Deane Defends battle for truth
The Australian, 28 November 2002
Fierce ideological battle has been joined over the the legacy of former governor-general William Deane and his committed campaign to highlight the massacre of Aborigines on the Australian frontier.
Sir William, whose semi-official biography has just been published, weighed in yesterday with a column in the Sydney Morning Herald to defend his position against revisionist critiques.
The most strident of these comes from historian and cultural polemicist Keith Windschuttle, whose core argument against the 'black armband' view of Aboriginal history is his claim that oral testimony from indigenous people is unreliable. He has used the former governor-general's most controversial speech to illustrate his claim.
Sir William, trailed by an ABC television crew, visited Mistake Creek in the East Kimberley in June last year, where he apologised in his own name for a massacre he said occurred there in the 1930s.
But he "got the facts completely wrong", according to a fiery presentation delivered by Windschuttle at the National Museum last December, and "made a fool of himself" as would have anyone relying on uncorroborated oral testimony, he said.
There the matter might have rested, with the former governor-general maintaining a dignified silence, had not another series of broadsides, spurred by Windschuttle's new book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, provoked Deane into replying yesterday.
Sir William, while now conceding that the massacre of Mistake Creek took place in 1915, not as he first believed in the 1930s, insists Aboriginal oral history can stand alone as historical evidence.
In the case of Mistake Creek, he says: "The oral history is remarkably strong. It lacks any dreamtime element of the kind that can occasionally lead to confusion between fact and allegory."
Who is right? Neville Green, the leading professional historian of the Kimberley, told The Australian yesterday he felt that on the basis of consistent Aboriginal reports the Mistake Creek massacre had in fact taken place.
Dr Green and other regional historians make qualified use of Aboriginal testimony and says it is backed by clusters of interlocking stories.
"The truth is that the Aboriginal viewpoint can be ephemeral in the telling, as is all oral history — ours as well," Dr Green says. "The plot of stories can change, people can write themselves into old stories, a story can be modified to depend on the audience and the time. What is the role of evidence at the end of the day — to confirm what some people say, or to conceal what others want hidden?"
Fredrick Töben comments: Unfortunately with that 17 September 2002 Federal Court of Australia gag-order hanging over my head, I am unable to say and write what I think. What a pity Revisionists cannot have a fierce debate with the anti-Revisionists and claim truth as our defence!
But I shall risk this: What's new? The matter of that ever illusive clarification ideal being given the run-around by the creation of new stories, re-interpretations, distortions and lying through omission, and even outright lying, is all too familiar a pattern for Revisionists.
After all, it is the love of truth —the foundation on which our civilisation rests — that gives us the moral certainty within a sea of moral and intellectual cowardice to proclaim the various truths that we now hold to be self-evident! The idea of Truth is as strong as the idea of God because God is Truth. It cannot be legislated away, curtailed somewhat but not eliminated because that would also eliminate our own humanity.
The court order of 17 September 2002 prevents me from exploring this issue any further — or face contempt of court charges. I have no fear of the consequences of being in breach of the court order, but it is not worth my while to spend time in prison for that heap of feces called the 'Holocaust'!
That aspect of our history forms a minute though fundamental and crucial picture of our world view — of the larger issue to which we are now a witness: the USA-Zionist-led war for 'freedom' and 'democracy' and on the abstract-concept 'terrorism', and its related physical/concretised form in the shape of Iraq —with the hunt for Osama bin Laden used as a tool to restrain any Moslem interference or direct opposition that may arise as the USA stakes its claim for the possession/control of cheap Iraqi oil. Again, it's as basic as that! Anyone disagree?