Where are you from? is a fairly standard question when meeting someone for the first time. I’m sure we all get asked that now and again. Perfectly normal. If you come from Australia, no problem. Everyone seems to know Australia. But if you say Tasmania which is where I was born and spent most of my life, many people look perplexed. Some people have never even heard of it.
I must point out that the following (true) conversations weren’t initiated by fellow Australians. And to be fair, I’m sure there are plenty of places in the world that I know nothing about.
Conversations with strangers …..
Where are you from?
Never heard of it.
I’m from Tasmania.
Tasmania? That’s a country in Africa right? Can you speak the local language?
Tasmania? Where’s that?
It’s at the bottom of the world …..
The French know the whereabouts of Tasmania because of their early historical connection with the island. They’ll tell you ‘C’est au but du monde’. The first French expedition to Tasmania led by Captain Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne was in 1772. History tells us that the French were the first Europeans to meet the Tasmanian Aborigines. These days the legacy of the French lives on in many of the place names that can be seen around the island.
Van Dieman’s land
But even before the arrival of the French explorers, Tasmania had already been discovered by the Dutchman, Abel Tasman in 1642. Tasman had plans to travel north after discovering Tasmania but unfortunately strong winds dictated his voyage and he ended up travelling east. Poor Tasman was dubbed ‘the man who discovered Tasmania but missed Australia’. Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land after Anthony van Dieman, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies who sent Tasman on his amazing voyage.
Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanians), the traditional owners of the land have been in Tasmania for about 40,000 years. In the early 19th century, Australia was invaded by the British which led to the first white penal settlement in Tasmania. This was an agonising time for Tasmania’s first people because most of the population was decimated at the hands of white settlers. Each year on 26 January, Australians acknowledge Australia Day with a public holiday to commemorate the landing of the first fleet of British ships on 26 January 1788. For many it’s a day of celebration but for many more it’s a day of mourning. Over the years there has been a movement to ‘Change the Date’. Isn’t this the ethical thing to do?
What language do you all speak down there?
Well, it’s not French! English is the main language spoken but just like French it is a foreign language too. At the time of European invasion, there were over 600 languages spoken in Australia. However, along with dispossession of land and family, Aboriginals were dispossessed of their languages as well. The language of the Tasmanian Aboriginals is palawa kani which is the only surviving traditional language spoken in Tasmania. Linguistic research began in the 1990s to revive the traditional language of Tasmania resulting in a successful program to bring the language back to life.