Monday, December 3, 2012

Ranger and the Exiles

 Ranger, for seven years she roamed the island, avoiding the sealers and their families. At night they heard her, Ranger, creeping through the dark waving grasses to the cottage to try the front door. They heard her leave again without entering the house. She spoke to the dogs in English to quieten them, one summer's night in 1837, "Go along, go along then."

The sealer John Scot lived with his two Vandiemonian wives and three children on King Island, Bass Strait. He was one of the few sealers who kept a journal. Sporadically, he wrote of the enigma who was Ranger, the mysterious Pallawah woman, who lived on the island in her own little hut and eschewed company. As woman who was stolen from her family, put to work on the islands and subjected to unspeakable brutalities, Ranger was now disciplined, resolute in her solitude. Scot never laid eyes on her.

One day Scot came across her hut on the far side of the island and Ranger wasn't there. Perhaps she watched him from the bush, saw him approach, open her front door and peer inside. In Scot's last diary entry before he drowned, he described going into Ranger's home and finding the single room festooned with clothes from all the shipwrecks to clutter King Island's shores. She'd been collecting clothes cast onto the beaches like they were seashells.

Apparently, after Scot drowned in 1843, Ranger came out of isolation and went to live with her two countrywomen. Whether she died on the island or was taken to the Aboriginal settlement at Wybalenna is uncertain. She is a mystery ... a Vandiemonian spectre.

Five or six years ago, Dr Julie Gough came to Albany as part of a West Australian foray into the life and incredible journeys of one of her ancestors. Woretemoeteyenner was taken from Van Diemen's Land with several of her other countrywomen, across the entire southern seaboard of Australia in the 1820's. They ended up stranded in Rodrigues, near Mauritius for a while when the ship's owner left them there. That is another story ... Julie exhibited some artworks about Ranger and the stories of this King Island exile. It was the first time I'd ever heard of Ranger and she has stayed embedded in my storyperson brain. Here is Gough's exhibition catalogue for "The Ranger."


  1. Just fascinating. Compelling to be thinking about what happened to these women and how their lives were completely turned upside down by these men. From living in some kind of paradisical garden, though harsh, to THAT! Having to deal with this awful bloody culture. God I hope we never have to endure it.

  2. Perhaps not live it MF, so much as live off the spoils...
    I found hers such an interesting tale though. Her agency, her determined independance and her elusiveness. Then how she beach combed for dresses.

  3. PS: I got that pdf about Julie Gough - haven't read it all yet but will. Something came to mind about the the psychology of women who, when they have their identity thrust upon them against their will, retreat and have the ability to make themselves 'invisible' in a kind of pseudo-magical way. It's a feminine response to overpowering masculine forces. It is very frustrating for men because they are unable to 'find' this type of woman, no matter how much they rage and tear the world apart. I think there is some hidden aspect to every woman who can relate to this.

  4. Yes, you are right MF! Thanks for that observation. I have encountered that frustration when retreating due to exactly what you explain.

  5. An amazing story - just love those stories that are hidden between the lines as it were. And thank you for the link to Julie Gough's exhibition catalogue.