British moving last Tasmanian Aboriginal Tribe to the mainland

Stylized representation of George Augustus Robinson with Tasmanian Aborigines
"The Conciliation" - painting by Benjamin Duterrau, 1840

Module 1 is about the body and religion in a specific cultural historical context. The piece of art that I have chosen refers to the clash of Aboriginal and European culture and religion. The painting “The Conciliation” (1840) by Benjamin Duterrau shows the historic scene from a British perspective where Robinson is portrayed as the liberator of the remaining Tasmanian Aborigines after years of conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal tribes. At the same time this picture carries the underlying message of ignorance and misinterpretation of Europeans towards the Aboriginal culture.
Aboriginal religion is completely different to European religions, which is here demonstrated in the clothes and place. The painting shows a moment in the history of Tasmanian Aborigines, which changed the course of their cultural and spiritual development. They are nomadic people who emphasize dreaming as their Mythos. Their belief system in maintaining good relationships with the spirits is highly bound to certain areas of the country where the uncreated creation spirits and totemic ancestors reside. The worst that can happen to an Aboriginal is to lose dreaming, which basically means cultural death.
The painting shows Robinson, a British Conciliator, who is trying to resolve the conflict and destructive interactions of European explorers and Tasmanian Aborigines by persuading the Aborigines to move to a new settlement on Flinders Island.
The painting illustrates a stylized representation of the Robinson who sees himself as doing well. Nonetheless, he does not realize that he is destroying an entire culture and religion by moving them away from their sacred place. The Aborigines are the last Tribe remaining in Tasmania with most other Tribes being dead or having moved to away. The native woman on the right of Robinson is his interpreter Truganini. She was helping him to convince the Tribe to move, knowing that this would be the only way for her people to survive. History tells us that the tribes did not survive in their new surroundings and today only one Tribe is left that inherited Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. Though, they continue to teach their stories and spiritual traditions to the children it is clear that many traditions were lost in the movement of the Tribes.
The Aborigines as well as Robinson wear the traditional clothes showing the different cultures. The painting is drawn from a British perspective, which on the one hand, shows the Aborigines as a less developed culture since they are almost naked. Though, this is part of their highly religious belief to be one with nature. As Professor Borgman also explains in his interview in Christian religion sexuality is a metaphor of losing control, being outside yourself, and fall back in an animal kind of state. Also, the grayish skin color makes them look sick and animal-like, which furthermore gives the impression of a primitive culture. On the other hand, Robinson is well dressed and stands out in the picture with his white pants and large hat, which symbolize a higher class British man.
The animals around and the spears demonstrate aboriginal hunting tradition and nomadic way of life. The grey animal on the bottom right might be a Tasmanian devil, which only lives in Tasmania. The dogs were brought to the island by Robinson, which shows the mixing of cultures and slow destruction of Aborigines and nature in Tasmania.
The most striking part of the picture is the body movements. Robinson holds the hand of one of the Aborigines. This is a sign of friendship, trust, and agreement. In numerous cultures and especially in the Western Christian belief the touching of hands is the minimum of touching involving no further intimacy, but rather suggesting a peaceful disposition and even a beneficent one (Nancy, 2008). Some others are turned towards Truganini who points towards Robinson. The chain that is formed through body movement shows that they eventually followed Robinson and settled on Flinders Island.


Aboriginal Art Online (2005). Retrieved August 31st , 2010 from

Interview A. van Lenning with E. Borgman, 2010 from
Student Blackboard

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2008). Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body. New York: Fordham University Press, P. 2-37