Whitewash confirms the fabrication of Aboriginal history
The first volume of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History makes three main points. First, there was no genocide in Tasmania. Second, there was nothing that deserved the label of frontier warfare either. Third, those historians who have claimed there was either genocide or frontier warfare, especially Henry Reynolds, Lyndall Ryan and Lloyd Robson, have misinterpreted and grossly exaggerated the conflict between Aborigines and colonists that did occur and, in a number of cases, invented their evidence.
The claim that the Aborigines of Tasmania suffered genocide is today widely accepted throughout Australia. The Tasmanian Aboriginal activist, Michael Mansell, told the Hobart Mercury last month that to commemorate the imminent bicentenary of British settlement in Tasmania would be like celebrating the arrival of the Nazis.
Thanks to the international success of Robert Hughes's book The Fatal Shore, the claim that Tasmania was the site of the one clear case of genocide in the British Empire is also widely accepted internationally. In the new and otherwise impressive book and television series by Niall Ferguson on the British Empire, the author accepts and repeats Hughes's verdict uncritically. Hughes took his claim from Lyndall Ryan's conclusion in The Aboriginal Tasmanians that the colonial government had instituted "a conscious policy of genocide".
Australian academic historians do not themselves usually compare the Australian colonists to the Nazis but when activists like Mansell or the internationally-known Australian journalist Phillip Knightley actually do this, none of them have ever raised a voice in protest. However, when I go public arguing this comparison is a gross travesty of our history, they write letters to the editor, articles in the press and whole books denouncing my motives, my character and my scholarship.
Robert Manne's anthology Whitewash does not address the empirical evidence for genocide. In her essay in this collection, Lyndall Ryan does not attempt to uphold her original claim. Nor does Henry Reynolds defend his version of the topic. Reynolds has always said that the government did not intend genocide against the Aborigines, hence there was no conscious policy at work. However, Reynolds's thesis is that it was the Tasmanian settlers who wanted to exterminate the Aborigines. He claims they supported this demand throughout the 1820s and early 1830s.
In Fabrication, the longest chapter is devoted to disproving this claim. It shows that in none of Reynolds's sources does any settler demand extermination in the 1820s. It demonstrates that the colonial press largely worked to discourage the idea. It even shows there was a questionnaire survey of leading Tasmanian settlers conducted in 1830 to determine their attitudes about this very issue. Reynolds knew this survey existed but kept it from his readers in case they wanted to know the survey's results, that is, all the results, not just a handful of carefully selected quotations.
The full historical record, not the selective and deceptive version provided by Reynolds, shows that even at the height of Aboriginal violence in 1830, very few settlers entertained such a notion. The prospect of extermination divided the settlers deeply, was always rejected by government and was never acted upon.
In Whitewash, Reynolds does not defend his views about either genocide or extermination. Yet this is supposed to be the place in which he and Ryan answer my major charges against them. This is very telling. I take their complete silence on this issue as an admission that their earlier claims are unsustainable.
Reynolds has never had a consistent view about the total number of Aborigines deliberately killed in Tasmania. In 1995 in Fate of a Free People he criticized Lyndall Ryan's figure of 700 and put the total at between 250 and 400. However, by 2001 when he wrote An Indelible Stain? he decided to bump it up to 1150 killed between 1824 and 1831 from either gunshot, exposure or hunger during the so-called Black War. In Fabrication I pointed out the discrepancy between his two totals and accused him of playing with the figures. However, in his essay in Manne's collection, there is no discussion of this point at all, no defence of either of his two quite different conclusions.
Lyndall Ryan does talk about the death toll in Whitewash but does no more than reassert her original case. She writes: "I have found no new evidence to lead me to change my original claim." But her original figure was based on no evidence of any kind. She simply took a figure for the number of whites killed by Aborigines and multiplied it by four. In Manne's book she still defends the same dodgy, unhistorical methodology.
In The Aboriginal Tasmanians, Ryan claimed that even if only half the stories in the diaries of George Augustus Robinson were true, they amounted to 700 Aborigines shot dead. That is, the diaries actually contain stories of a total of 1400 shot dead. "This is," Ryan claims, "about three-quarters of the Aboriginal population in the settled districts." But anyone who actually reads the diaries and does his own count will come to a total of about 188, and many of them are dubious cases. Ryan's original claim is a complete fabrication. Any editor who was doing his job properly should have insisted she reply to such a charge. But in Manne's book there is not even a mention of this issue -- no concession, no withdrawal of this easily disproved falsehood.
In Fabrication, the revised edition now puts the number of Aborigines who died violently in Tasmania between 1803 and 1834 at 120. It provides a table listing every incident, the date, place and circumstances under which it occurred, plus a reference to the source concerned. This figure is not absolute or final. In fact, at the end of the table I invite readers to provide me with any references or evidence to show if there are incidents I missed or need reassessing. If any evidence that is at all plausible comes in, I will update the table on www.sydneyline.com and in future editions of the book.
Contrary to Manne's assertions, this death toll is not "almost entirely reliant" on Brian Plomley's earlier survey of a similar kind. As Fabrication states clearly, I "started with" Plomley's survey by checking his sources, but then did my own research, which included a complete reading of all the relevant files in the Tasmanian archives plus all the local newspapers up to 1832, as well as all the contemporary diaries and journals I could find.
James Boyce thinks I read very few diaries and journals because not many are listed in my bibliography. But the bibliography is a list of what I footnoted, not what I read. It was produced by cutting and pasting from the footnotes. (Before the Western Australian author Cathie Clement chastises me for yet another imaginary inconsistency -- since an article of hers is in the bibliography but not the footnotes -- let me assure her that in an early draft of the manuscript she got a mention but was later cut out, along with several other marginally relevant citations.)
Fabrication cites few of the early Tasmanian journals and diaries because few of them contain accounts of deadly conflict. This is why most did not make it into the footnotes. In the first twenty years of the colony, the settlers generally agreed the Aborigines were " a mild and peaceful people" and "the most peaceable creatures in the universe".
Boyce wants to dismiss my book because it relies on official sources and does not discuss the evidence of enough of the early Tasmanian diaries. But all he could produce himself is one diary that I had not read -- that of the surveyor J. H. Wedge -- and its record of the death of one Aboriginal woman, which I had not noted. I will check this out and, if Boyce's claim is credible, will add this additional death to the table in Chapter Ten. Needless to say, this sole incident does not alter the picture of a very low indigenous death toll.
As for my relying too much on official sources and not enough on settler opinion, this claim could not seriously be made by anyone familiar with the actual contents of the Tasmanian archives. The accumulated files that Lieutenant-Governor Arthur ordered to be compiled into seventeen volumes about Aboriginal affairs contain literally hundreds of letters and other documents from settlers themselves. In one file alone, that of Archdeacon Broughton's 1830 government inquiry, there are more than three hundred pages of letters hand-written by settlers about the causes, the course and the consequences of Aboriginal hostility to settlers.
These archives are the richest source of documentation of settler attitudes towards indigenous people available in any Australian colony. Indeed, they constitute one of the best collections in the British Empire. In Chapter Nine of Fabrication I discuss my experience of finding these documents. As part of my research I not only read the microfilm copies but printed out the lot and took them home to consult further.
Yet Manne still feels he can write in the press that my "failure to do the basic research is simply scandalous". This is a claim by someone who himself knows nothing at first hand about the content of these archives. Manne's brazen assertion derives entirely from the advice of others, who in this case have left him badly informed. His denunciation of my research is an audacious bluff, believable only by those who have never opened my book.
The same is true of Manne's obvious chagrin over the degree of media coverage Fabrication has attracted. He claims The Australian newspaper supported my book as part of a wider neo-conservative agenda demanded by proprietor Rupert Murdoch. "While The Australian was championing Windschuttle," he writes, "it was also providing -- alongside all Murdoch newspapers -- unambiguous support for Anglo-American preparations for war against Iraq." Hence The Australian, Manne claims, "has become this country's first genuinely neo-conservative newspaper".
The truth is The Australian has run just as many stories and opinion pieces critical of my work as it has in favour of it. It commissioned the first review from Henry Reynolds and gave him a double-page spread.
Inconveniently for Manne's theory, the first and best publicity Fabrication received was from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Fairfax publication for which Manne himself writes a column. Paul Sheehan wrote the first opinion piece, taking up my criticism of former Governor-General Sir William Deane's intervention in the historical debate. Deane himself raised the stakes of the dispute by replying two days later with a Herald opinion piece of his own.
At the same time Herald reporter Andrew Stevenson pursued Henry Reynolds after he had denied altering the text of a statement by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur. That story, culminating in Reynolds's reluctant confession a week later, was a publicist's dream that gave the book public attention and critical cachet, thereby ensuring its success. Manne's gambit of attributing this to the ideological predilections of the Murdoch press is in the best tradition of leftist conspiracy theories.
Manne's contributors discuss three major incidents, which they claim I have overlooked, where large numbers of Tasmanian Aborigines were apparently killed. However, not one of them stands up to even a modicum of scholarly scrutiny.
First, Lyndall Ryan claims that in July 1827 a party pursuing Aborigines at the Western Marshes left 60 blacks dead or wounded. She has taken this report, without acknowledging it, from Shayne Breen's 2001 book on northern Tasmania, which cited a story in the Colonial Times. But if you trace the story back to its source in the archives, it refers to an incident where Corporal Shiners of the 40th Regiment, a police constable and three stockmen pursued Aborigines who had killed a white stock-keeper. All five made individual depositions and none had any reason to cover up what happened. At nightfall they got to within forty yards of the Aboriginal camp before the dogs detected them. They got off three shots before the Aborigines disappeared into the forest. They only wounded one man.
In other words, the later report in the Colonial Times was a wildly exaggerated rumour. The notion that five whites, armed only with single shot muskets that took more than thirty seconds to reload, could shoot sixty blacks in this dense rainforest is logistically impossible.
Second, Cassandra Pybus says I have overlooked an incident in the diary of the settler James George where the 40th Regiment killed "two score" or forty Aborigines in November 1828. George's work is called a diary but was actually a memoir written years after the events. Pybus, as usual, has got the date wrong. George's memoir lists it among incidents that occurred in 1826-7. Unlike Pybus, I traced the story back to its source.
The events actually took place in April 1827 and were written up in the Colonial Times on 4 May 1827. Fabrication lists the casualties in Table Ten on page 389. A small party of settlers and soldiers pursued Aborigines who had killed two shepherds. The press report was apparently written by a member of the party itself. He did not say forty blacks were killed, only twenty of their dogs. A week later, his report continued, the same Aborigines besieged two white sawyers in their hut. Defending themselves, the sawyers fired on their assailants and left "a few" of them dead. These are the casualties recorded in my table since my practice is to take the word of witnesses on the spot rather than frontier tales recounted by old men in memoirs many years later.
Third, both James Boyce and Ian McFarlane quote a diary written in 1828 by Rosalie Hare in which she claimed the master of the Van Diemen's Land Company's ship Fanny and some stockmen killed twelve Aborigines at Cape Grim in early 1828. However, both of them omit to tell their readers about the text that accompanies that diary entry.
Rosalie Hare was the 19-year-old wife of an English ship's captain who paid a brief visit to the Van Diemen's Land Company's headquarters at Circular Head where she did record that information in her daily journal. But the editor of the published version of the diary, Ida Lee, whose edition both Boyce and McFarlane use as their source, annotated the entry saying Mrs Hare had probably confused this incident with the other, major event at Cape Grim in February 1828 where either six Aborigines (according to Edward Curr) or thirty Aborigines (according to George Augustus Robinson) certainly were killed.
If Boyce and McFarlane had reported this incident fully and honestly they would have included the doubts raised by the diarist's own editor. Another historian who noted Mrs Hare's diary entry, Geoff Lennox, agreed with Ida Lee and discounted the story as "a colourful addition". In Whitewash, Boyce and McFarlane pretend none of this commentary even exists.
Moreover, at a University of Tasmania conference at Launceston in May this year I pointed out to McFarlane that a dispatch by the Van Diemen's Land Company on 14 January 1828 described the Fanny incident. It recorded that there was an attempt by the boat's crew to shoot some Aborigines but their powder was wet and their guns would not go off. At the Launceston conference, McFarlane did not know of that dispatch but he has since retrieved it from the archives and reproduced it in Manne's book, where he tries to argue it away. Boyce still appears ignorant of it.
So the diary entry on which both place so much faith, and which they pretend I was unaware, is itself seriously undermined by two quite separate pieces of information. That is why this incident does not appear in my book. In contrast, both Boyce and McFarlane are quite happy to endorse this alleged atrocity as if it were true. The story adds to the death toll, so into Manne's book it goes. Neither author makes a critical analysis of the quality of the evidence nor takes seriously the important doubts the historical documents themselves raise about Rosalie Hare's claims.
Contrary to Manne's assertion, I do not confine the evidence of Aboriginal deaths to official documents, nor do I exclude Aboriginal oral testimony. Fabrication contains a large volume of Aboriginal testimony, not only about killings but many other aspects of black and white relations. In Tasmania, there is probably more direct Aboriginal testimony available than anywhere else in Australia at the same time. This was all recorded by white observers, of course, but usually by people sympathetic to the Aboriginal plight such as George Augustus Robinson.
On page 282 of Fabrication, introducing a table of Aboriginal deaths recorded by Robinson, I state: "In the table, every case where an Aboriginal eyewitness claimed to have seen one of his compatriots killed is accepted as plausible, unless there is other good evidence to doubt it."
The total of 120 Aborigines recorded in Fabrication as killed between 1803 and 1834 is, as Mark Finnane's essay in Whitewash correctly says, six per cent of the pre-contact Aboriginal population, which I calculated at 2000. It is also true, as Finnane says, that in relative terms this is a high figure for violent deaths.
But it is equally true that in absolute terms it is a very small figure, probably the smallest indigenous death toll in any colony established by Europeans over the last five centuries. Moreover, we are talking about what is supposed to have been Australia's worst-case scenario -- allegedly the one clear case of genocide in the British Empire. Such a small death toll puts this hyperbole into proper perspective.
Both Manne and Finnane (who, according to Whitewash, "specialises in criminal justice history") make a big point of comparing the relative death rate in Van Diemen's Land to present-day figures for the United States. The death toll recorded in my book, according to Manne, is 360 times the current murder rate of New York City.
The absurd incongruity of comparing a tiny, remote rural colony two hundred years ago to the world's largest urban metropolis today escapes both authors -- but this is what now passes for social science analysis and "criminal justice history" in Australian universities.
A more relevant comparison would be to contrast the impact of the British in Tasmania with that of other imperial powers on indigenous people in the pre-modern period. In Mexico in 1521, during the siege of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish conquistadors and their native Mexican allies killed 100,000 Aztecs in less than three months. Of these, no fewer than 40,000 were killed in the siege's last few days.
In Tasmania, the records show 120 people were killed over a time span of more than thirty years. It is not surprising that Manne and Finnane avoid comparisons of this kind. For they demonstrate the truth of my contention that Van Diemen's Land was probably the colony where the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed.
Manne argues the Tasmanian death toll must have been much higher than 120 since many Aboriginal deaths out on the frontier, beyond official observation, would have been unrecorded. In Tasmania, however, the thesis about an unrecorded death toll is more implausible than anywhere else. After martial law was declared in 1828, the shooting of hostile Aborigines by soldiers and police officers became legal. All of them had a positive incentive to report any casualties they caused. Hence, the period at the height of conflict between blacks and whites on the island was the time when the recorded death toll was most likely to be accurate.
In Whitewash, Ian McFarlane makes the point, repeated by Manne, that a number of Aborigines were recorded wounded in encounters and that some of them would have died of their injuries in the bush, unrecorded. This is probably true, but unless there is some positive evidence that they did actually die, all the historian can honestly do is record them as wounded. In any case, the total of those documented as being wounded was a small number, much fewer than those recorded killed. Even assuming the improbability that all the wounded died of their injuries, the overall picture of a very low Tasmanian death toll does not change.
As a general and rather obvious point, if historians want to claim that something actually did happen they have to produce evidence that it did. If they lack the evidence, they should admit they don't know. To make claims without evidence, especially about Aboriginal deaths, is illegitimate.
The thesis about unrecorded frontier deaths now endorsed by Australian academic historians is empirically and logically absurd. The absence of evidence about killings is taken as evidence of a cover-up, hence the absence of evidence of killings itself becomes evidence that many Aborigines actually were killed.
In May this year at the University of Tasmania, at the conclusion of a conference that Ryan, Reynolds and I all attended, one of the senior figures of Australian historiography, Geoffrey Bolton, who is no supporter of mine, said in his summarizing remarks that historians should stop using the term "genocide" in Australian history because the evidence is not there to support the charge. I would hope that, despite all our differences, Robert Manne would agree with me on this one. Nowhere does his own book attempt to make a case for the genocide of the Tasmanian Aborigines.
So, despite all the sound and fury raised by this debate since last November, we have actually made some progress. The case for genocide in Tasmania has not been sustained. Indeed, its principal advocates have walked away from the topic, unwilling to defend it. So, my first thesis, there was no genocide in Tasmania, I now take as proven by default.
The question of frontier warfare is in a similar position. Several of the essays in Manne's book do address this issue but, again, they largely ignore the major points I originally made against it.
In Aboriginal Tasmanians, Lyndall Ryan says the so-called "Black War" began in the winter of 1824 with the Big River tribe launching patriotic attacks on the invaders. However, I pointed out that the assaults on whites that winter were actually made by a small gang of detribalized blacks led by a man named Musquito, who was not defending his tribal lands. He was an Aborigine originally from Sydney who had worked in Hobart for ten years before becoming a bushranger. He had no Tasmanian tribal lands to defend.
Musquito's successor as leader of the gang was Black Tom, a young man who, again, was not a tribal Aborigine. He had Tasmanian Aboriginal parents, but had been reared since early childhood in the white middle class household of Thomas Birch, a Hobart merchant. Until his capture in 1827, he was Tasmania's leading bushranger but, as with Musquito, only romantic leftism would interpret his actions as patriotic defence of tribal Aboriginal territory.
In Whitewash, Lyndall Ryan makes no attempt to dispute these facts. Another of Manne's authors actually concedes the point but engages in some terminological goalpost shifting. James Boyce now calls the three years 1824, 25 and 26, when most assaults on whites were made by these black bushrangers, a period of "comparatively small-scale violence". In other words, he agrees that the notorious Black War, which Henry Reynolds once claimed was the greatest internal threat that Australia has ever had, did not begin in 1824 after all. This admission represents a little progress too.
In his earlier books, Reynolds claimed that the reason the Aborigines began the Black War was because they found fences barring their path across traditional territory and because the whites had killed so much of their game they were left to starve. Fabrication shows that Tasmanian pastoral lands at the time were unfenced and that, as the Aboriginal population declined from disease in the 1820s, the quantity of native game rapidly increased. Moreover, the settlers augmented the Aboriginal food supply by providing them with dogs to hunt kangaroos plus a plentiful supply of beef and lamb on the hoof.
Apart from some speculations by James Boyce, unaccompanied by evidence of any Aborigines actually starving, no one in Manne's book even attempts to answer these points. Indeed, the "starving natives" thesis was never more than speculation by academic historians. No character in the entire annals of Tasmanian history ever reported seeing a starving Aborigine.
Had the Aborigines really been starving, some of the women at least would have brought their children into the white settlements where many had been given rations for years before. None of Manne's authors have unearthed an observation of Aborigines starving or even malnourished. So, I can only conclude that my case about two of the main causes of the Black War has now been conceded by Whitewash, again by default.
Fabrication argues that Reynolds's case about Aboriginal guerilla warfare is unsustainable. Guerilla warfare takes place when small groups of warriors attack the troops of the enemy, usually in surreptitious attacks or lightning raids. I pointed out that in Tasmania, the Aborigines never attacked British troops or armed parties of police or settlers. In the whole of Tasmanian history, only one trooper was ever killed by Aborigines. No one has ever shown that the tribes used military methods or had military objectives.
Reynolds has claimed that Lieutenant-Governor Arthur recognized from his experience in the Spanish War against Napoleon that the Aborigines were using the tactic of guerilla warfare, in which small bands attacked the troops of their enemy. However, during his military career Arthur never served in Spain. If you read the full text of the statement Reynolds cites, you find Arthur was talking not about troops coming under attack by guerillas but of Aborigines robbing and assaulting unarmed shepherds on remote outstations. Reynolds edited out that part of the statement that disagreed with his thesis.
Reynolds's essay in Manne's book fails to respond to these charges. Indeed, he avoids them completely in order to focus on my argument that the Aborigines did not have a word for land. He claims my aim is to undermine land rights and to reintroduce the concept of terra nullius. Reynolds believes that by showing that the Aborigines did have a word for something like land, he destroys the central thesis of my book
Reynolds willfully misinterprets what I wrote. My argument about Aboriginal concepts of land is based not on their words but on their deeds. It is not primarily an argument about Aboriginal language but about Aboriginal behaviour. I demonstrated the Tasmanian Aborigines did not act as if they demanded the exclusive usage of land. They had no concept of trespass.
They certainly did identify themselves with and regularly hunted and foraged on particular territories, known as their "country", which I openly acknowledge. They had obvious attachments to these territories. But they did not confine themselves to these regions nor did they deter other Aborigines from entering their own territory.
For instance, on a seasonal basis each year, the Oyster Bay tribe foraged from the east coast right across to the Western highlands, well into Big River tribe country. The Big River tribe from the midlands was regularly seen on the northern, southern and eastern coasts of the island. There is some ethnographic evidence about the sources of conflict among the tribes. The main cause of inter-tribal violence was competition for women. There are no records of conflict over territory. For the first twenty years of white settlement there were no Aboriginal objections to the British presence in Hobart and Launceston.
This was in marked contrast to the British arrival at the same time in the islands of the Pacific where the fiercely territorial Polynesian tribes of New Zealand, Tahiti and Tonga fought them off immediately. The fact that the Tasmanian Aborigines did not respond in the same way is not to say they didn't love their country or were thereby deficient as human beings. They simply had a different culture.
They obviously felt very possessive about the fruits of the land, especially the game, which they often seized from white settlers in the early years of the settlement. But there is simply no evidence that they felt the same about the land itself. And what is more, even Reynolds concedes that I am right to say that none of the vocabularies record a term corresponding to the English word for land.
Reynolds attempts to score a big point from the fact that my bibliography does not include Brian Plomley's 1976 compilation of the vocabularies of the Tasmanian Aborigines. Reynolds claims this is a fatal flaw that undermines the central thesis of my book. This is wishful thinking. I certainly consulted Plomley's Word List on this issue but didn't footnote it, because I preferred to cite the twelve original vocabularies published by Ling Roth in 1899. My bibliography, as I note above, was compiled from what I footnoted, not what I read.
Moreover, Reynolds is well aware how familiar I am with Plomley's publication because I discussed its contents during a conference at the University of Tasmania in May this year at a session he attended. I not only quoted from Plomley's Word List but did so from my own photocopy of the publication itself. Yet since then, Reynolds has repeated several times, in both the press and public debates, the false claim that I am ignorant of the content of Plomley's work.
As Reynolds heard me argue in May, Plomley himself confirms my thesis. His Word List does not contain an Aboriginal term that corresponds to the English word "land". It does contain an index entry for "land" but when you look it up in the text you find it actually refers to "grassland", which Plomley himself distinguishes from "forest" and "heath", that is, it refers to a form of vegetation or landscape. The Aborigines did have a word for "ground" but Plomley's list says this is a synonym for "earth", which is not what we mean by "land".
Nowhere in the Tasmanian language, or indeed mindset, was there "land" in terms of English usage, that is, as a two-dimensional space marked by definite boundaries, which can be owned by individuals or groups, which is preserved for the exclusive use of its owner, and which carries sanctions against trespassers.
Despite what Reynolds claims, my point in all of this has not been made to undermine land rights or to advocate the return of terra nullius, an anachronistic term that was never used in colonial Australia anyway. Volume One of Fabrication does not examine the issue of land rights. Its discussion of land is an argument against Reynolds's explanation for the violence by tribal aborigines from 1827 to 1831. That violence cannot be attributed to a guerilla war in defence of land over which the Aborigines demanded exclusive possession.
In other words, the Tasmanian Aborigines did not respond to the British as if they were invaders or dispossessors. I should emphasise that this is an argument about Tasmania and not about the mainland, which I have not fully investigated in relation to these issues.
In his 1987 book Frontier, Reynolds claimed that Lieutenant-Governor Arthur inaugurated the "Black Line" in 1830 because "he feared 'a general decline in the prosperity' and the 'eventual extirpation of the colony'". He presented that last phrase as a verbatim quotation from Arthur. However, Arthur never said this. Reynolds altered his words.
When confronted by journalists of the Sydney Morning Herald with this charge from my book, Reynolds replied: "I've never said that. That's quite, quite misleading. How could the Aborigines destroy the colony?
Nowhere did I suggest that Arthur thought they could wipe out the colony. That would be a silly thing to say." Six days later, after journalists sent Reynolds the page in his book Frontier where he did quote Arthur saying exactly that, he finally agreed what he had done. He said: "It's a bad mistake. I obviously didn't know it existed, far from it that I had done it deliberately to distort the story
All historians are fallible and make mistakes."
However, anyone who reads the offending page in his book Frontier will struggle to understand how it could have been merely a mistake. In the same paragraph there are five other truncated quotations that appear to support the same false claim that the colonial authorities thought the Aborigines threatened the very survival of the colony.
None of this is an accident or a mistake. Indeed, Reynolds has repeated this bogus assertion in other publications. He claims such fears were common throughout Australia. "Many pioneer towns -- including Perth and Brisbane," he writes, "were to experience moments of equal anxiety during the half century after 1830."
Manne's book discusses none of this. Reynolds has publicly admitted he was wrong to rewrite Arthur's words but he has yet to actually withdraw the main point he was making about Aboriginal guerilla warfare threatening the existence of several British settlements.
A historian who changes the words of one of his sources to suit his argument is guilty of serious malpractice. Yet, to date, no other historian of Aboriginal Australia has reprimanded Reynolds for doing this. Instead, I am the bad guy for pointing out what he has done. If Robert Manne had taken his role as editor seriously, he would have insisted that Reynolds respond and withdraw not just the offending words but the entire argument. Instead, Manne's publication leaves Reynolds's case intact.
Anyone outside the confines of our universities will rightly regard such behaviour as scandalous. They should feel the same about the dissembling response in Lyndall Ryan's essay in Whitewash. All the major charges I originally made that she had falsified and invented evidence still stand.
In Fabrication, I pointed out that Ryan's claim that 100 Aborigines and 20 British were killed between 1804 and 1810 was baseless. The evidence she originally cited, the diary of Reverend Robert Knopwood, recorded only four Aborigines and two British killed in this period. In Whitewash, Ryan defends this reference but says a footnote at the end of the next paragraph should also have been added to reach the required number.
The following paragraph on page 77 of The Aboriginal Tasmanians is entirely about kangaroo hunting by the early settlers. Its sole footnote contains four references, all of them to sources that discuss kangaroo hunting. Ryan now claims that two of these sources, reports in 1809 and 1810 by John Oxley, verify her claim.
I have checked Oxley's reports and nowhere do they mention that 100 Aborigines or 20 Europeans were killed. Ryan now says she "deduced" her figures from two brief comments by Oxley about conflict between kangaroo hunters and Aborigines. However, Oxley made no attempt himself and gave no one else any grounds to quantify a total on either side. Had Robert Manne acted as a proper editor, he would have insisted Ryan withdraw this claim and apologise to her readers for deceiving them.
Ryan originally claimed that stock-keepers of the Van Diemen's Land Company gave Aborigines poisoned flour. I pointed out that the source she used did not say any Aborigines were ever given flour. Rather than withdrawing yet another bogus assertion, Ryan simply avoids any discussion of the issue at all. Again, Manne failed to insist that she respond to this charge.
Ryan originally claimed the Port Dalrymple Aborigines were massacred in 1827 at Norfolk Plains by a vigilante group of stockmen. I showed that none of the archival references in her footnotes supported this assertion. She now claims as her evidence the following statement by one of the Land Commissioners: "Mysterious Murders have also been committed in this recess [a piece of Crown Land], and have hitherto remain undetected".
I saw this sentence when I originally checked Ryan's footnotes but discounted it for obvious reasons. This nebulous statement gives no indication whether the victims were black or white, or whether the murderers themselves were black or white. It gives no date and does not mention vigilante stock-keepers. Ryan's interpretation remains pure invention.
Ryan claimed that fourteen Aborigines were killed at Pitt Water in 1826. She cited the local police magistrate, James Gordon, as one of her sources. I pointed out there was nothing at the archival location in Ryan's footnote to support the claim. Nor was there any report by Gordon anywhere else in the Tasmanian archives that mentioned such an incident. Ryan now claims the reference is actually in the archive file where she cited it, but that her original reference had the wrong date. In Manne's book, she quotes from it.
However, her quote is about the capture of Black Tom and his party, a well-known and much-discussed event at the time. Nowhere does it mention the actual point of contention, the claim that fourteen Aborigines were killed.
Ryan then cites a reference to a statement by Gilbert Robertson in 1830, which does say fourteen Aborigines had been killed three years earlier. This was not, however, a reference Ryan had ever unearthed herself but a statement that I found for her. It did not mention Pitt Water as the location and, unlike the well-publicised capture of Black Tom, it was not mentioned in any document in 1826 or 1827. Fabrication argued that, for several reasons, it was an implausible claim. Ryan thinks it vindicates her version of events but all it reveals is that she is still dissembling.
Ryan originally claimed that between November 1828 and November 1830 roving parties killed 60 Aborigines. This assertion has since been repeated several times in the international historical literature about Tasmania. Fabrication pointed out that this claim was not supported by any of the three references she footnoted and was yet more invention. The recorded death toll of the roving parties was actually two. Even Henry Reynolds agreed that the roving parties fruitlessly pursued the Aborigines.
Ryan now replies that she was referring not just to what Lieutenant-Governor Arthur officially designated as roving parties, which were groups of five to ten convicts headed by a police constable and guided by black trackers. Even though "roving parties" was an official term of the period and no other historian has ever thought it ambiguous, Ryan now claims her usage referred not only to these civilian parties but also to military patrols by British troops, which did kill more Aborigines. In Whitewash, she now writes: "I applied the term 'roving parties' to include all the different kinds of military and paramilitary forces that were sent out on the orders of the police magistrates to track down Aborigines between 1 November 1828 and 31 January 1831." She claims this included a military patrol of the 40th Regiment that killed ten Aborigines at Tooms Lake in December 1828, an incident she had never heard of until I reported it in Fabrication.
Ryan's rationale for her roving party death toll is blatantly untrue. In The Aboriginal Tasmanians she defined the term as follows: "Each roving party was led by a constable of the field police and consisted of an Aboriginal guide and four or five assigned servants [convicts] with a knowledge of the bush." She named their commander, Thomas Anstey, who was police magistrate at Oatlands. She described their operations and said they were the precursors of the Native Police forces on the mainland. Nowhere did her original book mention that military patrols or troops might be regarded as roving parties. In Whitewash, Ryan has made yet another dissembling response which her editor could have easily checked for himself, but obviously chose not to.
In total, Fabrication listed seventeen cases where Ryan's book had either fabricated evidence or invented archival sources that did not exist, plus another seven cases where she grossly exaggerated statistics. In Whitewash she responds to only twelve of the former and two of the latter. On several of these issues, Ryan now defends herself with excuses beginning "I surmised" and "I deduced", without offering any credible evidence.
I will examine all of her claims with fully referenced documentation, plus those of the other authors in Whitewash, in a book I am currently preparing that replies to all my critics and discusses several broader issues about the methodological practices and professional ethics of Australian historians.
Even at this point, however, it is clear that the three major claims originally made in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History -- no genocide, no frontier warfare and invention of the facts by academic historians -- are not seriously challenged by Robert Manne's book. Indeed, my major claims are either studiously avoided or seriously misrepresented.
As Fabrication argues, the debate about Aboriginal history is not a debate over values. The great majority of Australians are not racists and have long shared much the same attitude to people of Aboriginal descent: they regard them as equals, admire their talents and wish them well. These values have existed amongst informed and intelligent opinion since the very foundation of this society in 1788.
The current debate about Aboriginal history is not a moral debate but an empirical one. It is about what really happened in the past. I am afraid that, on this score, Whitewash is not a success. There is nothing in it that would require me to change any of my major arguments. None of its nineteen contributors have been able to find evidence that would increase my calculation of the Tasmanian death toll by any more than a marginal amount.
Conceived as a definitive reply and a defence of the orthodox story of genocide and warfare, Whitewash fails to deliver. Its principal outcome is to establish the truth of my original three theses.
Let me finish by talking about reconciliation, which Manne claims I want to undermine. I cannot see how a story about violence and warfare between blacks and whites, if untrue, can help reconciliation at all. What good does it do Aboriginal people to tell them the whites wanted to exterminate them, when they never did?
There are many Aboriginal people today who actually support my case, especially in Tasmania. I have been invited to attend a ceremony on 12 September which the Liah Pootah people will conduct jointly with other residents of Hobart to commemorate the bicentenary of the first British settlement in Tasmania at Risdon Cove in 1803. These descendants of the Aborigines are commemorating the British arrival because, like all Tasmanian Aboriginal people, they are also descendants of the British settlers. They are celebrating both sides of their heritage.
Compare this to the contribution towards reconciliation made by the Reynolds, Ryan and Manne version of Australia history. The message Aboriginal people have taken from their books is that the British arrival was comparable to an invasion by the Nazis. This story does not foster reconciliation, it only fans hostility and hatred. It is not only historically untrue. It is also racially divisive and politically inept.
[This is an expanded version of the opening remarks made by Keith Windschuttle during a debate with Robert Manne at the Melbourne Writers' Festival on August 27 2003.]