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‘Always Crackne in Heaven’


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Finlay, GW 2015 , '‘Always Crackne in Heaven’', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The interaction of Aboriginal people with expressions of Christian faith during the
colonial history of Australia has been examined in various contexts but not to any
great extent in Australia’s southernmost setting of Tasmania. This thesis traces the
interactions of Tasmanian Aboriginal people with Christianity from the
beginnings of the colony of Van Diemen’s Land to the early years of the twentieth
While surviving documentary sources are limited they show a vibrant precontact
Aboriginal religious life. Its elements were multi-layered, complex and
open to interacting with the different religious lives of other clans and
subsequently with the colonists. Pre-existing religious beliefs and practices were
the paradigm through which Aboriginal people interpreted the Christian faith.
In the first generations of colonial contact there was not a mission among
Aboriginal people by any church missionary society. Most religious oriented
conversations occurred in the less formal settings of conversations between
individuals or within families. Some conversations were with the Government
appointed conciliator, catechist or clergy who were part of Government programs
such as the Hobart Orphan School, the Settlement at Wybalenna, and Oyster Cove
Station. These formal settings provide archival sources that indicate a variety of
interactions and Aboriginal responses to Christian faith.
The polyvalent rather than uniform responses demonstrate the ‘agency’ of
Aboriginal people. Most chose to reject the Christian faith. Some, however,
incorporated various elements including baptism, participation in church services,
family Bible reading, Bible translation, writing addresses and the preaching of
Christian sermons.
A substantial focus of this thesis examines the oral and literary responses
to exposure to the Christian faith at a pivotal location during a crucial period of
colonial history, namely the Wybalenna Settlement on Flinders Island from 1832
– 1847. Previously unpublished sources analysed include Bible translations,
catechetical examinations, literacy tests, Christian addresses and newspaper
articles. The interplay of oral and written responses is examined as well as ways
Aboriginal people incorporated Christian faith as they adapted and mediated
personal and clan roles and relationships in the dynamic context of Wybalenna.
The formal settings of the Wybalenna Settlement and Orphan School
contrast the largely independent practices of particular families on the Furneaux
Islands throughout most of the nineteenth century and the Nicholls Rivulet
Methodist Church in the early twentieth century. These more informal settings
demonstrate ways in which Aboriginal people’s adoption of Christian faith was
constrained by denominational structures and a general lack of interest in them by
most church members. Nevertheless, Aboriginal Christian people formed long and
lasting relationships with a few colonial Christians who supported their
development of uniquely Tasmanian Aboriginal Christian lives.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Finlay, GW
Keywords: Tasmanian aboriginal history, Christian mission
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2015 the author

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