The Risdon Cove site: birth of a state or site of a massacre; bone of contention or future site of reconciliation

Michael Asten

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Two events determine the contested historical significance of Risdon Cove, on the eastern shore of the River Derwent, Hobart. It is the site of the first white settlement in Tasmania under its Commandant Lieutenant John Bowen, dated 13 September 1803 by the Bowen Memorial, erected at the site in 1904. It is also the site of the first murderous encounter on 3 May 1804, between settlers and the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, when soldiers fired on Aborigines, arguably without sufficient provocation to justify the nature of the response. The circumstances and the size of the death toll are much contested, and in consequence the ground has been strongly contested insofar as it represents the history of that first fatal interaction. They also carry high importance for current-day relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples since processes of reconciliation between the groups are most likely to succeed if the level of past wrongs are understood and agreed to by both sides. I argue that there are four interested parties to the contested history, and that there is little evidence of reconciliation to date, but two models and an education initiative are proposed as mechanisms by which the ground may become a focus for greater understanding of history and reconciliation towards the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-121
Number of pages19
JournalTasmanian Historical Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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