Deniers in Australia: The Question of Aborigines in Australia

Ashley Moje
Historical Methods
Professor Neaman
May 3, 2010

Maltreatment of the Aborigines in Australia
Conspiracy Theory: Keith Windschuttle
Australia is one of the most powerful countries in the world, despite its relatively small population of a little more than 21 million people. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) currently ranked Australia number 19 for its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $38,800. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book, Australia’s “emphasis on reforms, low inflation, a housing market boom, and growing ties with China have been key factors over the course of the economy’s 17 solid years of expansion.” Although Australia is extremely powerful and has a robust economy its handling of the Aboriginal Tribes throughout the ages has been nothing but disappointing. In the 17th century the British Crown began to colonize Australia and take control over the land, despite it inhabitants. These inhabitants, as the Australian Government Culture Portal states “are the oldest living cultural history in the world – they go back at least 50,000 years and some argue closer to 65,000 years.” The maltreatment of the Aborigines must be addressed. The tribes continue to fall below the Australian population and are repeatedly thrown into the vicious cycle of poverty, low education, persistent violence and substance abuse.
Historians have currently debated the actual treatment of the Aborigines. Prior to the 1990’s opposition to the facts and documentation of the maltreatment were not significant. However, conspiracy theorist such a historian Keith Windschuttle arose. He published novels and articles denouncing the accepted history as a fabricated history. This paper will examine the accepted history around the world pertaining to the abuses suffered by the Aborigines, consequences of the abuse, Windschuttle’s theory, and disproving the theory.
The mistreatment of the tribes began long ago. In 1837 the British investigated the treatment of indigenous people and found the Australian colonies to be particularly abusive. The British recommended that the government appoint protectors of aborigines. Sonja Benson, writes in Hard to Say Sorry: Indigenous Australia’s Reconciliation Movement, “Accordingly, in the 1860s the Board for the Protection of Aborigines was established to look after the interests of indigenous Australians. This board had the power to remove aboriginal children from families” (Benson). Benson also writes:
To the settler population in the mid- to late 19th century sick and hungry aborigines who often dwelt on the fringes of towns were an uncomfortable sight. As the United States had done, the government set aside reserves for aborigines to live in. Because the indigenous people had been decimated by violence and disease, it was easy for the European population to forecast their ultimate extinction. Under the then-popular principles of social Darwinism the law of the ‘survival of the fittest’ was at play, and the colonial theory was that the weak – the aboriginal people – would simply die out within decades.
The root of racism, or a superiority of the “white man” draws back to the colonization period. In order to establish superiority, the Australian government proposed that the tribes assimilate to European culture. During the 20th century Australia adopted an assimilation policy towards the aboriginal tribes. This period, more commonly known as the “Stolen Generation,” aimed at separating aboriginal children from their families and placed them into foster homes or special institutions. The Australian government felt that the aboriginal children would be better off raised by white caretakers than their own families. However, abuse, misconduct and emotional trauma all stemmed from this movement. Tyson Yunkaporta, for example was apart of the Stolen Generation, he recalls his personal experience:
I remember this woman saying to me, ‘Your mother’s dead, you’ve got no mother now. That’s why you’re here with us’. Then about two years after that my mother and my mother’s sister came to The Bungalow but they weren’t allowed to visit us because they were black. We were transferred to the State Children’s Orphanage in 1958. Olive [aged 6 weeks] was taken elsewhere — Mr L telling me several days later that she was admitted to hospital where she died from meningitis. In 1984, assisted by Link Up (Qld), my sister Judy discovered that Olive had not died but rather had been fostered. Her name was changed. We were told that our mother was an alcoholic and that she was a prostitute and she didn’t care about us. They used to warn us that when we got older we’d have to watch it because we’d turn into sluts and alcoholics, so we had to be very careful. If you were white you didn’t have that dirtiness in you … It was in our breed, in us to be like that. I didn’t know any Aboriginal people at all, none at all. I was placed in a white family and I was just — I was white. I never knew, I never accepted myself to being a black person until — I don’t know if you ever really do accept yourself as being … How can you be proud of being Aboriginal after all the humiliation and the anger and the hatred you have? It’s unbelievable how much you can hold inside.
C.D. Rowley, author of the series Aboriginal Policy and Practice and former Principal of the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney, assessed The Aborigines Project of the Social Science Research Council of Australia (1964-7). The Council, which Rowley was appointed Director, “was mainly interested in the social and economic situation of persons of Aboriginal descent in the closely settled areas.” Despite the Councils best attempts, no sufficient assessment of the Aboriginal dilemma can be made so long as the historical dimension is lacking. In 1994 representatives from all Australian states met in Darwin, Northern Territory, for the Going Home Conference, to discuss the plight of the stole generation and the avenues available to connect the Australian public with the history of the assimilation polices. According to the Australian Society of Archivists
1999 Conference: Indigenous Peoples’ Access Rights to Archival Records, over six hundred Stolen Generation victims in the Northern Territory were brought together for The Going Home Conference. While in 1995 Australia’s Attorney General, commissioned The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal an Torres Strait Islander Children from Theory Families to be conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The objectives of the inquiry were:
(1) “To examine the past and continuing effects of separation of individuals, families and communities”; (2) “to identify what should be done in response, which could entail recommendations to change laws, polices and practices, to re- unite families and otherwise deal with losses caused by separation”; (3) “to find justification for, and nature of, and compensation for those affected by separation”; and (4) to examine “current laws, policies and practices affecting the placement and care of Indigenous children.”
In May 1997, after extensive research and testimonies by thousands of Aborigines Bringing Them Home was completed in the Australian Parliament. This consensus provided “pages of testimony, analysis and recommendations for the future.” The report confirmers that “the past government policy of separating children from their parents had constituted genocide: its aim was to eliminate the aborigines as a distinct group.” In addition, it was a “clear violation of the 1949 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In response the government ratified the Convention on Genocide in 1949, “which specified ‘forcibly transferring children of [a] group to another group with the intention of destroying the group as an act of genocide.”
Along with the many recommended measured for remedy that Bringing Them Home suggested they also proposed a formal apology from the Australian government.
An official apology to the Aboriginal Tribes was highly criticized by Prime Minister John Howard, who refused to apologize. Howard refused to submit to the “black armband view of history.” The Australian Parliament Library Explains, “In 1993, Professor Geoffrey Blainey was the first to refer to the ‘black armband view of history’ as one which represented the ‘swing of the pendulum from a position that had been too favorable to an opposite extreme that is decidedly jaundiced’ and ‘gloomy’.” Blainey’s view influenced the Howard government’s view on Australian history. Prime Minister John Howard gave a speech on October 30, 1996, refuting that:
I profoundly reject the black armband view of Australian history. I believe the balance sheet of Australian history is a very generous and benign one. I believe that, like any other nation, we have black marks upon our history but amongst the nations of the world we have a remarkably positive history. I think there is a yearning in the Australian community right across the political divide for its leader to enunciate more pride and sense of achievement in what has gone before us. I think we have been too apologetic about our history in the past. I believe it is tremendously important, particularly as we approach the centenary of the Federation of Australia, that the Australia achievement has been a heroic one, a courageous one and a humanitarian one (Australian Parliamentary Library).
The Howard administration did, however, work to help the Aborigines people; Parliament passed the Northern Territory Emergency Response Bill. The International Herald Tribune’s Jim Johnston reported that among other measures, the bill calls for “welfare recipients to spend half their income on food, fines them if their children do not attend school, bans alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas and clears the way for the government to purchase five-year leases on Aboriginal town land.” The Bill was in response to a report that uncovered widespread sexual abuse and neglect of children in indigenous Australian communities. However, Johnston adds that Papunya people criticize the Bill saying, “The legislation goes far beyond the direct protection of children.” They further believe:
The problems it is designed to address are not unique to indigenous communities and argue that the fact that it applies only to them makes it racist. The government, they say, would not dare curtail the rights of white Australians in the same way. The bill lists 73 towns in which the legislation will apply, all of which have Aboriginal majorities. The towns are currently owned communally by their populations, with control in the hands of the town councils. But the new law will give the government control of the land within the town boundaries, as well as any local airstrips and water supplies.
The Freedom House 2008 Report adds that Aborigines are underrepresented at all levels of political leadership and receive low marks as a group on key social and economic development indictors. Compared to the general population, unemployment among Aborigines is three times higher, their life expectancy is 20 years shorter, and their imprisonment rate is 15 times higher. There are also claims of routine mistreatment by police and prison officials. Aboriginal groups have called for an official apology for the “stolen generation” of Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents by the government between 1910 and the early 1970s and raised by white foster parents and in orphanages. The Howard government firmly rejected such calls on the ground that past leadership has no responsibility for the wrongdoing of a previous generation (Freedom House). Health, employment and housing have all been on the agenda for reform but each of these has rightly been linked to education. Doctor David P. Wilkins an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, University at Buffalo estimates that, “before European colonization, there were 200–300 distinct Australian languages, and about 600 land-based communities. Currently fewer than 100 languages (as linguists define them) have any remaining speakers, and there are probably fewer than 20 languages that continue to be learned as a native language by children.” The Aborigines are losing their identity and culture as a people. Moreover, without adequate education they cannot progress as a people. It is the government’s responsibility to correct for past mistreatment. Through funding of bilingual schools and cultural enrichment programs the Aboriginal children will be able to have a well rounded education while at the same time preserving their culture.
In addition to education, the Aboriginal tribes are not given land. C.D. Rowley discusses the Australian polices relating to reserves in his book, Outcast in White Australia. Rowley explains, “When the closely settled areas were frontiers, and Aboriginal attempts to live off the land in a rapidly changing environment were being counted by their extermination or removal, the practice began of setting aside small area of land for them to live in.” The government succeeded in “making what might amount to two or three ‘white’ living areas provide for the learning activities and the co-operative or other effort of a couple hundred Aboriginal people.” According to The Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements (ATNS) project:
In 1992 the High Court of Australia in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) recognized native title as a form of customary title arising from traditional laws and customs that pre-existed and, under certain conditions, survived British sovereignty. In response to this decision the Commonwealth Parliament enacted the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (the NTA) with the stated aim of recognizing and protecting native title rights whilst ensuring a workable, secure and effective system of dealing with land. It also worked to resolve the retrospective effects of native title which had the potential of invalidating certain land titles including pastoral leases. In response to the High Court’s decision in Wik which held that Indigenous rights to land could co-exist with certain property rights, controversial amendments to the NTA were passed in 1998.
In contrast to the research presented above is the view of conspiracy theorist of Keith Windschuttle. In his novel, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, he presents a counter history to race relations in Australia . He claims that, “The colonial authorities wanted to civilize and modernize the Aborigines, not exterminate them. Their intentions were not to foster violence towards the Aborigines but to prevent it.” Windschuttle continues to say that the history that has been accepted was designed to create “an edifice of black victimhood and white guilt.” His novel aims to examine the credibility and “argue that the story the historians have constructed does not have the empirical foundations they claim.”
Windschuttle uses primary documents of the Black War of the Aborigines in Tasmania to engage the reader and propose that it was the black men’s violence against themselves, which caused deaths. In addition to this claim, he asserts that the Aborigines were not immune to European diseases and that is the main cause to the rise in death rates and infertility. Windschuttle was highly criticized for his claims and his insufficient use of factual information. The most famous debate currently on this topic is between Windschuttle and Robert Manne. Robert Manne is a professor of politics at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Manne, wrote, White Wash: On Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History as a rebuttal to Windschuttle’s claims. White Wash is an anthology of many widely known and well-respected Historians. Among the most notable are, Professor Henry A. Reynolds, Professor Lyndall Ryan, and Journalist Nevielle Green.
In the third section of White Wash, Neville Green writes on the “Windschuttle’s Debut.” He writes “to asses the reliability of Windschuttle’s scholarship, this essay will examine …the Battle of Pinjarra.” Windschuttle’s uses numerous quotes, in which he omits certain lines to get his point across. However, “When read in context, it contradicts Windschuttle’s conclusion.” When reaching a number on the casualties at Pinjarra, Windschuttle’s estimate are also questioned. His estimates seem to coincide to Battye’s 1927 account, which was written without the knowledge of both Stirling’s and Roe’s reports.” However, Stirling and Roe’s reports are critical to the Battle of Pinjarra because they are some of the few primary documents attained. Sir James Stirling was the Governor of the Colony while John S. Rae was a surveyor during the 1843 expedition South to punish the Murry River Tribe. Without the primary documents one begins to wonder where Windschuttle’s facts came from. “Although Goldsmith cited only one original source, Windschuttle claimed that he gave ‘the most credible modern estimate’ and wrote in Quadrant that a third contemporary report ‘said 25 to 30 were killed; but a fourth denied this last report and said the precise death toll was ten men, three women and one child’.” Interestingly enough Windschuttle, Battye, and Goldsmith all “share a common reluctance to provide either the name of this eyewitness of their source.” It is strange enough that Goldsmith does not use the first hand accounts of Stirling and Roe, but to not name their fourth source leads myself and others to question Windschuttle’s credibility.
With further research and insight given from White Wash it provides “not only a demolition of Windschuttle’s revisionism but also a vivid and illumination history of one of the most famous and tragic episodes in the history of the British Empire – the dispossession of the Tasmanian Aborigines.” Luckily many have spoken out against Windschuttle, the Howard administration, and other revisionist. It is unacceptable for the tragic history of the Aborigines to be dismissed. What happened to these people was a disgrace; families were torn apart, countless were killed, and the culture barley survives. The remaining Aborigines are subject to racial discrimination and extreme disadvantages. Not until recently has the government even apologized for the atrocities. Australia’s current Prime Minister, Kevin Michael Rudd was sworn in as the 26th Prime Minister of Australia on December 3, 2007. He has “signaled that his government will take a much more progressive line than his collation predecessor on a range of issues, including the environment, education and health.” In his speech to Parliament Mr. Rudd expresses his apology to the aborigines:
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.
Despite Rudd’s intentions the Australian government outreach to the tribes has thus far been insufficient. The Australian government needs to bring about programs in education, housing, and substance rehabilitation centers to these people without violating human rights. While the Aborigines need to work with the government in order to progress. Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the Aboriginal tribes is just the start of reconciliation between the government and 2.7% of their population. However, due to prioritizing the international economic crisis, global warming, and epidemics the Aboriginal tribes are falling behind. Rudd’s apology might have come too soon and with no real promise of change.

Works Cited

Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project. Oct. 2007. 28 Apr. 2009 .
“Australian Indigenous cultural heritage -.” Australia’s Culture Portal. 28 Apr. 2009 .
Benson, Sonia. “Hard to Say Sorry: Indigenous Australia’s Reconciliation Movement.” History Behind Headlines. GALE. San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, California. 17 Apr. 2009. Keyword: Aboriginal Australia.
“CIA – The World Factbook — Australia.” Welcome to the CIA Web Site Central Intelligence Agency. 4 May. 2010 .
Freedomhouse.org: Home. Australia 2008. 03 May 2009 .
Johnston, Jim. “Aboriginals of Australia: Rights Revoked.” UNOP. 23 Aug. 2007. 4 May 2009.
McKenna, Mark. “Australian Parliamentary Library – Research Paper 5 1997-98.” Parliament of Australia: Home. 10 Nov. 1997. 28 Apr. 2009 .
Maddock, Kenneth. The Australian Aborigines: A Portrait of their Society. London, Great Britain: Allen Lane The Penguin P, 1973.
Manne, Robert. Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History. By Neville Green. Melbourne, Vic.: Black Agenda, 2003. 1-386. Print.
Manne, Robert. “Windschuttle’s Debut.” Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History. By Neville Green. Melbourne, Vic.: Black Agenda, 2003. 187-198. Print.
The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2008). Australia. London
“The Prime Minister’s Website – About Your PM.” Prime Minister of Australia: Home. 28 Apr. 2009 .
Rowley, C.D., John L.M. Dawsom, and Pamela Beasley. Attitudes and Social Conditions. Canberra, Australia: Australian National UP, 1970.
—. Outcasts in White Australia: Aboriginal Policy and Practice. Vol. II. Canberra, Australia: Australian National UP, 1971.
—. The Destruction of Aboriginal Society: Aboriginal Policy and Practice. Vol. I. Canberra, Australia: Australian National UP, 1970.
—The Remote Aborigines: Aboriginal Policy and Practice. Vol. III. Canberra, Australia: Australian National UP, 1971.
Smallacombe, Sonia. “ASA 1999 Conference.” Welcome | Australian Society of Archivists. 14 Jan. 2000. 28 Apr. 2009 .
The Sydney Morning Herald 13 Feb. 2008. 28 Apr. 2009 .
Windschuttle, Keith. The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Sydney: Macleay, 2002. Print.
Yunkaporta, Tyson. “Stolen Generation Stories.” Stolen Generation Stories. 28 Feb. 2008. 05 May 2009 .

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