The UnAustralian

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
How To Totally Miss The Point

When I blogged on Keith Windschuttle's attempt to defend his book (The Fabrication of Aboriginal History), I didn't expect a great deal, as Windschuttle's response was an article in The Australian which has length restrictions.

Now that plenty of time has past, and that Windschuttle has published a much longer defense (which can be found here) so I feel that I can go over his arguments in more detail. Because of the length of his response (and my corresponding lack of in-depth historical knowledge about Tasmania – or anywhere else for that matter) I'm just going to select a small section of Windschuttle's and concentrate on it (I'll tackle other parts of it later).

The section which I'm going examine today is Windschuttle's response to Mark Finanne's investigation of Windschuttle's statistics.

In a nutshell, Finnane takes Windschuttles plausible number of Aboriginal deaths, and his estimation of the Aboriginal population and uses these to work out the proportion of the population that died violently in settler-aborigine conflict each year. Not too complicated.

Now, the numbers that come out, don't look good for Windschuttle (who argues that there was no frontier war). Using Windschuttle's numbers during the period around the Black War the Aborigine death rate was roughly an order of magnitude greater than the death rate of Australians during World War I (using the casualty list complied by HA Willis*, the death rates become comparable with Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period).

But enough background. Windschuttle starts off with this paragraph (you can read his whole thing by going here and scrolling approximately one third of the way down):

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.

So far, so good. It appears that both Windschuttle and Finnane agree that the death rate was high relative to the total population.

However, Windschuttle nows loses any brownie points that he had by making the argument (bolstered of course with the usual slurs that Windschuttle always has time to throw around) that its the total casualty count that matters ie. the population figures are irrelevant. Windschuttle compares Tasmania with the Aztecs (of whom the Spanish killed far more over a much smaller time period).

However, this argument, is useless. It would be physically impossible to kill more Tasmanian Aborigines than Aztecs, simply because there were far more Aztecs deaths than there were Tasmanians.

To further illustrate the stupidity of this argument, lets pretend that the UK discovers a small Island unknown to the rest of the world with a small number of inhabitants (lets say a population of 100). They promptly shoot and kill everyone on the Island, and make it part of the Commonwealth. Would it be fair to say that our hypothetical massacre Island was the "colony where the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed"? While this statement, may be true it absolute terms, it completely fails because it doesn't take into account that small populations are more effected by violence than large populations.

* Incidentally, has Windschuttle ever responded to Willis' casualty list? It's been floating around for a while, and I can't find any Windschuttle response. Apparently Henry Reynold's pointed it out to him in a debate just before the publication of Whitewash, but as far as know, Windschuttle hasn't responded.
| 10:33 PM