*Pic: of Gamareagal warrior, Musquito by Barthelemy Roger (1767–1841). Dr Michael Powell formerly of UTAS has written a brilliant book about Musquito and his part in a rebellion by Tasmanian blacks against the whiteys. The book is called Musquito, Brutality and Exile … All about Dr Michael Powell and Musquito HERE
An extract from Elizabeth Fleetwood’s A Crying in the Wind, described by acclaimed Historian Henry Reynolds as ‘a big saga tracing its people through two centuries of island life … fascinating, and well-informed by in-depth historical research’ Setting the scene: Southern Midlands, 1821; Tom (real name Kickerterpoller) was brutally wrenched, aged around five, from his murdered Aboriginal family by white sealers, and raised in the household of WT Birch, an ambitious merchant in early Hobart. Though not treated unkindly in the physical sense, socially he was in the same category as the convicts; perhaps even less so. Note: ‘Tarena’ indicates the island of Tasmania.
Young Tom’s best moments were when his master took him out into the country.
Birch’s land grants were in varying areas, in Cambridge, Richmond, Hollow Tree, Jericho and Lovely Banks – all parts of Tarena that Tom’ s family had regularly travelled over as part of their normal life.
His memory of these journeys was gone, but his connection with the land lay in his blood and soul. Here he felt free. He rejoiced every time Birch, riding out to inspect his far-flung properties, took a cart with supplies and allowed Tom to come along.
The visits to Lovely Banks excited him the most. Among the convicts and others who worked there was a black girl, a little older than Tom.
Where had she come from?
What tribe did she belong to?
Had she been taken by force from her family, or was she one of the many orphans whose parents had been shot or driven off? Neither she nor Tom ever knew that, or her real name.
On the farm, they called her Sal. She worked on small chores like Tom, and later the men made use of her.
Like most of these children, she died young of abuse and disease, simply vanishing from the landscape. What broken spirits did they leave behind, this small army of dislocated young people? How many of the men gave her another thought?
Tom and Sal, on the rare occasions that they saw each other, felt like family and provided some solace to each other. They had carefree moments when they scampered among the trees, irrepressible as children are, rejoicing in the birdsong and the sunlight on the water.
Later, when Tom was a well-grown fourteen-year old and had been loaned by Birch to surveyor Evans’ party as a carrier, he remembered Sal.
By the Prosser River on the east coast, Tom deserted and made his way back to Lovely Banks. He worked there alongside the convicts and at night Sal took him to her sleeping corner.
Here he learnt about sex, and for the girl it was the only time she lay with someone who held her warm and close. The farm men dropped her as soon as they had had their way with her. She knew nothing else.
By the time Tom came to her, she was already broken, her system battling invading organisms and her spirit too sad and lonely to survive much longer.
It was too late to save her.
In December 1821, Mr Birch died very suddenly at 47, probably of an apoplexy, leaving behind him a chaotic situation. His widow Sarah, now left with six children, had enjoyed the advantages of being a wealthy merchant’s wife, but she was not an entrepreneur herself.
The many business interests, some of the acreage, and the fine home in Macquarie St had to be sold; the complexities of the will took thirty-three years to finally sort out.
She hastily took refuge in a second marriage, to Edmund Hodgson who held the neighbouring grant to Lovely Banks. With his help both land pieces were managed, and she was comfortable enough, especially after the will was declared.
Hodgson then ran a very successful tannery on Birch’s land grant, which extended up along the creek in South Hobart, and later they built the now-famous ‘Islington’, as well as Glen House nearby.
In the fluster of all these events, Sarah had little time for Tom, but she was pleased to know that he had turned up at Lovely Banks. Both the Birch’s had been surprised to hear of his deserting the surveyor’s party, though Sarah had been aware how, in the months before, Tom had shown great distress when his early companion, the convict John Crips, suddenly disappeared.
The latter’s fate was never really established, but it was believed that he had been murdered in some drunken brawl. Tom had genuinely loved the crusty little man.
Doing the hard physical work made Tom grow into a fine figure, showing all promise of being tall and already very strong. He was good-looking, vitally healthy and moved with an animal grace.
Then one day he disappeared into the bush.
Tom stopped, sitting in a quiet nook where the creek twisted back on itself, and carefully absorbed the environment about him. All was quiet. No birds chattered warnings. No animal showed extra alerts. No strange scents wafted on the breeze. The silence deepened.
He felt as though he should be slipping into something he was somehow familiar with, yet an invisible but very tangible barrier prevented him. Although he was alone, unquiet spirits were about. He was not comfortable. Something was missing and it bothered him, but he was unable to decide what it was.
He was not going back to the farm. That much he did know. Sal was dead, her broken frame unceremoniously interred out the back by one of the convicts. Tom had seen the look on the men’s faces. There was no acceptance for her, or him, there. But he was growing into a man, and needed to prove himself. Where, then, if not with the white people?
Tom’s own people, along with the other East Coast tribes, were fragmenting. Increasingly unable to move, hunt and meet freely, they were reduced to isolated groups moving cautiously through the landscape, ever wary of attack. From 1817 on, huge numbers of settlers began pouring in, and valleys that had been peaceful camping and hunting grounds, were now empty of game and filled instead with invaders’ huts and animals – and guns.
Tom knew all this, for he regularly spoke to members of the Town Mob. He had also heard that a tribal warrior called Musquito was organising resistance at last. Powerful and forceful, this Aboriginal man, originally from Sydney, was armed with extensive knowledge of white man’s ways and, importantly, their weapons.
And driving him was an implacable hatred of the invaders with their hollow promises and condescending attitudes. He encouraged Tarena men to fight back and defend their homeland. Every man was needed.
“That is where I’m going,” Tom decided. “I’m strong. I can be a man among them, and they will be proud of me.”
He had proved his manhood with Sal, and now he was going to avenge her. Besides, there were women among the tribes.
The matter decided, Tom was unsure how to prepare. Most of the tribes, even the Town Mob, generally went about in their natural and proper naked state. To belong to them, Tom would have to do the same, but he had spent the last nine years wearing clothing, and to go about naked did not come easily.
His feet, fortunately, were adequately hardened. Since he grew out of John Crips’ moccasins, he had generally preferred bare feet, grudgingly putting on shoes only for church attendance.
This was not so out of the ordinary; many assigned servants didn’t have any either. But neither did he have any of the tribal cicatrices to denote his status and journey to manhood.
In the end he hid his shirt in a hollow tree where it could stay dry, and be found again if needed. He set off, wearing trousers only and carrying a possum rug and a musket, both of which he had taken from Lovely Banks.
Then he went to join his own people.