Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse by Cassandra Pybus

1. First lines. 2. Book cover Allen and Unwin 3. Bruny island. [No known copyright restrictions] Source: Bruny Island 4. Basket and necklace. [No known copyright restrictions] Source: Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania

Publisher: Allen and Unwin 2020 Genre: Biography; Ethnic minorities & multicultural studies Formats: Paperback. ebook.

About the book:

This is the story of Truganini, an Indigenous Tasmanian woman who lived from about 1812 to 1876. Historian Cassandra Pybus has drawn a detailed portrait of Truganini whose life is of personal interest to her. Her ancestor, Richard Pybus, was granted land in 1829 on Bruny Island, Tasmania where Truganini’s people lived. The Pybus family prospered whilst the traditional owners were exiled. The author’s aim for the book is to tell Truganini’s story from the perspective of a life lived, rather than being recognized (erroneously) in Australia’s narrative as the last Indigenous Tasmanian.


“All along the coast, huge stalks of bull kelp had fastened onto the rocks, sprouting long amber-coloured tentacles that undulated in the surge of the ocean, catching shoals of small fish. Torn from their stalks, the leathery tentacles were tossed upon the rocks in tangled heaps to feed cawing conspiracies of glossy black ravens. Just above the tideline, ingenious traps were baited with tiny fish to catch these birds.”

“Truganini was a superb swimmer; she was constantly in and out of the water.” … ” The young women would leap from the boat with woven bags around their necks and small sticks, sharpened at one end, clenched between their teeth. They’d dive into the water and use their toes to lever the large abalone shells off the rocks, securing them in their bags.”

My thoughts:

Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of Australia, and particularly Indigenous Australians. It took some effort to get into the book, due in part to my unfamiliarity of Indigenous people’s names. However, there are detailed biographies at the end of the book, which make for easy reference. The author’s aim for this meticulously researched book is to tell Truganini’s story from the perspective of a life lived. Cassandra Pybus has undoubtedly achieved her aim.

Book Reviews:
  • Guardian: “The Tasmanian historian and writer Cassandra Pybus pushes the historiographical boundary on Truganini. She does a profound service to the complex life of this remarkable woman with her new biography, Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse. Pybus ventures beyond the tragic trope that has defined Truganini, the sadness surrounding her death and the horror of the exhumation and display of her remains by the Royal Society of Tasmania.”
  • Judges’ comments – Queensland Literary Awards 2020 “Sensitive and unflinching, Cassandra Pybus has given us in her historical biography a harrowing account of inhumanity, power and opportunism in Britain’s invasive settlement of Australia. It is not our place and nor is it within our ability to know the real woman who became popularly known as Truganini, but primarily through journals and other first-person accounts of the time we are given the tools to empathetically imagine her, perhaps properly for the first time. Striking about this book, and the many journeys this resilient woman remarkably survived, is the author’s refusal to leave her (or our) personal ‘involvement’ out of the ongoing legacy of brutality and oppression that requires acknowledgement of and reparation for Australia’s First Nation peoples.”

Longlisted Best Non-fiction, Indie Book Awards 2021 Australia; Shortlisted The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award, Queensland Literary Awards 2020 Australia; Longlisted Nib Literary Award 2020 Australia

Historical note:

Truganini lived from about 1812 to 1876. A Tasmanian Indigenous woman, she was witness to the decimation of her people as the authorities sought to drive them from Tasmania where they were in conflict with European settlers. She spent years in the company of Englishman George Robinson who was instrumental in drawing Aboriginal Tasmanians away from their lands to be relocated on Flinders Island. Of about 200 Aboriginals who were taken to Flinders Island, and by 1847 there were only 40 survivors.


      • I also appreciate that stories are beginning to be told and shared, having been researched by women, of the lives of women, those whose voices have been silenced, to have been able to find journals and records to recreate a life of a woman this far back is a feat in itself.

        Does the book read more like narrative (creative) nonfiction or more like a history book? I’m wondering if this is a thesis turned into a book, versus a writer feeling compelled to share the story of a woman we would benefit from knowing about.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. As I was reading the book, I felt the writer’s compassion for Truganini and her people. The book is not merely a chronicle of events, it is more an imagined portrait of the life of Truganini gleaned from the journals and diaries of colonists. It would have been difficult to do that because all of the primary sources of research were from the colonists’ perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

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