. Believe me… it needs you to understand if we are all or any, to survive.  We have all heard that saying… United we stand… divided we …?

Travel Well

7 thoughts on “A Peek into Australia’s Past – The Palawa & Us All

  1. Pingback: It’s all in the Planning… Making the most of Travel | Jan Hawkins Author

  2. Jan, I think we’re both on the same page here. I grew up wishing that I could meet the people who worded our farm and the Mornington Peninsula before us. They were long gone but their spirit was still there back then. We are a diverse mob with so much to offer and an attitude to life that seems to be adopted by each wave of newcomers to this land. Let’s hope that future generations carry the same values forward.

    • So true… the shadows of the past stay with us and influence our experience. I have come to believe this. Exploring the concepts of time and its relationship to circumstance is an interesting pursuit and one I have fun exploring in ‘The Spirit Children’ series of Australian novels and stories. Thanks for your comment.
      I love this topic but its very deep. It brings you face to face with the concept of our world as an spiritual place rather than a physical one which is very close to the ‘old tribal peoples’ experience an understanding of our land. That which lurks in sacred places or what remains of the experience of others across the land.
      Something we all feel… but which few recognise.

    • Hi Bill… yep.. my spelling is at times more aural than English. Fixed the bad spelling and monocosm was also spelt wrong. Blame the early hour. The term relates to microcosm, only as in singular. Reference to Australia’s lack of common borders with other countries in that our cultural influences are internal… not external exposure such as in the borders, the like of which are between say Scotland and England, or the USA and Canada etc… Thanks for the heads up tho… I do appreciate it.

    • Hi there, thanks for your comment. There is a great deal about Aus today that needs to grow and learn I agree… in regards to all Australians regardless of their diversity of culture. There is a great deal we can learn from each other as cultural groups and we can only do this if we are prepared to accept each other, our differences and our commonality.
      I am glad you enjoyed the piece. I wanted to do more on the Palawa as it is sorely shy of awareness in the general community. I think of all the tribal groups, the Palawa people suffered the most when the world found our wonderful continent. I often think the Murri’s and Koori’s get all the attention, when our first Aussies are much richer and more diverse than generally understood. Our cultural diversity is something to celebrate… it is as individual as it is collective. It is also a growing living thing and we are all the orchestrator’s of the culture our children will recognise and share.
      It is a growing thing… a gradual awareness of each others needs and this is a good thing.

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