Education Resources

Telling the story: Mathinna (2008)

… what is the inspiration for the production?

Thomas Bock (1790-1855). ‘Mathinna’ (1842). Watercolour 30.3 x 24.9 (irregular). Presented by Mrs J H Clark, the artist’s grand-daughter, 1951. AG290. Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Bangarra’s production of Mathinna is based on the true story of a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl called Mathinna, who lived in the early 1800s. The story tells of her personal journey and illustrates some of the key political, cultural and social interactions that occurred at the time of colonisation.

The focus of the story is about the disruptions that occurred as British settlers relocated the Aboriginal people from their home lands and intervened in their cultural practices by imposing modern European values and systems into their lives and lifestyles.

… where does the story come from?

Mathinna was the daughter of Towterer and his wife Wongermeep who originated from the Lowreenne (alternate spelling Lowgernown) people, one of the southwest Tasmanian tribes. In 1833, Towterer and Wongermeep were captured by the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, George Augustus Robinson and relocated to an Aboriginal mission settlement on Flinders Island called Wybalenna. Flinders Island is located just off the north east coast of Tasmania.

Mathinna was born at Wybalenna in 1835. In 1839, the then governor of the colony, Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane met Mathinna during a visit to Flinders Island and decided that she would return with them to Hobart to be raised alongside their own daughter, Eleanor. While at Government House, Mathinna was introduced to the social etiquette of the upper class and was taught reading, writing and modern European children’s games.

In 1843 the Franklins were recalled to England and Mathinna was sent to the Queen’s Orphan School in Hobart. She was 8 years old. A year later she was sent back to Flinders Island only to be returned to the Orphan School in 1847. In 1851 she was sent to re-join her people at Oyster Cove.

The Oyster Cove group did not accept Mathinna’s ‘white ways’. Her life quickly descended into one of loneliness and desperation. Her culture, her identity and her personal sense of self-worth had been ravaged and she died in terrible circumstances in 1856 at the age of 21.

Mathinna was one of Australia’s first stolen children. During her time spent living with the Franklins, she was introduced to the ways of privileged society, and accepted as a member of their family. When she returned to her Aboriginal community, she was caught between two cultures where her identity and sense of belonging was intensely disrupted.

>> Excerpts from Mathinna