Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology (AJE), Vol 1 (2011)

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The Man and the Woman and the Edison Phonograph: Race, History and Technology through Song

Bruce Watson


This is the story behind a photo of Fanny Cochrane Smith singing traditional Tasmanian songs, and being recorded by Horace Watson, in 1903. Fanny Cochrane was the first Aboriginal child born on Flinders Island in 1834, in the settlement established for Tasmania’s Aboriginal people. She claimed to be the last Tasmanian. Tasmania’s and Australia’s history reverberate through this image: cultural contact, genocide and reconciliation, tradition and modernity. The image is of the act of folklore collection at its most poignant. The article explores the life of two individuals and how they came together to create an invaluable record of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. The reverberations continue to this day as their descendents’ lives are changed through their connection to this story and their continuation of its themes.

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