Friday, 15 February 2008

dogs in early Van Diemen's Land

As I was driving back today from lovely Gardiner's Creek, where Penny had a great walk with Jabari and her mum, I caught a radio interview with James Boyce, Honorary Research Associate at the University of Tasmania's Centre for Environmental Studies. The interview was on Late Night Live, conducted by Phillip Adams.

They were discussing a book that James Boyce has written, presenting a new view of the settlement of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) by British convicts. This new history sounds fascinating and I'll be looking for a copy, but one aspect of the discussion that grabbed my attention as a dog owner was the role hunting dogs played in the history of this area.

If I understood correctly, Boyce said that this settlement made rapid progress because it was established near native grasslands, in contrast to other attempts to live along the east coast of the mainland, in forested areas. The British, being a pastoral people, used dogs to help them hunt. Convicts were sent out to act as providers of meat (kangaroo and emu) and these men basically 'went bush' and lived a free life. Because they had dogs they could hunt successfully, even though they did not have guns.

He said that Van Diemen's Land did not have any dingoes, so the earliest convicts traded dogs to the indigenous hunters.

Apparently the 'officer class' (the jailers) didn't like the convicts having dogs but it was hard to keep track of them, and they needed the hunters to be successful in bringing in meat.

Dog were also brought from Britain for the settlers on the mainland but were not so useful because it was forest.

Unfortunately, when Free Settlers (non convicts) moved in, they wanted complete ownership over tracts of land for their sheep farming, and that's when the convicts were brought harshly under control and the murder of the indigenous inhabitants began.

The book sounds fascinating and there are informative reviews of it in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. [NB March 2018 - this link no longer works.]

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