Windschuttle responds to his critics

The Fabrication of Aboriginal

Reviews of Keith Windschuttle's new book 

 Paul Sheehan

Our history not rewritten but put right. Accusations of genocide have been based on guesswork and blatant ideology. SMH, 24 November 2002

 At a ceremony in the Kimberley district of Western Australia, Sir
William Deane, then governor-general, apologised to the Kija people for
an infamous massacre by whites at Mistake Creek in the 1930s. He told
the assembly: "I'd like to say to the Kija people how profoundly sorry I
personally am that such events defaced our land, this beautiful land."

While the brutal dislocation of Australia's indigenous population has
rightly become an acknowledged chapter of national shame, the accusation
of genocide is something altogether different.

Deane, for one, might one day reflect on his role in defaming the
Australian people on the basis of shabby evidence. Mistake Creek indeed.

As the historian Keith Windschuttle points out in his landmark new book,
The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, (Macleay Press, 2002): "... Deane
got the facts of this case completely wrong. According to the Western
Australian police records, the incident took place in 1915, not the
1930s. It was not a massacre of Aborigines by whites and had nothing to
do with a stolen cow. It was a killing of Aborigines by Aborigines in a
dispute over a women who had left one Aboriginal man to live with
another. The jilted lover and an accomplice rode into the camp of his
rival and shot dead eight people. This is not the kind of incident for
which the Governor-General of Australia should be apologising.

"Even though he had been using the same incident in speeches for at
least two years, Deane never bothered to do the most elementary research
to find out the facts."

Deane has qualified his accusations by stating, as he did in his book,
Directions: A Vision For Australia (2002): "It matters not whether this
particular story is accurate in all its details, for the elements
undoubtedly occurred in many parts of our nation in the 211 years of
European settlement."

Windschuttle responds in his book: "But, of course, it does matter
greatly whether stories about crimes of this magnitude are accurate in
their details, and it is most surprising to find a former judge of the
High Court thinking otherwise. If the factual details are not taken
seriously, then people can invent any atrocity and believe anything they
like. Truth becomes a lost cause."

Fabrication is the first of three volumes, with the other two to be
published next year and in 2004. "I intended to do one book but there
was so much material," Windschuttle said. The three volumes will form a
frontal assault on the accusation of genocide which began with a claim,
now accepted as fact around the world and taught in schools, that the
Tasmanian Aborigines were exterminated by a policy of genocide.

Volume 1 is sub-titled Van Diemen's Land, 1803-1847. Windschuttle found
a mountain of documentary evidence in Tasmania. He also found plausible
evidence for only 118 Aborigines' deaths at the hands of Europeans and
187 whites killed by Aborigines. He found the basis for the genocide
argument to be speculation, guesswork, outright distortion and blatant
ideology, an ideology which reached its crescendo in the Bringing Them
Home report in 1997. Once this report's claim of genocide was subjected
to the forensic rigours of the courts, it fell apart, a fact many still
cannot accept.

This is not an exercise in denialism. As Windschuttle argues: "If
Australians of Aboriginal and European descent are to look one another
straight in the eye, they have to face the truth about their mutual
history, not rely upon mythologies designed to create an edifice of
black victimhood and white guilt."

The strength of Windschuttle's book is in the mass of details. The three
volumes of Fabrication will not be the last word on genocide, far from

but will provide what has been lacking for so long - a devil's
advocate view unintimidated by the prevailing ideological orthodoxies
inside the academy and the media. Windschuttle follows paper trails,
checks original sources and supplies names.

No one is named more than the historian Henry Reynolds. Among one of
numerous examples, Windschuttle examines Frontier (1987), a book
reprinted at least five times and used as a school text, which quotes a
governor of Tasmania, George Arthur, in 1831: "Writing from his camp at
Sorell to justify the famous Black Line, he argued that such was the
insecurity of the settlers that he feared 'a general decline in the
prosperity' and the eventual extirpation of the colony."

When Windschuttle quotes the original document we find that Arthur
actually wrote something very different: "It was evident that nothing
but capturing and forcibly detaining these unfortunate savages ... could
now arrest a long term of rapine and bloodshed, already commenced, a
great decline in the prosperity of the colony, and the extirpation of
the Aboriginal race itself."

So Arthur was not expressing concern that the Aborigines presented a
threat to the survival of the colony, as Reynolds clearly implies, he
was concerned about the survival of the Aborigines themselves.
Questioned on this by the Herald's Andrew Stevenson last week, Reynolds
dug a deeper hole: "Nowhere did I suggest that Arthur thought they could
wipe out the colony. That would be a silly thing to say."

But that's what he does say in Frontiers. It's on page 29.

Another prominent target is Robert Hughes and his book The Fatal Shore.
Given that Hughes's theory that Tasmania was conceived as the world's
first Gulag has already been dismantled by Professor Alan Atkinson in
The Europeans in Australia (1997), and now the paltry sources of his
Tasmanian genocide theory are exposed by Windschuttle, the enormously
successful Fatal Shore is fast becoming The Fatal Flaw.

Windschuttle is not a lone dissenter. Other anthropologists, notably
Roger Sandall, in The Culture Cult (2001), Professor Kenneth Maddock,
Professor Peter Sutton and Dr Ron Brunton, have already written about
ideology's incursions into anthropology. And another new book, Sex
Maiming & Murder
by Rod Moran (Access Press, 2002), reveals the source
of much of the massacre mythology of Western Australia was the Rev
Ernest Gribble, who Moran proves was a pathological liar. In an
introduction to the book, Professor Geoffrey Bolton gracefully
acknowledges that Moran's work has "contradicted the view previously
taken by most historians, including Henry Reynolds, Neville Green and
myself ..."

No doubt Windschuttle will be singled out for ritual abuse, but at least
three more exposes are in the works. Finally, the accusers are going to
be the accused.

Andrew Stevenson

The 170-year-old war: Academics are accused of lying in a new account of colonial Tasmania. SMH, 22 November 2002

The Black War finished in Tasmania in 1832 but white historians can't
put down their weapons.

Today sees the publication of the first volume of Keith Windschuttle's
alternative history of the frontier, in which he accuses four
contemporary historians - including Henry Reynolds - of deception and

Windschuttle claims Professor Reynolds misreported the words of
Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and misrepresented his views.

Professor Reynolds had also misrepresented the views of settlers such as
Edward Curr in building a case that white Tasmanians had argued for the
extermination of Aborigines, Windschuttle claims.

The most authoritative scholar of the Tasmanian frontier, Lyndall Ryan,
fares worse. Yesterday, after reading sections of the book, The
Fabrication of Aboriginal History
, Professor Ryan said she had been
accused of lying.

Windschuttle claims in the book that references cited by Professor Ryan
do not support claims of massacres or killings of Aborigines.

"I conducted the research for these events 30 years ago, " Professor
Ryan said. "I had no reason to fabricate them then and I am in no
position to check them now. I can't believe I would have made it up.
He's accusing me of lying ...

"The truth or otherwise of these events do not destroy the overall
argument of my book - that the Tasmanian Aborigines were violently
dispossessed of their country as a result of the British colonisation of
Tasmania but they were not exterminated."

Two other leading historians, Rhys Jones and Lloyd Robson, both now
dead, are sharply criticised in the book. Robson, who wrote A History of
, included claims by a settler of having witnessed Aborigines
killing 300 sheep at Oyster Bay in 1815, an action which led to soldiers
killing 22 Aborigines.

But, argues Windschuttle, this would have been difficult. The settler,
James Hobbs, was living in India at the time and there were no sheep at
Oyster Bay for anyone to kill.

Lieutenant-Governor Arthur feared Aboriginal hostilities in the 1820s
would lead to the "eventual extirpation of the colony". These are the
words Windschuttle claims are used by Professor Reynolds to support a
policy of "ethnic cleansing". Arthur never made the statement, wrote

Professor Reynolds attacked the claim yesterday. "I've never said that.
That's quite, quite misleading. How could they [Aborigines destroy the
colony]? I mean there were people who said that but Arthur never did and
I've never, as far as I'm aware, suggested that he did," he said.

"Nowhere did I suggest that Arthur thought they could wipe out the
colony. That would be a silly thing to say."


Sir William Deane (governor-general from 1996-2001)

Decrying the memories of Mistake Creek is yet further injustice. Dismissing indigenous oral history on the basis of 'no police record' ignores cultural context. SMH, 27 November 2002

Paul Sheehan ("Our history not rewritten but put right", Herald,
November 25) uncritically accepts and repeats historian Keith
Windschuttle's dogmatic denial of any non-indigenous responsibility in
relation to the killing of Aborigines, including women and children, at
Mistake Creek in the East Kimberley. In so doing, he conveys a false
picture upon which he bases some criticism of me. I am led to respond
only by reason of the hurt that Sheehan's article, if left unanswered,
may cause to the Kija people of the region.

As regards details of the killings, there is conflict between the Kija
oral history and local police records about the nature and extent of the
involvement of a non-indigenous former police constable named Rhatigan.
Otherwise, there is a remarkable degree of common ground between the
oral history and the police records. There was a killing by shooting of
at least seven Kija people. Undoubtedly, two Aboriginal employees of
Rhatigan were involved, riding Rhatigan's horses and presumably using
his firearms. There was pre-existing enmity between some of the Kija
people and one of the Aboriginal employees, Wynn, who was from elsewhere
in Australia. Wynn was apparently killed by an Aboriginal police tracker
in the aftermath of the massacre. The other employee, "Nipper",
subsequently surrendered to the police.

According to Kija oral history, recounted in some published
non-indigenous works and repeated with complete conviction by
present-day Kija people, Rhatigan had led the attack because he
mistakenly believed, presumably at the urging of Wynn, that the
Aboriginal victims had taken and killed (and were eating) his milking
cow. In fact, the cow had merely wandered and was found after the

According to police records, to which historian Cathie Clement drew
attention in 1989, there was no basis for a conclusion of direct
involvement of Rhatigan, notwithstanding his employees, his horses, his
firearms and, apparently, his presence in the vicinity. On that version,
Wynn and Nipper had carried out the killings on their own and on their
own initiative.

At one stage I accepted that the killings occurred "in the 1930s". I now
believe that Clement's work leads to the conclusion that they took place
in 1915. In these circumstances, as Clement has stressed, one cannot
simply ignore the indigenous oral history to the extent that it is not
supported by police records.

It is clear that there was throughout Australia, including the Kimberley
at these times, often reluctance on the part of police to file adverse
reports or to bring proceedings against white settlers in respect of
extreme physical retribution against Aborigines for the killing of
livestock on traditional lands. It needs little imagination to conceive
that that reluctance could well be heightened in a case where a former
police constable was involved.

At the same time, there would be few lawyers, at least of my generation,
with relevant experience who are unaware of how misleading and
unreliable untested police reports of alleged verbal statements by
illiterate, particularly illiterate Aboriginal, accused or witnesses can
be. If one were to restrict acceptance of oral indigenous history in
relation to the killing of Aborigines to those cases where there was
confirmatory police evidence or action, the resulting sanitised version
of the events of the dispossession would be contrary to plain fact and
even commonsense.

In the case of Mistake Creek, the oral history is remarkably strong. As
published and as recounted by Kija people, it lacks any dreamtime
element of the kind that can occasionally lead to confusion between fact
and allegory. The foundation of that oral history presumably lies in the
eyewitness accounts of three Kija people who survived the massacre.

For another, the police initially arrested Rhatigan on suspicion of
wilful murder. They did not proceed with the charge. Nipper, the
Aborigine who had surrendered to the police, was charged with murder.
The charge against him was also eventually dropped when the police
failed to produce any acceptable evidence. He was subsequently taken to
Perth where he was employed in the police stables.

No one was brought to justice for the killings and the police version of
events, in so far as it differs from the strong Kija oral history, was
never tested in a criminal trial.

It is also relevant to note, as regards the police evidence, that
Clement, upon whose research Windschuttle expressly relied (The
Australian Financial Review
, June 18 , 2001), has dissociated herself
from Windschuttle's use of her work in his efforts to discredit the Kija
oral history.

The Sisters of St Joseph, who have selflessly served the indigenous
peoples of the East Kimberley for many years, have erected a small
monument at the foot of the old boab tree at Mistake Creek to mark the
place where the killings occurred. There, on All Souls Day each year,
representatives of the Kija gather in prayer and fellowship with
non-indigenous fellow Australians, to mourn those who were killed.
"Theirs is", as I have pointed out, "the path of true reconciliation".

Also see: Geoffrey Muirden's Review


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