When Australian photographer Aletheia Casey was a child, she didn’t learn about any of the frontier conflicts of the time of settlement and colonization in Australia, and she didn’t learn about The Black War in the island state of Tasmania. For the most part, she was told about heroic European settlers, who tamed the wild terrain of Australia at the beginning of the 19th century and built their homes and farms across the land.
Only years later would she discover a more painful truth about her homeland: during colonization, there was widespread violence throughout the country. Tasmania witnessed bitter conflicts between the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and the first settlers, whalers, and law enforcement officials. The numbers are still hotly contested, but some say that from 1804-1831, more than a thousand people were killed- over 800 Aborigines and 201 settlers. Soldiers and settlers from Britain kidnapped, raped, and killed Aborigines in massacres throughout the island. The Indigenous population retaliated; however, their numbers were few and their resources limited. By 1835, only about 200 Aborigines remained, and they were forced to leave their land. Many consider what happened to have been a genocide of Tasmania’s Indigenous people.
No Blood Stained the Wattle is Casey’s retelling of the often distorted history she was taught as a child. She photographed descendants of Aboriginal Tasmanians and paired their portraits with landscapes captured in places of significance throughout Tasmania, including the sites of massacres. Then, she altered her large format film by painting over it and scratching its surface. If history can be revised, erased, corrected, and tainted, so too can photographs.
Casey’s version of the the story is truthful, but it isn’t linear. The secrets of centuries past are resurrected in the present. Forgotten places are rediscovered. Old wounds are opened once more. The experience of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people- their grief and their courage- didn’t end in the 1830s; it continues through today and into the future. We asked the photographer to tell us more about her process and the people she met along the way.