The full interview was first aired on Edge Radio on March 3, 2008. You can listen to it here.
'Van Diemen's Land' by James Boyce
Black Inc, 2008
James won the Tasmanian Book Prize for Van Diemen's Land and again this year for '1835 The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia'. He is erudite and thoughtful and the subject matter, the first 30 or so years of white settlement and the cultural exchanges that were occurring, is resonant in his hands.
A few quotes below, but please listen to the interview, it is quite long - but I've also split it into two shorter parts, part one here and part two here.
"What I hope for with my book is that it is an aid to contemplation,
where we can sit and wonder what it is to live here and that can enrich
as we consider better ways of living in the future."
Henry Melville wrote 'The History of Van Diemen's Land' in the 1830s,
pointed out that for the first two decades there was a surprising degree
“Most people know about a bloke called George
Augustus Robinson, who went around Van Diemen's Land, he was the
ambassador for Governor George Arthur. He went around negotiating with
the aborigines during the final year of the war and there was a
negotiated settlement where the aborigines moved to Flinders Island. It
was pretty clear that the aborigines understood that it would be a
temporary removal and that they will return
“why, after the war has ended did removals continue from the West Coast?
“this was not a community in decline, why were they removed?
It’s a terrible, dark and largely unknown chapter in Tasmania’s history."
"What we have at the Derwent site of settlement is that within 2 years of settlement we have convicts able to live free and independently in the bush all year around possessing nothing more than a hunting dog. Even guns were irrelevant to this. The key to survival was a hunting dog.
"Forester kangaroo and emu – these two foods in particular became the staple diet of the early Britons - it was a time of Napoleonic wars in France and very few supply ships came to colony, Sydney didn’t have food to spare and it was really left to fend for itself.”
“They soon turned to native animal skin for their clothing and pretty soon they adapted aboriginal designs and learnt how to build overnight shelters very quickly and later, stronger huts. So basically, all of the essentials of life they were able to access from the bush around them. If you think of the poor of Britain you can imagine how tough life was for them in the early 19th century. Fresh meat was a very occasional luxury and even wheat, bread was very expensive. Genuine material poverty - so for the convicts that came here to be able to access the essentials of life – food, clothing, shelter, independently was an enormous boon”
"I don’t want Windshuttle, who clearly used this island, used it and manipulated it I believe, as part of their national political campaign about the present. He wasn’t really honouring Tasmania’s past he wasn’t really interested in defining the truth about here and I didn’t really want my book, or indeed Tasmanian historiography to be shaped by this, you know, I wanted us to be able to reclaim the agenda. The history wars debate wasn’t helping us here, it was taking us back – not even back, but to places we’d never been…”
"My understanding of what it means to really belong and have a depth of connection to a place and have a secure or mature sense of home is that we’re always more open, not less open to people from all over the world."