The Fabrication of
Reviews of Keith
Windschuttle's new book
history not rewritten but put right. Accusations of genocide
have been based on guesswork and blatant ideology. SMH, 24
November 2002 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/24/1037697982065.html
At a ceremony in the Kimberley district of Western Australia,
William Deane, then governor-general, apologised to the Kija people
an infamous massacre by whites at Mistake Creek in the 1930s. He
the assembly: "I'd like to say to the Kija people how profoundly
personally am that such events defaced our land, this beautiful
While the brutal dislocation of Australia's indigenous population
rightly become an acknowledged chapter of national shame, the
of genocide is something altogether different.
Deane, for one, might one day reflect on his role in defaming the
Australian people on the basis of shabby evidence. Mistake Creek
As the historian Keith Windschuttle points out in his landmark new
The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, (Macleay Press,
2002): "... Deane
got the facts of this case completely wrong. According to the
Australian police records, the incident took place in 1915, not
1930s. It was not a massacre of Aborigines by whites and had nothing
do with a stolen cow. It was a killing of Aborigines by Aborigines in
dispute over a women who had left one Aboriginal man to live with
another. The jilted lover and an accomplice rode into the camp of
rival and shot dead eight people. This is not the kind of incident
which the Governor-General of Australia should be apologising.
"Even though he had been using the same incident in speeches for
least two years, Deane never bothered to do the most elementary
to find out the facts."
Deane has qualified his accusations by stating, as he did in his
Directions: A Vision For Australia (2002): "It matters
not whether this
particular story is accurate in all its details, for the elements
undoubtedly occurred in many parts of our nation in the 211 years
Windschuttle responds in his book: "But, of course, it does
greatly whether stories about crimes of this magnitude are accurate
their details, and it is most surprising to find a former judge of
High Court thinking otherwise. If the factual details are not
seriously, then people can invent any atrocity and believe anything
like. Truth becomes a lost cause."
Fabrication is the first of three volumes, with the other two to
published next year and in 2004. "I intended to do one book but
was so much material," Windschuttle said. The three volumes will form
frontal assault on the accusation of genocide which began with a
now accepted as fact around the world and taught in schools, that
Tasmanian Aborigines were exterminated by a policy of genocide.
Volume 1 is sub-titled Van Diemen's Land, 1803-1847. Windschuttle
a mountain of documentary evidence in Tasmania. He also found
evidence for only 118 Aborigines' deaths at the hands of Europeans
187 whites killed by Aborigines. He found the basis for the
argument to be speculation, guesswork, outright distortion and
ideology, an ideology which reached its crescendo in the Bringing
Home report in 1997. Once this report's claim of genocide was
to the forensic rigours of the courts, it fell apart, a fact many
This is not an exercise in denialism. As Windschuttle argues: "If
Australians of Aboriginal and European descent are to look one
straight in the eye, they have to face the truth about their
history, not rely upon mythologies designed to create an edifice
black victimhood and white guilt."
The strength of Windschuttle's book is in the mass of details. The
volumes of Fabrication will not be the last word on genocide, far
will provide what has been lacking for so long - a devil's
advocate view unintimidated by the prevailing ideological
inside the academy and the media. Windschuttle follows paper
checks original sources and supplies names.
No one is named more than the historian Henry Reynolds. Among one
numerous examples, Windschuttle examines Frontier
(1987), a book
reprinted at least five times and used as a school text, which quotes
governor of Tasmania, George Arthur, in 1831: "Writing from his camp
Sorell to justify the famous Black Line, he argued that such was
insecurity of the settlers that he feared 'a general decline in
prosperity' and the eventual extirpation of the colony."
When Windschuttle quotes the original document we find that
actually wrote something very different: "It was evident that
but capturing and forcibly detaining these unfortunate savages ...
now arrest a long term of rapine and bloodshed, already commenced,
great decline in the prosperity of the colony, and the extirpation
the Aboriginal race itself."
So Arthur was not expressing concern that the Aborigines presented
threat to the survival of the colony, as Reynolds clearly implies,
was concerned about the survival of the Aborigines themselves.
Questioned on this by the Herald's Andrew Stevenson last week,
dug a deeper hole: "Nowhere did I suggest that Arthur thought they
wipe out the colony. That would be a silly thing to say."
But that's what he does say in Frontiers. It's on page
Another prominent target is Robert Hughes and his book The
Given that Hughes's theory that Tasmania was conceived as the
first Gulag has already been dismantled by Professor Alan Atkinson
The Europeans in Australia (1997), and now the paltry
sources of his
Tasmanian genocide theory are exposed by Windschuttle, the
successful Fatal Shore is fast becoming The Fatal
Windschuttle is not a lone dissenter. Other anthropologists,
Roger Sandall, in The Culture Cult (2001), Professor
Professor Peter Sutton and Dr Ron Brunton, have already written
ideology's incursions into anthropology. And another new book,
Maiming & Murder by Rod Moran (Access Press, 2002),
reveals the source
of much of the massacre mythology of Western Australia was the
Ernest Gribble, who Moran proves was a pathological liar. In an
introduction to the book, Professor Geoffrey Bolton gracefully
acknowledges that Moran's work has "contradicted the view
taken by most historians, including Henry Reynolds, Neville Green
No doubt Windschuttle will be singled out for ritual abuse, but at
three more exposes are in the works. Finally, the accusers are going
be the accused.
170-year-old war: Academics are accused of lying in a new account of
colonial Tasmania. SMH, 22 November 2002
The Black War finished in Tasmania in 1832 but white historians
put down their weapons.
Today sees the publication of the first volume of Keith
alternative history of the frontier, in which he accuses four
contemporary historians - including Henry Reynolds - of deception
Windschuttle claims Professor Reynolds misreported the words of
Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and misrepresented his views.
Professor Reynolds had also misrepresented the views of settlers such
Edward Curr in building a case that white Tasmanians had argued for
extermination of Aborigines, Windschuttle claims.
The most authoritative scholar of the Tasmanian frontier, Lyndall
fares worse. Yesterday, after reading sections of the book,
Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Professor Ryan said she
accused of lying.
Windschuttle claims in the book that references cited by Professor
do not support claims of massacres or killings of Aborigines.
"I conducted the research for these events 30 years ago, "
Ryan said. "I had no reason to fabricate them then and I am in no
position to check them now. I can't believe I would have made it
He's accusing me of lying ...
"The truth or otherwise of these events do not destroy the
argument of my book - that the Tasmanian Aborigines were
dispossessed of their country as a result of the British colonisation
Tasmania but they were not exterminated."
Two other leading historians, Rhys Jones and Lloyd Robson, both
dead, are sharply criticised in the book. Robson, who wrote A
Tasmania, included claims by a settler of having witnessed
killing 300 sheep at Oyster Bay in 1815, an action which led to
killing 22 Aborigines.
But, argues Windschuttle, this would have been difficult. The
James Hobbs, was living in India at the time and there were no sheep
Oyster Bay for anyone to kill.
Lieutenant-Governor Arthur feared Aboriginal hostilities in the
would lead to the "eventual extirpation of the colony". These are
words Windschuttle claims are used by Professor Reynolds to support
policy of "ethnic cleansing". Arthur never made the statement,
Professor Reynolds attacked the claim yesterday. "I've never said
That's quite, quite misleading. How could they [Aborigines
colony]? I mean there were people who said that but Arthur never
I've never, as far as I'm aware, suggested that he did," he said.
"Nowhere did I suggest that Arthur thought they could wipe out
colony. That would be a silly thing to say."
Sir William Deane (governor-general from 1996-2001)
the memories of Mistake Creek is yet further injustice. Dismissing
indigenous oral history on the basis of 'no police record' ignores
cultural context. SMH, 27 November
Paul Sheehan ("Our history not rewritten but put right",
November 25) uncritically accepts and repeats historian Keith
Windschuttle's dogmatic denial of any non-indigenous responsibility
relation to the killing of Aborigines, including women and children,
Mistake Creek in the East Kimberley. In so doing, he conveys a
picture upon which he bases some criticism of me. I am led to
only by reason of the hurt that Sheehan's article, if left
may cause to the Kija people of the region.
As regards details of the killings, there is conflict between the
oral history and local police records about the nature and extent of
involvement of a non-indigenous former police constable named Rhatigan.
Otherwise, there is a remarkable degree of common ground between
oral history and the police records. There was a killing by shooting
at least seven Kija people. Undoubtedly, two Aboriginal employees
Rhatigan were involved, riding Rhatigan's horses and presumably
his firearms. There was pre-existing enmity between some of the
people and one of the Aboriginal employees, Wynn, who was from
in Australia. Wynn was apparently killed by an Aboriginal police
in the aftermath of the massacre. The other employee, "Nipper",
subsequently surrendered to the police.
According to Kija oral history, recounted in some published
non-indigenous works and repeated with complete conviction by
present-day Kija people, Rhatigan had led the attack because he
mistakenly believed, presumably at the urging of Wynn, that the
Aboriginal victims had taken and killed (and were eating) his
cow. In fact, the cow had merely wandered and was found after the
According to police records, to which historian Cathie Clement
attention in 1989, there was no basis for a conclusion of direct
involvement of Rhatigan, notwithstanding his employees, his horses,
firearms and, apparently, his presence in the vicinity. On that
Wynn and Nipper had carried out the killings on their own and on
At one stage I accepted that the killings occurred "in the 1930s". I
believe that Clement's work leads to the conclusion that they took
in 1915. In these circumstances, as Clement has stressed, one
simply ignore the indigenous oral history to the extent that it is
supported by police records.
It is clear that there was throughout Australia, including the
at these times, often reluctance on the part of police to file
reports or to bring proceedings against white settlers in respect
extreme physical retribution against Aborigines for the killing
livestock on traditional lands. It needs little imagination to
that that reluctance could well be heightened in a case where a
police constable was involved.
At the same time, there would be few lawyers, at least of my
with relevant experience who are unaware of how misleading and
unreliable untested police reports of alleged verbal statements
illiterate, particularly illiterate Aboriginal, accused or witnesses
be. If one were to restrict acceptance of oral indigenous history
relation to the killing of Aborigines to those cases where there
confirmatory police evidence or action, the resulting sanitised
of the events of the dispossession would be contrary to plain fact
In the case of Mistake Creek, the oral history is remarkably strong.
published and as recounted by Kija people, it lacks any dreamtime
element of the kind that can occasionally lead to confusion between
and allegory. The foundation of that oral history presumably lies in
eyewitness accounts of three Kija people who survived the
For another, the police initially arrested Rhatigan on suspicion
wilful murder. They did not proceed with the charge. Nipper, the
Aborigine who had surrendered to the police, was charged with
The charge against him was also eventually dropped when the
failed to produce any acceptable evidence. He was subsequently taken
Perth where he was employed in the police stables.
No one was brought to justice for the killings and the police version
events, in so far as it differs from the strong Kija oral history,
never tested in a criminal trial.
It is also relevant to note, as regards the police evidence, that
Clement, upon whose research Windschuttle expressly relied
Australian Financial Review, June 18 , 2001), has dissociated
from Windschuttle's use of her work in his efforts to discredit the
The Sisters of St Joseph, who have selflessly served the
peoples of the East Kimberley for many years, have erected a
monument at the foot of the old boab tree at Mistake Creek to mark
place where the killings occurred. There, on All Souls Day each
representatives of the Kija gather in prayer and fellowship with
non-indigenous fellow Australians, to mourn those who were
"Theirs is", as I have pointed out, "the path of true
Also see: Geoffrey Muirden's