Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Shortlist year: 2021

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Allen & Unwin

Cassandra Pybus's ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, in south-east Tasmania, in the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn't know this woman was Truganini, and that Truganini was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne.

For nearly seven decades, Truganini lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than we can imagine. But her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini's extraordinary story in full.

Hardly more than a child, Truganini managed to survive the devastation of the 1820s, when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. She spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highlands and through barely penetrable forests, with George Augustus Robinson, the self-styled missionary who was collecting the survivors to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy—the so-called extinction of the original people of Tasmania.

Truganini's story is inspiring and haunting—a journey through the apocalypse.

About the author

 Cassandra Pybus

Cassandra Pybus

Cassandra Pybus is an award-winning author and a distinguished historian. She is author of twelve books and has held research professorships at the University of Sydney, Georgetown University in Washington DC, the University of Texas and King's College London. She is descended from the colonist who received the largest free land grant on Truganini's traditional country of Bruny Island.

Judges’ comments

The story of Truganini, long believed by colonists to be the last surviving Aboriginal Tasmanian, has been remembered through a fog of mystery and folklore. Generations of Australians were told of the legend of an old woman who roamed the country of her clan in the 1850s and 1860s. When we look at photographs of her taken in the 1870s, we can only imagine how difficult her life must have been. That extraordinary life, marked by tragedy, defiance, struggle and survival, has now been given the focus that it deserves in Cassandra Pybus's 'Truganini'. For the author, this is a story that is, in part, personal. Her family received a free land grant that covered Tuganini's traditional lands of Bruny Island, in south-east Tasmania. Pybus also draws on the diaries of George Augustus Robinson, the preacher and so-called 'Protector of Aborigines' who was responsible for exiling her people to Flinders Island, which gives a first-hand account of Truganini. This clash of cultures between colonists and First Nation's people is a complex story told with empathy and understanding, perceptive analysis and demonstrates a command of detail through extensive research. It is both a stirring and troubling story but also at times an uplifting and important one.