Stuart Macintyre, 11 March 1993
Tasmania’s prodigal son, Peter Conrad, suggested recently that his island-state had ‘unwritten its own history’ in accordance with ‘a self-protective incuriosity about origins’. Tasmania’s origins lay in an act of genocidal conquest and a penal experiment, both of which were so recent and so omnipresent in their effect as to make recollection intolerable. There are certainly striking instances of this desire for amnesia. The reiterated claim that the Aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania were extinct effaced both their demise and their uncomfortable presence. And the story is still told of the historian working in the state archives who was surprised to be asked to take tea with the Governor. His Excellency wanted reassurance that he was not chasing convict ancestors among Tasmania’s leading families.