Edition 1 - All-round Country THU 22 JUL 2004, Page 009
Who's still afraid of Keith Windschuttle
By Ean Higgins

 Academics are busily gearing up for yet another battle in the history wars, writes Ean Higgins
AS the elite of the nation's academic historians met in the stately rooms of the Newcastle Town Hall, fear and loathing lurked the corridors.
 The Australian Historical Association spent virtually an entire day trying to work out strategies to deal with the menace. Would there be safety in numbers if academics stood together? What should be done when the terror struck again? How could anyone survive when the mass media was in on the conspiracy?
 Over 18 months after Keith Windschuttle published his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, the academic world is still anguishing over its impact. It is terrified of what he will do next. Windschuttle struck at the heart of the accepted view of Australian colonial history in the past 30 years -- that the settler society had engaged in a pattern of conquest, dispossession and killing of the indigenous inhabitants. The facts, he said, did not stack up.
 The Sydney-based writer, among other things, questioned the references used by academic historian Lyndall Ryan to justify her claims that the British massacred large numbers of Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land in the early 1800s. Her footnotes supporting the claims did not do so, he wrote.
 He also took on Henry Reynolds, the venerable historian of the Left, whose depiction of a brutal British conquest of Tasmania had been the accepted norm.
 Reynolds's work on the concept of terra nullius -- that the British seized Aboriginal land based on a policy that it was owned by no one -- developed such currency that it is believed to have influenced critical High Court judgments on land rights, including the Mabo decision. The thrust of Windschuttle's thesis was that political correctness had triumphed over historical fact.
 With the passage of time, the academic history profession is far from over the history wars. An extraordinary number in its ranks believe they have been been damaged by populist history propounded by Windschuttle. They are searching for a way out. Only a few seem brave enough to speak up, arguing that freedom of expression is the primary issue.
 At the recent conference, Ryan made some effort, though ultimately unsuccessful, to avoid media coverage for a talk she gave entitled How the Print Media Marketed Keith Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Implications for Academic Historians.
 She said the media had taken up Windschuttle as representing the real history of colonists' relations with Aborigines, grabbing the view that Australians had been hoodwinked by the academic left-wing historians' version. ``I don't think the media owns free speech,'' Ryan said. She had also been shocked, she said, that Stuart Macintyre, the influential left-leaning University of Melbourne historian, had appeared to criticise her over footnote inaccuracies.
 She did admit to five footnote errors, but said the primary sources verified her thesis and ``the simple fact is that footnote errors do occur''.
 Her abstract said: ``The AHA and universities need strategies and protocols in place to address future assaults on academic historians.''
 Ryan was not alone in promoting the Windschuttle-media conspiracy. The AHA president, David Carment, said the The Australian had deliberately timed the publication of its review of Windschuttle's work for the summer of 2002. During holidays more academics were on leave, Carment said, and ``less able to defend themselves,'' and it was ``a time when people were reading newspapers''. (In fact, newspaper circulations fall away over summer holidays.)
 It might be time, Carment said, for the association to ``defend its people on the basis of their professional integrity'' while not taking sides in the debate.
 Carment also raised, though he did not fully support, the concept put forward by West Australian historian Cathie Clement for a code of ethics that would gag historians from criticising the integrity of their peers in public. Several in the audience said everyone had to be ready to counter-attack when Windschuttle came out with his next book.
 Richard Waterhouse from the University of Sydney, said academics took Windschuttle too seriously. ``Sometimes we have tended to treat him as an intellectual equal,'' Waterhouse said, adding that sarcasm might be more appropriate. (Windschuttle earned a first-class honours degree in history from the University of Sydney in the 1960s, lectured in the subject, earned a masters in politics and left Macquarie University in 1992 when he set up a publishing house.)
 There were a couple of muted mutterings from the audience about how it would be necessary to learn media skills, and not attempt to look like academics defending their own cabal. But nobody at the session publicly asked the key question which was in some of their minds: was the academic historians' fear of Windschuttle and newspaper opinion pages absolutely paranoid?
 Greg Melleuish, from the University of Wollongong, says he is intimidated by the pack mentality of the Newcastle meeting. ``I was quite astonished,'' he says. ``It was like `let's get a group of people together to ambush Windschuttle'. I think they feel under threat and that's why they concoct these conspiracy theories.''
 Other historians have expressed alarm at the attitude of their peers, including classical studies historian Ronald Ridley at the University of Melbourne. ``The way they have shut down the debate, if they have made some errors, is really appalling,'' he says.
 ``I don't think any historians of Greek or Roman history would make these mistakes. And when you deal with issues such as indigenous history, the politics are red hot. You don't just have to be a competent historian, you have to be top class.''
 The question is why academic historians are so concerned about the impact of Windschuttle.
 Macintyre, while he does not accept Windschuttle's suggestion of a fabrication, does warn that mistakes can have a broader effect.
 ``There is an understandable public concern about the accuracy of historians' work,'' he says. At the same time, Macintyre maintains, Windschuttle fits with a conservative agenda to lift a burden of national shame from Australian shoulders over the Aboriginal issue.
 Macintyre told the conference the history wars fitted in with broader ``political dimensions'' of the Howard Government's ``abandonment of reconciliation, denial of the stolen generations, its retreat from multiculturalism and creation of a refugee crisis''.
 ``Windschuttle was the first conservative intellectual to base his case on substantial historical research,'' he says.
 Windschuttle says this is precisely why the academic community is still so scared of him. ``There is a whole generation who have invested not just their academic capital but also their political capital in the Henry Reynolds view,'' he says. And, says Windschuttle, he has made Australian history interesting again for high school students who are more likely to go on to study it in universities.
 While not referring to the Windschuttle debate, NSW Premier Bob Carr, a longstanding history buff, said much the same thing at the conference.
 ``History is an argument and the more argument there is in it the more young people will read it,'' he said.
 In his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Keith Windschuttle revisited the British colonisation of Tasmania, and found that ``the academic historians of the last thirty years have greatly exaggerated the degree of violence that occurred''.
 Examining the primary sources cited by historians, including Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan, Windschuttle said ``much of their case is poorly founded, other parts are seriously mistaken, and some of it is outright fabrication''.
 Among other contentions, he argued that claims of large massacres of Aborigines in the early 1800s were not supported in the evidence. Conflict was sporadic and not systematic, he said.
 Windschuttle said British colonisation of Australia was ``the least violent of all Europe's encounters in the New World''.
 His work was taken up by conservatives who argued against the ``black arm-band'' view of history that promoted national guilt.
Left-leaning academics have argued that Windschuttle has mounted a deliberate right-wing agenda to demolish the credibility of individuals, rather than taking a dispassionate academic view.
 Some of his targets have acknowledged errors, but they maintain the integrity of their work as a whole.
 They also charge Windschuttle with making his own exaggerations to support his case, and errors of fact, which he has contested.
 In the book Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History, a compendium of attack on Windschuttle, a scholar of Tasmanian history, James Boyce, lists a range of material which he says Windschuttle must have ignored in estimating the number of Aborigines killed.
 ``Fabrication's fatal flaw, the source of its many factual mistakes, is the exclusion of almost all primary source material from the period in question, 1803 to 1847,'' he says.
 In the same volume, Reynolds writes: ``If the point is to undermine all those staples of indigenous politics -- land rights, self-determination, reparation, even the need for a prime ministerial apology -- then the necessary and logical path is the one opened up by Windschuttle.''
Ean Higgins

Caption: New view: Historian Windschuttle
Mystery: This famous illustration showing an enlightened British approach towards Aborigines is believed to have been posted in the early 1800s. Several versions exist and historians have debated whether it originated under Governor Davey in 1816 or, as Windschuttle argues, is more likely by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur in 1828. According to Sydney's Mitchell Library, this version is circa 1828 to 1830
Accepted view: Historian Reynolds



Correcting the False Scholarship Syndrome

by Ron Brunton

In his new book In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right, Robert Manne makes a number of allegations about an orchestrated 'right-wing' campaign to deny the existence of the 'stolen generations'. I am given a significant role in this supposed campaign because of my writings criticising the HREOC inquiry on the 'stolen generations' and its report, Bringing Them Home. Yet even while flaying those who first pointed out the numerous serious flaws in Bringing Them Home, Manne concedes major weaknesses in the report. Unfortunately, however, his concessions are undermined by an indifference to factual evidence on other matters that is incompatible with intellectually and morally responsible scholarship.

I have made general comments on this book in press articles which are on the IPA Website, but in this document I refute the specific criticisms that Manne makes of me, the IPA, and my writings, on a point-by-point basis. I have only covered those statements which refer to me directly or by implication. Therefore the corrections below cover only around 10% of the book as a whole.

There are a great many other misrepresentations, errors of fact, unsubstantiated ex cathedra statements and similar serious defects of scholarship in Manne's book, affecting many named individuals who are supposedly a part of the 'campaign', but I have left these to others to point out. What is so extraordinary about Manne's attack is that while apparently attempting to protect his credibility by finally admitting that Bringing Them Home falls down in many ways---something that has long been obvious---he has jeopardised his credibility even further by making reckless statements relating to his opponents which make Bringing Them Home a fine work of scholarship by comparison.

My IPA backgrounder, Betraying the Victims, is downloadable from this site, under Publications/IPA Backgrounders. (Available in HTML or PDF format. Please click here for details: Betraying the Victims)


Slander Is A Hummable Tune


'... the strange phenomenon of thousands of Aborigines believing themselves to have been taken from their parents unjustly was explained by the idea that almost all were in the grip of collective hysteria and suffering from "false memory syndrome"---an opinion endorsed by Brunton...' (page 73).

In the extract from the book published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on March 31, a stronger statement was made: '... the strange phenomenon of thousands of Aborigines believing themselves to have been taken from their parents unjustly was explained by the idea that almost all were in the grip of collective hysteria and were, like those who invented childhood sexual abuse or imagined abduction by aliens, suffering from a condition called "false memory syndrome". This grotesque argument was shared by Brunton...'


I have never made any statement that could remotely justify this claim, nor would I. Indeed, it is refuted by what Manne said about me on page 31 of his book: 'In Betraying the Victims Brunton accepted that very many Aboriginal children had been separated from their mothers and communities by force'. I have only referred to the 'false memory syndrome' twice in all my published writing on the 'stolen generations'. In Betraying the Victims I wrote:

'[HREOC] claims that as well as taking evidence from a very wide range of people it also 'conducted extensive searches and analysis of historical documents and records which substantiated its findings'.

It is reasonable to ask for more detailed information to support this claim, particularly in the light of accumulating research pointing to the role of suggestion in creating false memories of events that never actually happened. It would be quite understandable, for instance, if in later life some children whose parents really did neglect them and the parents themselves reinterpreted the circumstances under which authorities intervened in the family. But we are not told how many of the cases presented in confidential evidence or submissions were checked against documentary records.(1)

And in my most recent Quadrant article, dealing with Justice O'Loughlin's findings, I wrote:

'A further important matter that appears to have been deemed too dangerous for the public to know about was Justice O'Loughlin's identification of situations where the claimants were either deliberately misleading the court or "very unreliable" witnesses, and his concern that they were engaged, even if not deliberately, in "exercises of reconstruction". But his findings show that critics of Bringing Them Home who brought up the matter of false memories and the failure of the HREOC inquiry to question the authenticity of the stories it heard had a point, despite the anger that such comments aroused.'(2)

Clearly, my only printed references to the 'false memory syndrome' have been to charge the HREOC inquiry with being irresponsible in not taking the appropriate steps to verify as many of the stories it presented as possible. On the IPA Website, in response to an earlier column of Manne which suggested that any mention of the 'false memory syndrome' was 'absurd', I discussed the research relating to this phenomenon in a little more detail. I pointed out that

'... it is necessary to recognise that if it can be shown even a small number of cases included in a supposedly definitive report on a controversial issue are in fact false, the credibility of the issue as a whole can be called into question. And as Betraying the Victims discussed in some detail (pp. 5-9), there were important unanswered questions about the extent to which the experiences recounted in Bringing Them Home were representative.

Even before Bringing Them Home appeared, I had calls from people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who claimed to have knowledge of specific instances of supposedly forced child removal where the circumstances were very different from what is now being publicly claimed. I heard of further cases after Bringing Them Home was published. (In most of these cases, I do not know whether or not the individuals involved gave evidence to the inquiry). In her recently-published autobiography, The Cost of Crossing Bridges, (Small Poppies Publishing, 1998) Dulcie Wilson, a Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia, also refers to a number of cases she knows where individuals are falsely claiming to have been 'stolen' (pp.181-2). [Click here for HTML version of Ron Brunton's document: Critics]

It is a mighty leap from these statements to the assertion that I argue that 'almost all' of the people claiming to be members of the 'stolen generation' are suffering from collective hysteria and 'false memory syndrome'. This is particularly so when Manne himself has said that it is 'obvious to commonsense', that the memories of some individuals who appeared before the inquiry, 'like all childhood memories, were likely to have been simplified and even distorted with the passage of time' (page 30), which is not so different from what I have said. The fact that Manne makes this leap in an apparent attempt to discredit me indicates that he cannot be relied on to present an honest account of his reading.

Making Merry With 100,000 Child Removals


'One figure produced frequently in the very early stages of the stolen generations debate was 100,000. This figure was based on a misunderstanding of a claim once made by Peter Read, namely that child removal may have been responsible for as many as 100,000 Australians now alive not identifying themselves with their Aboriginality. Right-wing commentators have made merry with the figure of 100,000, even suggesting, on what basis I do not know, that it was deliberately chosen as a means of linking the stolen generations with the Holocaust---100,000 separated children standing, so it is claimed, in the same proportion to the Aboriginal population as the six million murdered Jews did in relation to the overall population of world Jewry during the period of Nazi rule' (page 26).


The reason commentators, including myself, made a point about the 100,000 figure was that it had been given the official imprimatur by Mick Dodson, who headed the 'stolen generations' inquiry with Sir Ronald Wilson. In 1996, while the inquiry was still under way, he stated on the ABC's P.M. program that some estimates suggested there were '100,000 living souls that this happened to across the nation'. He immediately went on to state that this 'is one-third of the indigenous population' and that if translated to the Australian population as a whole this would mean 'six million people'.(3) In fact, those who made 'merry' with the 100,000 figure were people who praised Bringing Them Home. For instance, Manne's departmental colleague at La Trobe University, Judith Brett, endorsed the figure in an article for the Times Literary Supplement, as did Colin Tatz, Director of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in his booklet, Genocide in Australia.(4)

Even If It Is True, Manne Thinks You Shouldn't Be Saying It


'Brunton has come to dominate a certain niche market in the nation's ideological affairs. Whenever a significant judgment or report conspicuously sympathetic to the Aborigines is published, it is not long before he puts together a response. Previously Brunton had written scathing criticisms of Mabo and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody' (page 31).


This is a very revealing statement, because there is no consideration as to whether the 'scathing criticisms' were justified in any way. The implication appears to be that if something purports to be sympathetic to Aborigines, it should be immune from criticism. In fact, many of my critical papers on supposedly favourable reports and judgements have argued that the consequences of what has been recommended or decided are likely to be counter-productive to the interests and welfare of Aborigines. I should also point out the following:

  • My strongest criticisms of the Mabo judgement have centred on my belief that native title is an inferior form of title which limits Aboriginal freedom. Manne should know this, because while editor of Quadrant he published an article from me which argued this case.(5)
  • One of the matters I was involved with was the dispute over mining at Coronation Hill in the early 1990s. Manne, indicating that he was dismayed at the 'swarm of hornets' that descended on those who challenged conventional postures on Aboriginal issues, asked me to write an article for Quadrant setting out my criticisms of anthropological and government reports, and the reaction to these criticisms. Ian Keen, one of the anthropologists whose work I had faulted, and who in Manne's current incarnation would have to be seen as 'conspicuously sympathetic to Aborigines', wanted to write an article in reply. This seemed reasonable to me and I told Manne that I had no objection to such an article, but he refused, only allowing Keen to respond with a letter to the editor.(6)
  • Apart from the 'stolen generations' issue, in recent years one of the matters that has most occupied my attention has been the 'secret women's business' at Hindmarsh Island, which was found to be a fabrication by a Royal Commission. In 1996, Manne told me that he regarded the 'secret women's business' claims as absolute nonsense. I have written a substantial number of scholarly and journalistic pieces supporting the Royal Commission's findings and extolling the courage and integrity of the Ngarrindjeri 'dissident women', without whom the fabrication would not have been exposed. Is Manne now implying that my stance on this issue was against Aboriginal interests? Indeed, he has cited my article 'Hindmarsh Island and the hoaxing of Australian anthropology' as part of the supposed evidence that Quadrant under P.P. McGuinness 'became devoted to ever wilder and more extreme attacks on every cause and belief of the contemporary Aboriginal political leadership and its support base' (page 58). So it seems that he is now suggesting that I was wrong to support the Ngarrindjeri 'dissident women', even though it was the only intellectually and morally tenable position to take.

Ex Cathedra Pronouncements


'On both these issues [the justification for removal and voluntary relinquishment] Brunton's arguments are crude. He does not understand the complexity of the relationship between racist and welfarist thinking in an era where the ambition of policy was to assimilate a people assumed to be inferior. Nor does he understand that the maintenance of what he calls "moral agency" for a people dispossessed of their land and culture, discriminated against in law, and treated with systematic racial condescension is no simple thing' (page 32).


No evidence is provided to support these statements. He neither explains what is crude about my arguments, nor how he assesses what I do or do not understand.

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black


'Most of [Brunton's] methodological criticisms are of a nit-picking or point-scoring kind' (page 32).


Someone who ridicules former Governor-General Bill Hayden for referring to 'faulty memory syndrome' instead of 'false memory syndrome' (page 66), or who criticises former Department of Territories officer Reginald Marsh for getting the subtitle of Bringing Them Home wrong (page 51), is not in a position to complain about nit-picking or point-scoring. In any case, as demonstrated at various points below, Manne's attacks on my methodological criticisms depend on fatal misrepresentations of what I actually said, plain ignorance and factual error.

Who Said This?


'Brunton accuses the authors of Bringing Them Home of seriously and perhaps deliberately distorting the outcome of their inquiry because of the fact that of the 535 Aboriginal witnesses they heard, "only 143" were quoted directly in their report' (page 32).

'Insofar as any arguments were provided to justify the attack [on Bringing Them Home] they followed Brunton's initial methodological critique, even at its most absurd. Both Frank Devine and Padraic McGuinness, for example, flailed the authors of Bringing Them Home for their failure to quote verbatim extracts from all the 535 Aboriginal witnesses it had heard' (page 70).


I cannot comment about what Devine or McGuinness may have said, but in my case Manne has used quotation marks creatively in an attempt to make me appear foolish. It would indeed have been silly to fault Bringing Them Home for not including extracts from every witness. But I made no such criticism.

My criticisms were that the report failed to include vital summary information about those witnesses who were taken (the figure appears to have been less than 535), such as official reasons for original removal, whether the child was later returned to his or her family, and so on; and that it also omitted important summary demographic information that would have allowed comparison with other data sources on removed children. I argued that the absence of such summary information, which would have been readily obtainable in most cases, raised legitimate doubts about the representativeness of witnesses appearing before the inquiry, as well as the cases selected for discussion in the report. My discussion of this issue appeared under a sub-heading 'Failure to provide necessary summary data relating to witnesses' (Betraying the Victims, pages 8-9), which should have made things sufficiently clear to even the most tendentious reader of my paper.

Overlooking The Arguments


'... to hint, as Brunton does, at the "disturbing possibility" that Aboriginal witnesses were deliberately excluded from the final report is nothing more than a slur on the authors of Bringing Them Home' (pages 32-3).


I gave four carefully argued reasons for making this suggestion (Betraying the Victims, pages 6-9, 14-15) including:

  • Unsatisfactory treatment in Bringing Them Home of the reasons for the removal of part-Aboriginal children. Amongst other things this involved an examination of extracts from witness statements presented in the report to see whether reasons for removal were given, and how these reasons were treated.
  • Substantial apparent differences between cases considered by the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission and the picture presented in Bringing Them Home.
  • The failure to provide necessary summary data relating to witnesses (this was discussed immediately above).
  • Omission of information indicating that initially, prominent and radical Aboriginal activists strongly supported assimilation. I argued that it was almost impossible to believe that the authors of Bringing Them Home were not aware of this, as they had quoted other material from the very page of a book which demonstrated this support. However, had the authors of Bringing Them Home referred to this strong support, it would have seriously weakened some of the major arguments they were attempting to make.

Manne Thinks It Impractical To Test For Truth;
HREOC Claims It Tested


'Some of Brunton's other methodological criticism is not so much mean-spirited as impractical. Brunton criticises the Wilson-Dodson inquiry for failing to test the evidence of the Aboriginal witnesses who appeared before it against the documentary evidence on their cases held in government files. He contrasts this with the work of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (of which, incidentally, he was once highly critical too)... Archival investigation of the kind Brunton recommends would have been an impossibly expensive exercise' (pages 33-4).


A number of matters need to be disentangled here:

  • While Manne says it would have been impractical to test witness statements against documentary evidence, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission claimed that testing had been done. On its Website it stated that the inquiry 'conducted extensive searches and analysis of historical documents and records which substantiated its findings'. I pointed out that it would reasonable to have provided more information to support this claim, including the number of witness statements or submissions that were actually checked against the records.(7)
  • I did not suggest, as Manne seems to imply, that the intensive kind of investigation carried out by the Royal Commission should have been carried out by the Bringing Them Home inquiry. In Betraying the Victims I said that the cases considered by the Royal Commission indicated a more complex picture of removals than the one presented by Bringing Them Home, which was the major point of my comparison. I also noted that the Royal Commission showed that it was possible to obtain information about the reasons for removal from various sources (pages 7-9).
  • My criticisms of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody focused solely on its explanations for Aboriginal disadvantage. I made no comments about its investigations of individual deaths, other than to summarise its findings; and I noted that its recommendations for improving custodial treatment and minimising future deaths generally seemed sound.(8)


This Issue Is So Important That The Truth Doesn't Matter


'The greatest contribution of the Wilson-Dodson inquiry was the creation of an atmosphere in which the victims of the removal policies felt confident in telling their stories. As a consequence the nation was able to hear, for the first time, the voices of the victims and their stories of abuse, bewilderment, disorientation, loneliness and pain... No doubt there were costs in the decision of Sir Ronald Wilson and Mick Dodson to listen to the witnesses rather than to interrogate them. What Brunton does not understand, however, is that there were very great benefits as well' (page 34).


I certainly would not deny that there were benefits from making non-Aboriginal Australians aware of the experiences of removed Aboriginal children. But surely Manne must realise that if legitimate doubts could be raised about even a small proportion of these stories, then a pall would be cast over all of them. As noted earlier, Manne himself has stated that 'the memories of some members of the stolen generations, like all childhood memories, were likely to have been simplified and even distorted with the passage of time' (page 30). And the historian Bain Attwood, who can hardly be portrayed as a supporter of 'the right', has written that 'the commission's secretariat and the inquiry's proceedings played a major role in shaping the stories presented to it. These emphasised not only the experience of Aboriginal people, but a particular kind of experience, that of loss and suffering, of trauma.'(9) This is at least consistent with comments from an Aboriginal friend which I included in my Quadrant article, 'Justice O'Loughlin and Bringing Them Home':

In most places where evidence was gathered ... you were psyched in a collective mourning. If you spoke of good times, your worth was questioned, and 'what are you doing here?' This is for pain and suffering, goes to notion of compensation---no pain no gain, no dollars and cents. So you were psyched into a sense of only speaking of pain and suffering. Otherwise vibes were in place that your worth as a witness was irrelevant.(10)

If witnesses really were being encouraged to recast what they went through in a particular kind of way, irrespective of the actual complexity of their experiences, it is hard to see that we can talk about 'very great benefits', unless Manne beliefs that veracity is of little importance in this issue.


Even Though Manne Thinks It Was Self-Evidently Absurd, HREOC Did It Anyway


'Some of Brunton's methodological criticism of Bringing Them Home is plainly ridiculous. Consider the following example. Brunton is aware that the Wilson-Dodson inquiry was established to investigate Aboriginal child removal, a phenomenon involving perhaps 25,000 cases, occurring in every Australian State and territory over a period of sixty or seventy years. He must also be aware that it had available $2 million in funding. Nevertheless he argues that it was remiss of it, and even a little sinister, that it did not go back to the Keating government to ask for amended terms of reference so that it could investigate, in addition to Aboriginal child removal, all cases of non-Aboriginal removals as well... This is self-evidently absurd' (page 34).


The suggestion could only be 'self-evidently absurd' to someone who did not realise that

  • The inquiry had asked for, and obtained, amended terms of reference from the Keating government to enable it to consider the matter of compensation for individuals and communities affected by the child removal policies.(11)
  • That it also asked for more money from the Howard Government, which Manne himself notes on page 5. While this was unsuccessful, is it really fanciful to think that a request to the previous government would have failed, particularly if it was argued that an expanded inquiry would enhance the credibility of the 'stolen generations' inquiry, as well as foreshadow possible future requests for an inquiry into non-Aboriginal child removals?
  • The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody presented a precedent showing that a Labor Government was willing to countenance extending the terms and cost of an inquiry into a sensitive issue relating to Aboriginal concerns well beyond what was originally intended.(12)


Who Said This (II)?


'... the implication behind Brunton's criticism, namely that a comparison between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal child removal involves a comparison of "like with like"... is self-evidently absurd' (pages 34-35).


My use of the phrase 'like with like' occurred in the discussion of the need to compare equivalent kinds of evidence when making statements about the similarities or differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experiences:

'... insofar as the report makes claims about the differences in the treatment and experiences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children, these need to be established with the appropriate evidence. However, the report makes no attempt to compare like with like, for the material relating to non-Aboriginal children comes not from actual experiences, but largely from inferences, unsupported opinions, and questionable generalisations (see, for example, pages 29, 33, 34, 44, 109, 169, 251--252, 260, 262--264 [of Bringing Them Home]). While the Inquiry's terms of reference only covered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, it would still have been possible to present a more balanced and comprehensive consideration of the circumstances relating to non-Indigenous children.'(13)

The view that Manne attributes to me is virtually the opposite of what I said in the sentence immediately preceding the above quotation. I wrote:

'The existence in various jurisdictions of special legislation which diminished the rights of Aborigines and made it easier to remove Aboriginal children was clearly racially discriminatory, and cannot be defended'.(14)


Bringing Them Home May Have Said This, But Manne Wishes It Hadn't


'As readers of Brunton's pamphlet have by now every reason to expect, several of his criticisms of Bringing Them Home on the question of genocide involve little more than point scoring. Let one example suffice' (page 36).

'It is the failure to distinguish between the policy of biological absorption and the policy of socio-cultural assimilation that leads Ron Brunton to the false counter claim [against Bringing Them Home] that all talk about genocide is fatuous and un-Australian' (page 41).


As I explained on page 10 of Betraying the Victims, my criticisms of Bringing Them Home's arguments on genocide were based on the report's clear statements that the child removals were 'genocidal' because they were carried out in order to achieve the objective of assimilation. Furthermore, as I also explained, Mick Dodson, who headed the inquiry with Sir Ronald Wilson, was reported as making the statement 'assimilation is genocide' while the inquiry was still in progress. Consequently, an examination of the attitudes towards the general goal of assimilating Aboriginal people that was once held by international bodies and Aborigines themselves was appropriate and necessary.

It should be realised that in his book, Manne is only willing to say that some senior pre-WWII administrators, in talking about 'breeding out the colour', were guilty of 'genocidal thoughts' (pages 39-40). But Bringing Them Home was not talking about 'thoughts'; it was saying that actual practices were genocidal, and that the term might even be applicable to practices that persisted into the 1980s (page 274). It was therefore entirely appropriate for me to concentrate on the arguments that Bringing Them Home actually made, rather than those that Robert Manne would have wished it to make. A number of matters were relevant to Bringing Them Home's arguments, including the fact that the report grossly misconstrued a document that was crucial to its findings about genocide.(15) I considered these matters under eight different headings, although no-one who was relying on Manne's account of my paper would realise this.

Nice Suggestion, Pity About The Evidence


'[I suggest that there is] another explanation of this passage. The manifesto written by Jack Patten and William Ferguson [which included a passage advocating the cultural and biological absorption of Aborigines] was the idea of the pro-Nazi literary critic, P.R. "Inky" Stephenson. According to his biographer, Craig Munro, Stephenson was in the habit of "helping" his Aboriginal political friends to "write and produce... posters, manifestos and press releases". According to him, moreover, the Patten-Ferguson manifesto bore 'the unmistakable signs of Stephenson's aggressive style". Stephenson's magazine, The Publicist, was a champion of the eugenic idea of the biological absorption of the Aborigines. Was it not possible that he had insinuated into the manifesto some ideas of his own?' (pages 36-37).


While this suggestion may seem superficially plausible, it founders on some very important facts which I explained to Manne in a letter sent on March 4, 1998, after he had made a similar suggestion in his newspaper column. My letter included the following:

[You] conveniently ignore the other more recent material from [Andrew] Marcus and [Russell] McGregor which you must be familiar with, and which is in strong contrast to your claim that Stephenson authored Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights. One of the reasons behind Ferguson's split with Patten later in 1938 was Ferguson's suspicion of Stephenson and his motives. Yet, as Marcus makes clear, a year and a half after this split, Ferguson was still advocating 'the gradual absorption of the aborigines into the white race'.(16)

Even if Manne believes that this is wrong, a scholar presented with such information on such a specific point would be expected to indicate that there is evidence against his view and to explain why he rejects that evidence.

If Bringing Them Home Omitted Vital Information,
It Must Have Had Good Reason


'Unlike Brunton I do not think the non-appearance of this passage [from Patten and Ferguson advocating the cultural and biological absorption of Aborigines] undermines the credibility of Bringing Them Home. There are many reasons why the authors might not have believed it worth quoting. Even more importantly, unlike Brunton I do not think it helps resolve, one way or the other, the question of the relationship between Aboriginal child removal and genocide' (page 37).


In the absence of contrary evidence, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that the most likely reason is the incompatibility between Bringing Them Home's account of assimilation and the passage, which came from the famous document Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights. This was written to mobilise support for the most significant Aboriginal protest in the pre-WWII period, the 'Day of Mourning' to coincide with the sesquicentennial of British settlement in 1938. The passage appeared on the same page as material that was quoted. And even if they did not quote it, at the very least it should have made the authors of Bringing Them Home reconsider their account of assimilation. The Patten/Ferguson document embraced assimilation, even while strongly rejecting child removals.

In arguing that this passage does not help to resolve the question of the relationship between child removal and genocide, Manne again falls into the error of thinking that he is more important than Bringing Them Home, and that it was his arguments that should have been addressed, even though he is never even referred to in the HREOC report.

The Line On Genocide


'One of the most common misunderstandings concerning genocide is that killing is the only means by which the crime can be committed. This is not only legally but also conceptually wrong. In the course of the debate about genocide and the stolen generations, Raimond Gaita asked whether, if all the members of a nation or ethnic group were sterilised by the state, this would or would not constitute a crime of genocide. To his question he received, from Brunton and the right-wing intelligentsia, no reply. Nor is genocide, as Brunton seems to believe, merely a new term to describe political killings on a massive scale. Although Pol Pot murdered millions of Cambodians, he was not guilty of genocide, at least in the Arendtian [i.e. from the work of Hannah Arendt] sense, because there is no evidence that he was attempting to wipe a distinct people from the face of the earth' (pages 37-38).


I have never suggested that killing is the only means whereby genocide can be committed, and fully accept that if all the members of a people or nation were sterilised by the state, this would constitute genocide. I do not have any problems with article II (d) of the Genocide Convention, which includes within the definition of the crime 'imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group'. Indeed, the Convention would not require that all members be sterilised, as it refers to the 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such'. Furthermore, I do not see why the crime should be limited to one that is committed by a state. Other kinds of authorities can also commit genocide.(17)

Manne must know that I am fully aware that Pol Pot's acts were not genocide in terms of the Convention, because as I explained in Betraying the Victims (page 10), at the initiative of the Soviet Union, fearful of its own culpability, social and political groups were not included in the kind of groups covered by the Convention. Whether this means that Pol Pot's acts were not genocide conceptually is another matter---I see no logical reason why it should be confined to people or ethnic group. Indeed, the Genocide Convention takes a broader purview than Manne does, and one can argue that the 'distinctness' of the group being attacked is defined by the perpetrator, rather than some 'objective' criteria, although this is not the place to pursue the matter. I should also note, as I explain below, that although I did not specifically say I was addressing Manne and Gaita, I have dealt with important aspects of the Manne/Gaita position.

Understanding The Consequences Of One's Own Position


'In the thousands of words he has written on the question of genocide and the stolen generations Brunton has never shown a capacity to understand, let alone answer, the arguments developed since 1997 by Raimond Gaita and by me... Shortly after the published Betraying the Victims Brunton wrote a summary for Quadrant magazine. In it he described, humourlessly and at tedious length, an imagined future inquiry into the 'unconceived generations', charging those advising Aborigines on methods of birth control with the crime of genocide. Brunton apparently could see no difference between prescribing the pill and forcibly removing children with the purpose of making a people disappear' (page 41).


Although I did not specifically single out Manne and Raimond Gaita, my Quadrant article tried to show where their position, in combination with Bringing Them Home's kind of arguments, might lead in relation to population control programs. After all, Gaita thought Bringing Them Home's presentation was 'carefully argued'.(18) I accepted that genocide involves the idea that certain people have the 'right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world' as Gaita puts it. But the same logic that Bringing Them Home had used to show that the child removals contravened article II (e) of the Genocide Convention, could also be used to show that population control programs contravened article II (d) of the Convention.(19) As I pointed out, there have been various complaints from Aborigines, Black American and other Third World radicals that genocide is the real intention of Western-supported birth control programs.(20)

Personally, I do not accept these complaints, and believe that giving advice on birth control to any woman---or man---who desires it is just and proper. However, I should note that some of the family planning programs have not just given innocent 'advice' to tribal and peasant women, and that there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that at different times and places 'duress' and 'undue influence' have been used to sterilise women without their informed consent, or to provide them with dangerous forms of contraception. Furthermore, some of the most vocal proponents of the post-WWII 'population explosion' panic came out of the eugenics movement which Manne so strongly (and justifiably) condemns, such as the American, Guy Irving Burch. Some, such as William Vogt, made remarks that betray 'genocidal thoughts' every bit as callous as those that Manne has found in A.O. Neville's reported comments about eventually forgetting that there were ever any Aborigines in Australia (page 40). Vogt, for instance, said that 'the greatest tragedy that China could suffer, at the present time, would be a reduction in her death rate'.(21) In other words, whereas Neville did not necessarily wish to see the premature death of a single person, Vogt was calling for it on a mass scale. So it seems to me that if one takes seriously the argument that Australia's removals of Aboriginal children constituted 'genocide', then one also has to give consideration to the possibility that Australia's financial support for Third World population control programs may at the very least constitute complicity in genocide. It is Manne who is unwilling to consider this possibility---indeed, when I raised it during our television debate on ABC's 7.30 Report he adopted a tone which, to use his own phrase, was 'sneering and contemptuous'.

Manne's confusion about his own genocide arguments goes further than this, however. During an email exchange with him in April 2000, I told him that I would be prepared to acknowledge that A.O. Neville expressed a 'genocidal thought' in his reported comments. However, I said that Manne should also acknowledge that the Aboriginal tribal elders who pressured women to kill 'half-caste' babies---something which occurred in at least some places in the early stages of contact with Europeans(22)---were guilty of 'genocidal deeds'. This is because they were motivated by the idea that certain kinds of people, whom they perceived as being quite distinct from themselves, should not inhabit the world.

His response was illuminating. He said that I did not understand his arguments, because to him, genocide was the desire 'to remove a distinct people from the face of the earth', although to me, this seemed just what I was saying. But Manne then added that genocide 'is the kind of thing that intellectuals dream about not tribal elders'. Furthermore, Manne claimed, it was not just any intellectuals who had these dreams, but those with a 19th century world view. Indeed, the fact that I had challenged him to condemn tribal elders for adopting what was a modern European view point was evidence that I did not understand the sort of argument he was making. I hope I am not following Manne's tactic of pretending that opponents hold positions that they do not in fact hold, but his response to me looks suspiciously like an attempt to confine wickedness to the favoured demons of his new friends on the left.

Extreme Language


'... each time Brunton wrote about this issue, his language became more extreme' (page 41).


Perhaps because he writes only in a single emotional register himself, Manne seems unable to distinguish comments made with one's tongue very slightly in cheek, from genuine recommendations.


Good Conflicts Of Interest And Bad Conflicts Of Interest


'Even before Bringing Them Home was published the Howard Government encouraged a whispering campaign against the character of Sir Ronald Wilson and his supposed conflict of interest in conducting this inquiry. Brunton responded with enthusiasm. According to Brunton, as Wilson had once been a Presbyterian elder and had been on the board of the Perth 'quarter caste' home, Sister Kate's, he was in danger either of being seen to be protecting the financial interests of his church or of relieving his conscience of guilt. Apparently Brunton could not see that coming from an anthropologist with a track record like his on Aboriginal affairs---Brunton had worked as a consultant for mining companies fighting native title claims and was retained by a private enterprise think-tank supported by mining money---his allegations of conflict of interest with regard to Ronald Wilson might seem to others a touch bizarre' (pages 41-42).


There are a number of matters that need to be addressed here:

  • I have no knowledge of any 'whispering campaign' by the Howard Government. Indeed, to the best of my recollection, I have never spoken to any members of this government about the 'stolen generations' issue. In fact, I was alerted to Sir Ronald Wilson's previous involvement with Sister Kate's home by Peter Walsh, a former cabinet minister in the Hawke Labor government.
  • My points about possible conflicts of interest were that serious questions were raised by Wilson's 1997 statement that when he was involved with Sister Kate's 'he had no knowledge of the wrongness' of a practice that he now regarded as 'genocidal'. I also pointed out that he had held very high positions in the Presbyterian Church and its successor, the Uniting Church, and that once the Inquiry's terms of reference were amended to include the question of compensation, a perceived conflict of interest could be said to exist.(23) Saying, as Manne does, that Wilson was just an 'elder' is like describing Paul Keating or Neville Wran as 'members of the Labor Party'. Wilson has been Moderator of Assembly in the Presbyterian Church of Western Australia, Moderator, WA Synod of the Uniting Church, and President of Assembly, Uniting Church of Australia.
  • There is a very important difference between a possible conflict of interest involving someone who heads an official Government inquiry, particularly one which is supposed to provide a definitive report on a highly controversial issue, and a public commentator who draws attention to this possible conflict. By the Manne criteria, a trade union would not be able to complain if a Minister or other official required to make decisions affecting its interest had close connections with a company with which it was in dispute, because the union too was an interested party.
  • Manne does not explain what interest mining companies might have in the 'stolen generations' issue. In fact, it is one they are very keen to avoid, given that, in recent years, all large mining companies operating in Australia have put great efforts into developing close and friendly relations with national and regional Aboriginal organisations. They have nothing to gain and much to lose from supporting those who question the 'Aboriginal industry' position on the 'stolen generations'. My involvement in this issue has not helped the IPA's fund raising, and has not helped my anthropological consultancy. Just before Betraying the Victims was released, I had been asked to join an advisory board of a large mining company. A couple of weeks later the invitation was withdrawn on the extraordinary grounds that it should not have been made to me in the first place. While the company denied that this had anything to do with the controversy that I had since become involved in regarding the 'stolen generations', it certainly seemed a very strange coincidence.
  • I should also note that less than 20% of the IPA's funding comes from 'mining money'. If Manne really thinks that this compromises the IPA, despite the mechanisms that exist to ensure our intellectual independence, he needs to explain why, when he was editor of Quadrant, he requested and received funds from some of the same mining companies which support the IPA. What he seems to be implying is that while he is too pure to be tainted by the source of his funding, those of us without his admirable qualities are far more vulnerable.

Even If It Is True, Manne Thinks You Shouldn't Be Saying It (II)


'At the time he published his pamphlet, public opinion overwhelmingly accepted the truthfulness and morals seriousness of what Bringing Them Home revealed. Brunton was, then, critical of Bringing Them Home for exposing the Aboriginal victims of child removal to precisely the kind of mean-spirited and nit-picking criticism he had pioneered' (page 42).


The only implication I can draw from this is that if people had accepted Bringing Them Home as a truthful account of the issue, it was wrong to disabuse them of this notion, even though I have always been adamant about distinguishing the moral seriousness of the issue from the irresponsible way it was dealt with by Bringing Them Home. In fact, in November 1997, Manne told me that I should not publish an attack on Bringing Them Home, even though he conceded that there were serious weaknesses in the report, because it would provide 'the right' with ammunition they could use to dismiss the whole issue.

And If You Must Say It, Don't Speak To Anyone On The 'Right'


'Not only did [Brunton] not oppose [the people who said the stolen generations issue was a hoax or that the separated Aboriginal children were "rescued"]. Soon he was found speaking on the same platforms and joining with them in an orchestrated campaign' (page 42).


In an email in April 2000 I pointed out to Manne that I had criticised those who spoke of 'the rescued generation' in my writing, and as I noted above, I have been at pains in nearly every piece I have written on this issue to say that the issue is not a hoax. The statement about speaking on the 'same platforms' betrays Manne's remarkable intolerance for opposing views. I have spoken on the 'same platform' with many people with whom I disagree very strongly. It is part of what is expected from a public commentator. The remarks about an 'orchestrated campaign' which I have supposedly joined are nonsense, although I recognise that for people who are prone to conspiracy theories, no evidence will ever suffice to undermine their fantasy.



(1) Betraying the Victims, page 5.

(2) 'Justice O'Loughlin and Bringing Them Home: a challenge to the faith', Quadrant, December 2000, page 42.

(3) See Ron Brunton, 'Foster or fester', The Weekend Australian, October 12-13, 1996.

(4) Judith Brett, 'Every morning as the sun came up: the enduring pain of the "stolen generation"', Times Literary Supplement, 3 October 1997, p. 4; Colin Tatz, Genocide in Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Discussion Paper number 8, 1999, p. 29.

(5) 'Shame about Aborigines', Quadrant, May 1997.

(6) Ron Brunton, 'Controversy in the Sickness Country: the battle over Coronation Hill', Quadrant, September 1991; Ian Keen, 'Evidence about Coronation Hill', [Letter], Quadrant, November 1991.

(7) For further details see Betraying the Victims, page 5.

(8) Black Suffering, White Guilt? Aboriginal Disadvantage and the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, IPA Current Issues series, February 1993, pages 5-8.

(9) Bain Attwood, 'A matter for history', Australian Financial Review, Weekend Review, 15 December 2000.

(10) Quadrant, December 2000, p. 42.

(11) Phillip Ruddock, 'Response to Question Without Notice from Wilson Tuckey on Stolen Children', House of Representatives Hansard, 2 June 1997.

(12) Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, volume 5, Appendix A(i), pages 157-160.

(13) Betraying the Victims, page 9.

(14) Betraying the Victims, page 9.

(15) Betraying the Victims, pages 11-12.

(16) The relevant references for this letter are Andrew Markus, Governing Savages, Allen & Unwin, 1990, page 179; Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, ANZ Book Company, 1974, p. 56-59; Russell McGregor, Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880--1939, Melbourne University Press, 1997, pages 249-254.

(17) Frank Chalk, 'Definitions of genocide and their implications for prediction and prevention', Holocaust and Genocide Studies, volume 4, 1989, page 151.

(18) Raimond Gaita, 'Genocide and Pedantry', Quadrant, July-August 1997, p. 41.

(19) 'Genocide, the "stolen generations", and the "unconceived generations"', Quadrant, May 1998.

(20) See, e.g., Alexander Cockburn, 'Smart boys and genocide', The Nation, July 25, 1994; Monica Kuumba, 'Perpetuating neo-colonialism through population control: South Africa and the United States', Africa Today, vol. 40, number 3, 1993; Daniel Ncayiyana, 'Population control? Bah, humbug!', The Lancet, May 24, 1997; Amrit Wilson, 'Breeding difficulties', New Statesman & Society, Sept. 2 1994.

(21) I have discussed these issues and provided the appropriate references in my IPA Backgrounder, The End of the Overpopulation Crisis?, December 1998. This is downloadable from the IPA Website in PDF format. For details, please click here: Population)

(22) For further details see Betraying the Victims, page 13.

(23) Betraying the Victims, pages 17-8.


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