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Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory


Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory
Unusual, unsayable, unsaid, untruth -- and denial
Prefiguration: Van Diemen's Land as strategic pioneer in the treatment of dissent and otherness
Daimonic associations: imaginative, aesthetic, inspirational or spiritual
Refiguration of "the other" through fantasy

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Annex A to Where There is No Time and Nothing Matters: Cognitive Challenges at the Edge of the World, highlighting and giving focus to various themes in the light of metaphors arising from travels in Tasmania.
Traumascape -- of the "White Man's Dreaming"?
Terra cognita vs Terra incognita
Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory (Annex A)
-- Demonic associations and demonisation
-- Unusual, unsayable, unsaid, untruth -- and denial
-- Prefiguration: Van Diemen's Land as strategic pioneer in the treatment of dissent and otherness
-- Daimonic associations: imaginative, aesthetic, inspirational or spiritual
-- Refiguration of "the other" through fantasy
Memory Challenges at the Edge of the World (Annex B)
-- Symbolic journey -- to the "Edge of the World"
-- Dubious associations -- with the "Centres of the World"
-- Amnesia at the "Edge of the World" -- a key to unrealistic optimism?
-- Mnemonic devices for collective remembrance
Import of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering (Annex C)
-- Varieties of nothingness and emptiness
-- Questionable understanding of emptiness and nothingness
-- "Mattering" and "Happening"
-- "Nothing" emerging through combinations of "mattering" and "happening"
-- Dynamic complexification: integration of "no time"
-- Emergence of "nothing": creating "cognitive shelters"
-- Emergence of "nothing": globalization as exemplar
-- Emergence of "nothing": "import" of significance
-- Polarization and the dynamics of nothingness
Conclusion: Transforming the Edge of the World through Voiding the Centre

Demonic associations and demonisation

See Demo

Curiously little is made of the demonic and demonisation in relation to Van Diemen's Land. It does not appear to be a theme of interest to historians or to psychoanalysts. And yet it figures prominently in the tales of Van Diemen's Land and Tasmania -- if only in past justifications for "remedial" action by western faiths and the naming of various kinds.

Van Diemen's Land (so designated in 1642) was named after Anthoonij van Diemen, governor general of the Dutch East Indies. It became a separate British colony in its own right in 1825. It was renamed by proclamation in 1855 as Tasmania during the process of elaboration of a new constitution accepted by the Queen in 1855. Under the authority of Van Diemen, Abel Janszoon Tasman had been the first European to "discover" the long-inhabited lands of New Zealand, Tonga, the Fiji Islands -- and Van Diemen's Land. The name "Tasmania" had been used unofficially by 1823 (Boyce, 2008, p. 158).

The Van Diemen's Land Company, created in 1824, received a Royal Charter in 1825 and was granted 250,000 acres in northwest Tasmania in 1826. The company continues, under that name, to retain much of the original land grant and is widely believed to be the last chartered company still operating. Given its direct participation in the elimination of the Tasmanian Aborigines (Boyce, 2008, p. 202), there is now presumably a historical case for them also to apologize -- but to whom?

"Demons": The change of name may have been made to some extent because of the unfortunate homophonic association with "demon" and the easy assumption that "Van Diemen's Land" could be appropriately translated as the "Land of the Demons". At the time of the change, Lieutenant Governor William Denison noted to London with polite understatement: "There is a feeling here that to the name Van Diemen's Land a certain stigma attaches", if only in relation to its primary designated role as a penal colony. Whatever the case, as noted by James Boyce: "Van Diemen's Land never vanished, but by edict of an embarrassed ruling class, it went underground" (Van Diemen's Land, 2008).

Informally references continued to be made thereafter to "Van Demon's Land" and to "Damn Demon's Land". Whilst homophony may have been significant to the illiterate, the literate might have been more influenced by associations with "Die Men's Land". This would also have given it the unique distinction of a country subject to nominative determinism (or aptonymy ?), namely that its key characteristics ("Die Men") were explicitly implied by its designation (as pronounced in English) -- which may well have influenced their development.

It is one of the last places to have figured on earlier maps as Terra Incognita (as part of Terra Australis Incognita) -- occasionally to be depicted as inhabited by monsters and demons ("here be dragons"). Its top predator/scavenger (other than humans) is the Tasmanian Devil -- named for the demonic sound it makes at night. It has effectively become the mascot of the State of Tasmania -- with "devil" being incorporated into popular names of sporting teams as well as those of commercial products and services. As Richard Busch remarks: "So it's not surprising that most people know little about this Australian state, except maybe the fact that it's the home of the devil" (Australia's Best Kept Secret, National Geographic Traveler).

Demonic toponymy: The first map of Van Diemen's Land, by Thomas Scott in 1830, was produced when 'over half' of the island was colonised. The south west forest (possibly the most internationally well-known part of Tasmania) was named Transylvania on such early maps, setting into motion a strange unnamed kind of Tasmanian Gothic that has dominated much artistic production there ever since.

More evident is the extent to which many topographic features there continue to have names that contain "devil" (Devil's Kitchen, Devil's Gate Dam, Devil's Gullet State Reserve, etc). Areas are described as "Devil country" (in reference to the animal), notably in promoting tour packages.

Tasmania also has a River Styx. The River Styx of Greek myth wound seven times around the underworld, as the boundary between Earth and Hades - the land of the dead. The Styx Valley contains all that remains of Tasmanian temperate rainforest -- some of the tallest trees in the world (exceeded in height only by the Giant Redwoods in California). The valley is currently the focus of a bitter campaign between loggers and environmentalists seeking to protect the old growth forest (through the Styx Valley Global Rescue Station) -- each appropriately demonising the other, given that the mythical River Styx was also known as the River of Hate. [As one campaigner notes, if all goes according to the logging schedule there, Tasmania's Styx could be flowing through a lifeless world in emulation of the myth.]

"Hell hole": A Tasmanian, Hilarie Roseman (Humiliation Flowering from Historical Roots: an Australian experience. 2005) concentrates "on 'demonic' inhumane treatment of the convicts in the Australian past, and the present manifestation of treating people like 'objects' or 'dogs' to try to break their spirit in the present history of Australia today". She notably cites Robert Hughes (The Fatal Shore, 2003):

Prisoners would simply murder an overseer or a prisoner so that they could be hanged. Macquarie Harbour would remain a colonial benchmark for some time - the nadir of punishment, until it was shut down.... If it was not 'demonic' it would have been as useless a deterrent as gallows with no rope. Mercy on the mainland needed the background of terror elsewhere.

Van Diemen's Land has therefore often been characterized as a "hell hole" (although it is less well-recognized that the brutality was primarily reserved for secondary offenders, or recidivists):

  • Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) entered the 19th century with a reputation as "hell on earth" reinforced by the novel of Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life, 1874).
  • To the inhabitants of Sydney only one place was worse in its isolation. It was a lonely, windswept speck a thousand miles from Sydney in the Pacific Ocean called Norfolk Island. As a hell hole where men's spirits shrivelled up in misery, it was equalled only by Van Diemen's Land. Norfolk Island was considered part of Van Diemen's Land from 1844 (Boyce, 2008, p. 217) [more]
  • According to Roslynn Haynes (From Habitat to Wilderness; Tasmania's role in the politicising of place, 2003): After the Sarah island penal colony was opened in 1822 for the "worst" convicts, the south-west quarter of the State was ideologically condoned off and declared a Hell on Earth, an appropriate place for such felons. The entrance to Macquarie Harbour was named Hell's Gates... The myth of an evil land was employed as propaganda by both supporters and opponents of transportation

In Australian legends, Tasmania was known for incest, bestiality, birth defects and freaks. Gerry Turcotte (Re-mastering the Ghosts: Mudrooroo and Gothic Refigurations. 2003) argues that:

Tasmania... has so often been figured, in the Australian mainland imaginary, as a space of terror, of backwardness, of depravity. Australia itself, however, long before it was ever 'discovered' by European explorers and cartographers, was constructed as a space of monstrosity, where even to believe in its possibility was considered heresy. Tasmania, owing to its notorious convict prisons, was seen to be even darker.... the Gothic has frequently been used by imperial agencies to identify Aboriginality as primitive, pagan and unenlightened, precisely by returning to the origins of the word, so that in one easy gesture the "Dark Ages" and Aboriginal Australia are equated. Both are dark, unenlightened.

Turcotte notes the development of this argument by Penny Van Toorn (The Terrors of Terra Nullius: Gothicising and De-Gothicising Aboriginality, 1992-93).

What is to be said of an imperial power that used as its penal colony a "hell hole" named such as to enjoin to a very probable death both the original inhabitants and those forcibly transported there -- thereby empowering those able to facilitate this? It might aptly have had inscribed on its gates the slogan, supposedly on the Gates of Hell, from Dante's Divine Comedy ("Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here").

It is extraordinary that it was faith-based (or faith-inspired) governance that was responsible for creating and sustaining the "hell hole". This is notable in the case of George Arthur, after whom the notorious Port Arthur prison was named -- who had undergone an evangelical conversion to Christianity in 1811 (Boyce, 2008, p. 187) and thereafter ensured the implementation of one the severest penal regimes with their associated dehumanisation.

Fire: Any sense of hellishness, the demonic or evil in Tasmania (and more generally in Australia) is easily reinforced by the incidence of wildfires and their imaginative association with "hellfire" -- especially when communities are visibly menaced by a wall of smoke and the glow of flames, just over a neighbouring hill, with the possibility that the wind might change, cutting off vital evacuation routes. Wildfires remain a major risk and were in fact one of the weapons most effectively used by the Aborigines in response to the early settlers on their traditional hunting lands (Boyce, 2008, pp. 194-196). Given any association of Aborigines with evil at that time, their skillful use of wildfire (acquired to manage their environment), and the dependency of some ecosystems on their periodic destruction by fire, could readily compound such associations.

Evil: The perception and legitimate definition of criminality (according to Victorian laws and conventions) were of course inspired by Christian views of the nature of evil and the demonic -- offering a significant example of the phenomenon of "demonisation". The "demonic" nature of both convicts and Aborigines derived from the projection onto them of the antithesis of Victorian "Little England" that was the optimistic vision of Tasmanian society values (cf Sharon Morgan. Land Settlement in Early Tasmania: creating an Antipodean England, 1992). This effectively transformed Van Diemen's Land, and Tasmania, into an accumulator of those demonically inspired -- if not to be considered as possessed by demons.

  • Evil colonists: The Aboriginal peoples of Australia tended to perceive arriving colonists from 1788 as ghosts, or evil spirits. It remains the case that Aboriginal people necessarily cultivate other stories about their problematic current situation in the light of the "evils" which gave rise to the Prime Ministerial apology of 13th February 2008. They, for example, make extensive use of the documentary films and arguments produced by John Pilger and Alan Lowery (The Secret Country: the First Australians fight back, 1985; Welcome to Australia: the secret shame behind the Sydney Olympics, 1999). However, already in 1826, the Colonial Times queried, with respect to the treatment of the Aborigines, whether "we ought not to endeavour to compensate for these and other evils which they have experienced at our hands?" (Boyce, 2008, p. 191)

  • Convict evil: According to Frost (1857), himself a former convict, the conditions and treatment were such that a convict consequently became like "a demon".

    Without hope to 'sustain' the moral feelings or to 'restrain the fell passions', the convict consequently became like 'a demon' and 'crimes which at one time would have been thought of with horror, are committed with avidity'.73 'Blasphemy, rage, mutual hatred and the unrestrained indulgence of unnatural lust' were thus the terrible outcomes of the convict state. (p. 74)

    For John Henderson:

    the free low-born European soon acquires a thorough acquaintance with the evil practice of the convict, and speedily becomes as little worthy of confidence...

    As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 236), an official inquiry in 1838 found that the evil of convictism could not be successfully quarantined, declaring:

    there belongs to the [convict] system [the] monstrous evil of calling into existence, and continually extending, societies or the germs of nations, most thoroughly depraved, as respects both the character and degree of their vicious propensities.
  • Aboriginal evil: Such evil was notably seen to be associated with Aboriginal beliefs, including consorting with the dead, and presumably a greater proximity to the Fall of Man, in order to justify any corrective brutality in response. Following the failure of the infamous "Black Line" -- a military offensive designed to trap the Aborigines on the Tasman Peninsula and convert it into a reserve -- the Christian missionary George Augustus Robinson ("Protector of Aboriginies") sought to replace ancient Aboriginal beliefs by those of Christianity. Ironically the map used for that military operation continued to portray part of Van Diemen's Land as "Transylvania" [more]. A history of the time by Henry Melville (The History of Van Diemen's Land: From the Year 1824 to 1835, 1959) framed the initiatives as 'praiseworthy and Christian-like endeavours to bring in the whole of the Aborigines.' However, given the perceived evil of those original beliefs, Robertson's efforts were considered to have been 'crowned with success; and so that the evil has been removed, it may appear of little consequence in what way it may have been effected.'

    Under the Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance (Cth) in 1911 (repealed in 1957), a Chief Protector (made legal guardian of every Aboriginal and *half-caste' child under 18) notably declared

    Children are removed from the evil influence of the aboriginal camp with its lack of moral training and its risk of serious organic infectious disease. [more]

  • Feminine embodiment of evil: Given the combination of Victorian attitudes to sexuality and those of the established religions, it is not surprising that the ambiguity of "evil" should be associated with female convicts and their treatment in Tasmania -- a theme variously explored by a number of authors (P. Tardif, Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: convict women in Van Diemen's Land 1803-1829, 1990; Marilyn Lake, Convict Women as Objects of Male Vision: an historiographical review, 1989; Anne McMahon,  Tasmanian Aboriginal Women as Slaves, 1976). As noted by Eleanor Conlin Casella, the quality of convict life was the resultant of a negotiation between both demonic and heroic (To Watch or Restrain: female convict prisons in 19th-century Tasmania, 2001). As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 127):
    Much of the condemnation of the moral degeneracy of Van Diemen's Land has its origins in the nineteenth-century evangelical revival, with its rigid belief in the evils of sex outside marriage.
  • Vampires: A combination of the early naming of unexplored and threatening forest lands as Transylvania, together with the demonic sound of the Tasmanian Devil, and the wolf-like Thylacine, helped to sustain a sense of pervasive threat of evil (Phil Bagust, Vampire Dogs and Marsupial Hyenas: fear, myth and the Tasmanian Tiger's extinction, In: Peter Day. Vampires: myths and metaphors of enduring evil, 2006, pp. 94-108). In consequence, vampires are further discussed below as a continuing aesthetic theme.

Sinister criminality: The use of Tasmania as a penal colony from 1803, which finally ceased only in 1877 , became the focus of public demonstrations in London, notably in the light of the account provided by John Frost (The Horrors of Convict Life, 1856) as usefully reviewed by K M Reid (The Horrors of Convict Life: British radical visions of the Australian penal colonies, 2007). Some indicators:

  • Van Diemen's Land became home to 72,000 criminals, namely 42 % of those transported to Australia as a whole; nowhere else did convicts and their descendants constitute the majority of the population over such a long period of time. (Boyce, p. 2, 9)
  • the proportion of criminals still under sentence rose from an all-time low of 17.7% of the population in 1817 to 40-50% in the early 1820s, where it stayed until 1839 (Boyce, 2008, p. 162)
  • by 1851, three-quarters of the adult males of Van diemen's Land... were or had been convicts (Boyce, 2008, p. 225)
  • cessation of transportation foreshadowed in the Queen's speech to parliament in 1852 -- order-in-Council effecting it signed 1853
  • almost half of the convicts who came to Australia came to Van Diemen's Land.
  • 1861 89,000 pop of which 3,00 were in detention
  • in 1820s pop increased from 5468 to 24,279 (convicts 1817 > 1830: 13,000???) half as servants
  • the character of the island which became the enforced home of over 72,000 sentenced criminals (42 % of the convicts transported to Australia) does matter.
  • by 1822 convicts made up 58 percent of the white populace of Van Diemen's Land.
  • the island had a very high proportion of transportees to free settlers - in 1840 three-quarters of its inhabitants were convicts, ex-convicts or their children. In the decade leading up to the discovery of gold, more than 25,000 convicts were added to the existing population of fewer than 60,000 people.
  • secondary / recidivism

As noted by Caitlin Mahar (Vandemonians, Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia, 2007):

On the mainland, those who hailed from the island colony were known as "Vandiemonians" or "Vandemonians". The second moniker referenced the place where they had (usually) served time but, as Bruce Moore notes, it also "blended with the word demon". These "demons" flooded into Victoria in the early days of the gold rushes - in the second half of 1851 there were more recorded immigrants from Van Diemen's Land than from New South Wales and South Australia combined.

Victorian usage of "Vandemonian" was noted by Rafaello Carboni (The Eureka Stockade, 1855) as implying "evil, maybe from Tasmania". More generally the term was used in the nineteenth century to refer to people on the bottom rung of the Tasmanian social ladder: convicts, aborigines, and their descendents. Ironically a guide to Aussie slang notes that "demon" indicated a policeman or detective -- originally a Tasmanian (Vandemonian) ex-convict recruited into the colonial police force. "Vandemonian" came to be associated with sinister -- as in the description by Rafaello Carboni, of a "Vandemonian" as a fiendish thug or ruffian:

... a sulky ruffian, some five feet high, with the head of a bull-dog, the eyes of a vulture, sunken in a mass of bones, neglected beard, sun-burnt, grog-worn, as dirty as a brute, -- the known cast, as called here in this colony, of a 'Vandemonian,' made up of low, vulgar manners and hard talk, spiked at each word, with their characteristic B, and infamous B again; whilst a vile oath begins and ends any of their foul conceits.

The proximity of Victoria to Tasmania saw many of the "Vandemonian Banditti" make their way across the Bass Strait to continue their life of crime. As noted by Stefan Petrow (Combating the Hated Stain: Victorian legislation against Vandiemonian convicts in the 1850s. Australia and New Zealand Law and History E-journal, 2005):

Other Australian colonies feared that Vandiemonian convicts would find their way to, and spread crime and immorality in, their pure communities. As the closest colony and with the magnetic incentive of rich goldfields, Victoria was the most fearful and in the 1850s a moral panic arose over an upsurge in violent crime and robberies in Melbourne and the goldfields that were largely attributed to Vandiemonian convicts... A product of this panic was the enactment of draconian legislation, beginning with the Convicts Prevention Act 1852. This Act provided for the arrest of any Vandiemonian convict found living in Victoria whether conditionally pardoned or not and including those who had not committed any crime, the confiscation of property, a sentence of working in irons on Victorian roads from one to three years, or their return to Van Diemen's Land.

Curiously the capital of Victoria, Melbourne, did not originate under official auspices, instead being formed in 1842 through the foresight of settlers from Van Diemen's Land. Its first mayor was Henry Condell, himself a "Vandemonian", as recalled by his friend William Westgarth -- noting that that was the "ill-omened name" of that time.

Abomination: Tasmania has been the last of the Australian states to decriminalise homosexuality (in 1997), following a declaration by the United Nations that its laws were in breach of international civil and political rights. The homophobia was partly a consequence of the connection made in the 1840s between homosexuality and the concentration of convicts in remote probation gangs. As noted by James Boyce (Van Diemen's Land, 2008):

This topic aroused such emotion and hysteria that its implications were seen to go far beyond penal policy, with convict sex in the Van Diemonian bush becomoing a matter of the highest imperial concertn. With the biblical warning of Sodom vividly in mind, the politically influential evangelicals claimed that the fate of the whole society, indeed possibly the whole empire, was at stake....the mid-nineteenth century evangelical view of homosexuality became inextricably associated with Van Diemen's Land and instilled an enduring sense of shame . The pervading "stain" of convictism arguably has its origins more in shame about sex than in memories of sevitude.

It is curious that fear of homsexuality was such a determining factor in the termination of the "hell hole" rather than any concern about the murderous brutality associated with it. Boyce quotes an anonymous poem of the time (1847):

Shall Tasman's Isle so fam'd
So lovely and so fair
From other nations be estrang'd
The name of Sodom bear?

The newly enriched Victorian elite cringed at the idea of their colony being morally tainted by slovenly ex-convicts from the south, many of whom were considered sodomites, so they simply banned them from landing in Melbourne. [more]

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