Genocide through neglect

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 June, 1993, 12:00am

I REFER to Mr I. Hendy's letter (South China Morning Post, June 8).

He mentions the history of the Tasmanian aborigine and their sad demise. However he claims that British soldiers butchered every aborigine when setting up Australia as a penal colony. This is a widely stated belief in Australia, but I have heard and reada different version, one which is no less sad, but doesn't have the violent nature usually associated with the story.

When Europeans first encountered the Tasmanian aborigines, they were a small population living in the river plain around what is now Launceston in northern Tasmania. To facilitate the settlers' ability to dispossess these people of their lands they were systematically detained and moved to one of the larger islands in Bass Strait. Here they slowly suffered from new diseases, abuse of alcohol and neglect, to such an extent that the population died out over a 30 or so year period. The crime of genocide was committed - but more through neglect than slaughter.

As an Australian I was raised to believe a story similar to that recounted in Mr Hendy's letter.

I had not doubted the story until presented with a history of these people in London. I would actually welcome people with a specific knowledge of this period of history to direct me to appropriate references. This is such a powerful story in Australia and if it is incorrectly reported it distorts what can be learned from such events.

DAVID PLUMB New Territories