Kunanyi / Mount Wellington

Tuning into Indigenous Culture in Tasmania

‘I’m going to teach kids because I’m getting a bit older’. These are the words of Sheldon Thomas, a Palawa artist and craftsman in Tasmania.

For many years, the way Europeans treated the Palawa people has been described as a genocide. Some Palawa did survive, however, and in recent years, their descendants have driven a renewed interest in Tasmania’s indigenous Aboriginal culture.

Palawa woman, Sandra Guerzoni, a state senior curriculum officer in Aboriginal education, has advocated for the teaching of local indigenous history and culture in schools since the 1990s.

To her joy, moves towards inclusivity began in 2014, when the state of Tasmania began a process of allocating dual place names – English and Palawa Kani – so that Mount Wellington became Kunanyi/Mt Wellington; and the Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania’s north-west became Takayna/Tarkine.

Palawa teaching

In the 2016 Australian census, more than 23 000 Tasmanians identified as Aboriginal, representing 4.6% of the population – this is higher than the rate for the whole of country, in which 3.3% of Australians identified as Aboriginal. In 2018, Tasmanian Aboriginal Studies was added to the senior secondary school curriculum.

Today, Guerzoni teaches Tasmanian Aboriginal Studies at Hobart’s Guilford Young College and says:

The thing that’s really hard to get across when you’re in schools is that this is a living culture. It didn’t just die. Kids need to see both sides of the story. It’s not about taking land back, it’s about delivering a course for the right reasons and looking to unpack what really happened and the repercussions.