THE LITTLE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE HILL AT MATHINNA

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Mathinna
Tha aborininal girl after whom the town was named

(Painting by Thomas Bock)

 


Hight Street, Mathinna
1890s

 


The beauty of the Mathinna area is portrayed in the famous Mathinna Falls

 

 

 


 

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Mathinna

Most of the towns, properties, mountains and land marks in the Fingal Valley were given names by the early settlers that related to their homeland, with the Irish theme being the most dominant. Two towns, however, both of which were established and became famous after gold was discovered in the area, ended up with Aboriginal names.
The first to feel the influx of some 500 prospectors in 1852 was The Nook, later to be given the name Mangana after the Aboriginal words Mangana Lienta which was their way of describing the South Esk River.
Soon after gold was found at Mangana, a second and larger find was discovered 20 or so kilometers north at Mathinna. This find led to the opening of the Golden Gate mine, which once established, became the second largest gold producing mine in Tasmania after the Tasmanian mine at Beaconsfield. The town too grew and with around 300 men per shift working at the Golden Gate in the latter part of the 1800s, Mathinna was, for a time, the third largest town in Tasmania.
But it is the name Mathinna that I believe has more significance than the history of the town itself. It reminds us of a time in Tasmania history that no one should be proud of. It is also a time we should never forget so that the ignorant acts of our ancestors will not be repeated.
Mathinna was a beautiful Aboriginal girl born at Wybalenna on Flinders Island in 1835 after her parents and the rest of their South West tribe were rounded up by George Augustus Robertson two years earlier. He was under orders from Governor George Arthur to relocate all Aboriginals from Van Diemens Land to the Bass Strait Island so they would cause no more trouble to the settlers.
Mary, or Mathinna as she was later renamed by Europeans, was taken from her parents as a baby and sent to live with a school teacher as part of a policy to educate Aboriginal children in white ways as early as possible. In 1838, the then Governor of Van Diemens Land, Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane, visited the Aboriginal settlement at Wybalenna where they were entertained with dance and song and in return gave out presents of knives, handkerchiefs, beads and marbles. They also arranged for the pretty, young child, Mathinna, to be sent to Hobart where she would become part of their household at Government House.
All of a sudden Mathinna was part of the Hobart upper-class. She rode in the carriage with Lady Jane, shared a governess with Eleanor, the Franklinís daughter. Lady Jane even had convict artist, Thomas Bock, paint Mathinnaís portrait while dressed in her favourite red dress.
But alas, her time of being the apple in many a Europeanís eye at Government house was short lived, in 1843 the Franklins returned to England without Mathinna. She was sent to the Queenís Orphan School in Hobart where she was totally different from the other girls and completely unaccepted by her fellow students. She was soon sent back to Flinders Island and again taken in by a school master. Her people at Wybalenna were dying, however, disease, loneliness and sheer broken hearts had almost wiped them out and Mathinna returned, once again, to Hobart and Queenís Orphan School.
By this time the school had become overcrowded and disease ridden, with many dying of scarlet fever. Hunger and unjust punishment were everyday occurrences and at the age of sixteen, when Mathinna was able to leave the school, she was given another setback when she went to live with a group of her people at an Aboriginal settlement at Oyster Cove. Here again she found the same situation as at Wybalenna, her people were dying at an alarming rate and dwindling to extinction.
Mathinna had no choice but to get caught up in the devastating way of life forced onto her people by the white man and in no time she was selling her body for alcohol and enough food just to survive. Her end, at the age of just 21, was as tragic as hundreds who had come before her. One dark night, in a drunkard state, she fell into the water and was drowned.
The township of Mathinna in now only a shadow of its 1800ís hay days, but it is blessed to have such a lovely name, which stands as a symbol to a beautiful young lady born into a wonderful race of people, whose misfortune, it appears, was the arrogance of the Nineteenth Century Van Diemens Land aristocracy.

 

Jim Haas

Golden Gate Gold Mine at Mathinna.
Towards the Nineteenth Century Mathinna was the third largest town in Tasmania after
Hobart and Launceton

 

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You are welcome to view our display of artefacts and photos at the the Cranks & Tinkerers Motor Museum in Main St, St Marys.

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