Thursday 4 September 2014



The Black War:  Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I suppose if you applied the language of production to the halls of academe you would call a book that develops from a PhD thesis 'downstream processing'.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more graduate theses are ending up as books. 


A born and bred Rosevears constituent, Nicholas Clements, has done just that.  His book, The Black War:  Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania, is changing the way Tasmanians view their history.  A brief quote from the book:


Tasmania's black war was the most intense frontier conflict in Australia's history.  It was a clash between the most culturally and technologically dissimilar humans to have ever come into conflict.


That quote starts us on a totally new view of Tasmania's early European settlement.  Nick Clements is an honorary research associate and a lecturer in the schools of philosophy and Aboriginal studies at the University of Tasmania.  He completed his PhD at UTAS in 2013, looking at the conflict between Aborigines and settlers in the then Van Diemen's Land between 1803 and 1842.  It is interesting that between 1825 and 1831 close to 200 Europeans and 1 000 Aborigines died violently.  These were in conflicts between the recent settlers and Tasmania's original inhabitants


Nicholas Clements' book takes a unique approach to this historic event, looking chiefly at the experiences and attitudes of those who took part in the conflict.  The book's narrative is strengthened by vividly told incidents like one at Hadspen in the member for Western Tiers' electorate.  In the early 1800s, Hadspen came under sustained attack from Aborigines who were incensed at European incursions on their land, women and hunting grounds.  I quote:


Around 1827 (the exact date is unknown) indigenous warriors besieged the Hadspen home of ex-convict and farmer Thomas Beams.  The Aborigines killed two of Beams's servants, both convicts.  According to an account written by a Beams descendant in 1947, the farmer and his neighbours quickly formed an armed 'war party'.  They stormed a blacks' camp in a deep gully late at night; one of the Europeans took off his boots and wore several pairs of borrowed socks so he could move silently through the bush. When dawn broke, 11 Aborigines lay dead.


These killings near Hadspen are personal.  Thomas Beams was a direct descendant of his mother and the story has been handed down through the generations in his family.  Nick Clements says he made no judgement on historical figures but rather tries to understand why they did what they did.  Each chapter of his book is told from alternating black and white perspectives interesting reading.


I know the member for Montgomery has read the book and has been fascinated.  As the title of this book suggests, sex was a factor for woman-deprived European settlers but you will have to read the book, like the member for Montgomery, to get a full explanation. 


Nick Clements, born in 1982, is from Flowery Gully in my electorate.  Soon after his return to Tasmania from travels as you do after schooling, he shattered his spine in a cliff diving accident which has left him with prosthetic vertebrae and lifelong chronic pain.  The road to recovery was long and he was forced to abandon manual work.  He was a fitter and machinist with Gunns and then, unsure of what else to do, he enrolled in an arts degree where he discovered passions and talents he never knew he had.


He won two scholarships, including a bursary, to do his honours project under historian Henry Reynolds looking at Aboriginal representation in Van Diemen's Land's newspapers.  Nick graduated with first class honours and after a break in Europe again worked with Henry Reynolds on his PhD on frontier conflict.  That became The Black War:  Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania, which has received glowing reviews.  Part of the reason for the book's success is its structure.  In an attempt to circumvent the arguments and blame games of the so-called history wars, Nick wrote each chapter of the black war half from the colonists' perspective and half from the Aborigines' perspective.  Thus it forces readers to empathise with both sides.


Nick, who recently married his long-term partner Kristy, is an honorary research associate at the University of Tasmania but he does not intend to continue much longer in academia.  Rather, he has decided to devote his life to what he calls Tasmania's future - young people.  He is currently working at Exeter High School and is looking forward to a life of teaching, learning and community building in the Tamar Valley. I wish him well in those endeavours.