Elshender: A Tale of a Poor Man

Artwork by Billy Frank Alexander

Artwork by Billy Frank Alexander


The young woman he had loved had died on Flinders Island, the ‘safe haven’ created for the Aborigines by well-intentioned do-gooders when the stark realisation that genocide fulfilment was coming to fruition.

In reality it was a reservation full of filth and disease that was far enough away from the Tasmanian mainland to be left to fester without upsetting too many people’s sensibilities. It had been promoted to the island’s surviving Aborigines as somewhere that they could live free from the threat of the white man, a land they could call their own once more, a land they could farm and hunt and continue their age-old practices. The truth was that the land was far from suitable for cultivation, the wildlife was not in sufficient quantities to allow for sustained hunting, the island was pulverised by severe winds for most of the year and the winters were incredibly harsh, and the provision of clothing and medication was poor and therefore could not prevent the illnesses that occurred due to such conditions. He had to watch his woman die, spitting blood from her mouth during the final month of her life. He had to watch his true love shiver endlessly as she tried to live with the fever she had caught. He had to watch as her breathing became deeper and less frequent. He had to watch this once great hunter lie like a wounded animal until her final breath came and went. He had the image of her emaciated body etched on his brain.


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