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2021 - Winner
The story of Truganini, a Nuenonne woman from Bruny Island off Tasmania, is shrouded in myth for almost two centuries. In this clear-eyed work, Pybus charts the ‘agonising accretion of unspeakable loss’ endured by Truganini, her people and other clans in 1800s colonial Tasmania. Drawn from first-person accounts by missionary George Augustus Robinson and contemporaries, Truganini emerges here as neither ‘antipodean Pocahontas’ nor witless captive. After witnessing the murder and abduction of her family members, she is betrayed time and again before dying in Hobart in 1876.
By striking through the pomposity of Truganini’s major chronicler, Robinson, Pybus presents the reader with a vivid and complex portrait of the Nuenonne woman. Truganini claims her place as a survivor, never passive even in the face of a determined effort to eradicate Aboriginal people from Tasmania. She uses charm and shrewdness to attempt to engineer a future that allows her and her people to go home. Pybus’ command of her research is significant, penetrating past mistakes of fact or interpretation and revealing Truganini as a three-dimensional person.
As judges, we unanimously agreed that Truganini is the standout work in an impressive field. The restoration of its subject elevates this book. Truganini’s voice has been lost in the self-serving narrative of modern Australia. Reclamation is an outstanding accomplishment for any subject, and a thrilling one for an Indigenous woman who stood against an empire.