Fair-ish and Balanced-ish
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
The Hoaxing of Keith Windschuttle
One of the common theme’s throughout Whitewash, is that KW’s basic scholarship is extremely flawed. The book is filled with allegations of KW ignoring information which doesn’t support his hypothesis, and a poor overall knowledge of Tasmanian history. Or as James Boyce says in his conclusion:
Aborigines thus join white Van Diemonians in being excluded from a hearing in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. An over-reliance on five years of government record-keeping indeed silences almost everyone. Windschuttle has read almost nothing of what has been written about life in Tasmania over the past 200 years. He is familiar with very few of the island’s many historians. He knows almost none of our letter writers, diarists and other people who recorded their views and experiences of life here. All recent research has been ignored: no academic thesis written in the past 25 years has been looked at. He know little, it is embarrassingly evident, of the Tasmanian land. Whatever this book is, it is not a Tasmania story.
With this is mind, it would exceedingly unlikely that when KW replies to Whitewash, he would deliberately miss out important parts of his opponents arguments. Yet, when I read his reply, he appears to do this. What gives? There is one conclusion what jumps to mind, that Robert Manne hoaxed KW by giving him an incomplete copy of Whitewash.*
For example, KW writes…
Instead, Reynolds focuses on my case that the Aborigines did not have a word for land. He largely distorts what I wrote. My point was not primarily about Aboriginal language, but about Aboriginal behaviour. I demonstrated the Tasmanian Aborigines did not act as if they demanded exclusive usage of land. They had no sanctions against trespass. They certainly identified themselves with and regularly foraged in particular territories, known as their "country", which I openly acknowledge.
But none of them confined themselves to these regions, nor did they deter other Aborigines or British settlers from them. And anyway, none of the vocabularies – and, contrary to Reynolds, I read them all – records an Aboriginal term corresponding to the English word "land".
...the only charitable conclusion is that he didn’t read the same copy of Whitewash as I have sitting in front of me.
Reynolds attacks KW on the issue of language, because KW uses the absence of a Aboriginal word for “land” as evidence of the absence of Aboriginal concepts of landownership. This is all stated pretty clearly in my copy of Whitewash. Reynolds, points out that N. Plomley’s book A Word List of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Languages (which KW apparently read, but forget to cite, or mention in the text – despite it being the most comprehensive word list available) contains many words which imply knowledge of landownership.
But what’s more, KW, ignores the second part of Reynold’s argument. Reynolds quotes more than Plomley. He also a number of Tasmanians who indicated that the Aboriginals had a concept of land ownership. For example Governor Arthur reported to the Colonial Office that “each tribe claims some portion of territory which they consider peculiarly their own”. Or as the Tasmanian historian, John West, wrote in 1852:
they had no permanent villages, and accordingly no individual property in land; but the boundaries of each horde were known and trespass was a declaration of war.
Or as Robinson (one of the few settlers with decent knowledge of the various Aboriginal languages on the Island) wrote “[t]hey have a tradition amongst them that white men have usurped their territory…”.
Or perhaps Robertson who captured several Aborigines who told him that they were in the area to attend a meeting between several tribes. The object of their discussion: that one tribe of Aborigines had invaded the territory of another tribe. The aim of this meeting was to force the invaders to return the territory.
I don’t expect KW to be able to rebuttal all (or even a small portion) of Whitewash, in a single opinion piece, however, reply to Reynold’s on this matter is a complete disgrace.
* Okay, there is another conclusion, that KW is a dishonest slimly little reptile who ignores evidence which doesn’t support fit the narrow boundaries of his ideologically case.