[Marxism] Keith Windschuttle and accounts of massacres of Aborigines in Australian history
ozleft at optushome.com.au
Sat Jul 24 06:47:08 MDT 2004
By Bob Gould
In the year 2000 Keith Windschuttle published, in Quadrant, a long
article accusing a number of historians, including Henry Reynolds and
Lyndall Ryan, of exaggerating the scale of massacres of Aboriginal
people on the colonial frontier in Australian history.
I took the initiative of organising a debate in my bookshop on these
question, with myself and Henry Reynolds on the one side and Keith
Windschuttle and P.P. McGuinness on the other. The debate was chaired by
Hall Greenland and was extremely well attended. The shop was packed and
there was considerable audience participation in the discussion.
This was the first of a series of confrontations between Windschuttle
and other conservatives, and a number of historians.
My contribution to the debate consisted of an earlier, less fleshed-out,
version of the piece published here, which I worked on and developed
subsequent to the debate.
I raise several linked questions in this piece. My initial point is that
Keith Windschuttle's approach is narrowly forensic, and he treats
serious historical matters, which should proceed on the the balance of
probabilities, with the maximum of evidence presented including both
documents and written and oral history, and eyewitness accounts.
Windschuttle proceeds like an attorney for imperial British White
Australia, asserting that no historical narrative is true unless it can
be proved as if it were in a court of law, and the onus of proof is on
the people making assertions about Aboriginal massacres, and they are
not permitted to use hearsay evidence, oral history, or anything like
that. It's pretty obvious that such an approach is heavily biased in
favour of the conquerors, who are after all the people who kept the
The second major point, for me, arose from my profession as a
bookseller, and my fairly wide book collecting in the area of Aboriginal
I was already aware of a number of ostensible accounts of massacres of
Aborigines in popular Australiana, written in past times when such
massacres were presented as manly, civilised, nation-building
activities. I was particularly struck by the book, Taming the North, by
Sir Hudson Fysh, the founder of Qantas, which contains lengthy accounts
by perpetrators of massacres of Aborigines, in which they proudly
After the debate, I decided one of the useful things I could do was
assemble as much documentation as I could find from past popular
literature and some academic literature, and assemble a bibliography of
accounts of massacres pertaining to the bloodthirsty dispossession of
Aboriginal Australia by British imperialism.
The document grew and grew, and I eventually had to call a halt without
having listed everything.
Readers, if they so wish, can discount my passionate advocacy on this
issue, but the arguments I present and the bibliographical references
speak for themselves.
Windschuttle and those who support his view have avoided any serious
engagement with the magnitude of the popular literature of the past,
dismissing those parts of it that they choose to notice as the ramblings
of old men.
The expanded version of my document, published here, has been published
previously in Labor Review, No 35, the well-produced magazine of the
Victorian Labor College, edited by Chris Gaffney.
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