LOCATION: Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner public marker, RMIT Campus, near corner of Victoria and Russell Streets
In 1841, two Indigenous men from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, were convicted of the murder of two whale-hunters in the Western Port area, fatefully becoming the first people hanged in Melbourne. Three Indigenous women, Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner, were also tried with them. And while Truganini is almost certainly the most well-known Tasmanian Indigenous person recognised historically, her involvement in this trial has been less extensively explored.
The artistic monument found in this location uses contemporary symbols to ask long-unanswered questions around sovereignty, justice and belonging. Newspaper stands, a bluestone swing and a tomb-like structure ask visitors to sit and reflect on the stories, memories and histories of the past and is situated among Indigenous medicine plants suitable for healing. Claire G. Coleman’s work, “Truganini”, is explicitly situated within this political and historical context, one that nevertheless masks and erases “rebel queens” who “fight side by side” against colonisers. As plainly as the work speaks to pain, history and erasure, there is an invitation within for those who want to join that fight, to know our history in order to shape our future.
Two men died here; hung by the neck, the first executions
On Melbourne soil. Buried near here before Melbourne was
Melbourne; their bones in the dirt the city’s seed
Those rebel blak men knowing they could never go
Home to van Diemens, fought the Colony and lost,
All along the coast; fought a hopeless war,
Looking forever back to their Country.
I wonder if Truganini watched helpless
When Tunnerminnerwait and Mauboyheener died.
Many, even those who know of those men, forgot
The women who fought beside them
They didn’t execute women and children then
And those white men called Truganini queen. When two
Countrymen died on the scaffold she was returned over the sea
To die slowly longing for Country.
Betrayed by white man some say was her lover
Was she the rebel queen those white men couldn’t imagine?
And I wonder, how much history has erased her agency
Seen her as hopeless, everything
They teach about truganinni is a lie. She was strong.
We need our history, to know our future
How many rebel queens were there
That history did not record.
in this century the rebel women, rebel queens all
Stand our ground, do not fear the gallows
Shoulder to shoulder, it’s the sisters
Who fight the colonisers; who stand tall
We will not be erased.
The future is ours rebel women. Always was
And one day the gubbas will fight along side us
Always will be.