Home > Books and culture > Windschuttle flips again

Windschuttle flips again

September 13th, 2005

Henry Farrell pointed me to this Financial Times report of an interview (over lunch) with Keith Windschuttle, which begins with Windschuttle saying he regrets his involvement in the dispute over Australia’s Aboriginal history, seeing as a distraction from his ambition to write a polemical defence of Western civilisation, aimed at the US market, and make heaps of money in the process.

â€?If you have a reasonably big hit in America you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,â€? he says. “That’s my aim – to have a couple of big sellers and have a leisurely life.â€?

It is unclear how much of this is intended as tongue-in-cheek affectation, but it’s certainly consistent with notable elements of Windschuttle’s past career, which has been marked by repeated political and methodological somersaults.

Although a lot of attention has been focused on Windschuttle’s political jump from Marxist left to Christian right, I’ve always been more interested in his shift in methodological stance. Having made his name as a defender of objective truth against politicised history in both left-wing and right-wing varieties, Windschuttle has become a practitioner of an extreme form of politicised history, and now looks ready to abandon any remaining links to the world of fact.

Windschuttle first became prominent with his book Unemployment, published in the 1970s, which was mainly a critique of the way unemployed people and the unemployment issue were presented in the media. He did similar work on the media during the 1980s. The underlying methodological viewpoint was straightforward enough: here is the objective reality and here is the way the media distorts it.

With this background, his 1994 book The Killing of History seemed naturally to fit into the genre of left-wing critiques of postmodernism epitomised by the Sokal hoax. Although Windschuttle went over the top at the end (attacking Popper of all people for being insufficiently attached to objective reality) and gave some indications of his shift to the right, the book as a whole did not seem to represent a big break with his past views. Notably, Windschuttle praised Henry Reynolds for sticking to factual account of conflicts between Aborigines and European settlers in Australia, and avoiding any flirtation with notions of socially constructed reality and so forth.

Whatever its original intent, The Killing of History was taken up enthusiastically by some US rightwingers, notably those associated with the New Criterion, and Windschuttle responded in kind, espousing overtly rightist positions for the first time.

From the viewpoint of Windschuttle’s new admirers, however, objective reality is fine when it can be used a handy stick with which to beat left-wing postmodernists, but it takes second place to the rhetorical needs of the contemporary political struggle. As has become increasingly apparent under the Bush Administration, ‘facts’ are not of any significance in themselves, but only as they suit or fail to suit the interests of the Republican party at any given point.

This approach is exemplified by Windschuttle’s writing on Australian history, most notably The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Windschuttle’s approach, familiar from the right-wing blogosphere is that of a counsel for the defence of the European occupiers of Australia against any and all accusations of killing the Aboriginal inhabitants. All the usual mechanisms are deployed. Trivial errors on the part of opponents are blown up into causes celebre, witnesses of killings and massacres are slandered, and the victims are blamed for their own misfortune.

Despite its obvious biases though, Fabrication does not overtly depart from the idea of fact-based history. Windschuttle merely selects the facts that suit his case, ignores or seeks to discredit those that do not, and accuses his opponents of bias while denying his own.

In the end, though, even such limited obeisances to objectivity are inconsistent with the kind of mass-market success Windschuttle is seeking. The kind of large-scale claims about the moral and ethical perfection of European Christian civilisation that Windschuttle’s target market wants to read cannot be supported by primary research or footnote-checking, any more than the politically-driven denunciations of ‘dead white males’ that Windschuttle criticised in The Killing of History. Polemics of this kind rely on a sympathetic audience, willing to suspend disbelief as they are presented with claims that contradict well-established historical facts.

The basic problem for supporters of the polar positions in this debate is the obvious fact that, like all other civilisations, the European Christian civilisation is responsible for both great achievements and great crimes. It is possible to disagree about the relative balance of the two. But an approach like Windschuttle’s, in which the crimes are absolutely denied is no more credible than the kind of revisionist history in which all the achievements of European civilisation are alleged to have been stolen from Arabs and Africans.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:
  1. September 15th, 2005 at 19:39 | #1

    Ken Miles Says: September 15th, 2005 at 4:11 pm “The comparison issue is also interesting. If we took Windschuttle’s methodology and applied it to any other historical conflict we would have to radically reduce the deaths. For example, how many Cambodian’s were executed under Pol Pot, or Maoris killed in the various New Zealand wars? ”

    Well, take Katrina for example. The media was running red hot that the total deaths could reach 10,000. The last reporrt I read tallied the number to 261.

  2. September 15th, 2005 at 21:12 | #2

    John Dawson makes a very good point but could have nailed it by simply dropping one word:

    This, along with Finanne’s disgusting misrepresentations, demonstrates only one thing: if you’re a highly ranked academic, anything goes, as long as it “discredits� the right.

    My apologies to JD for taking liberties with his comment.

  3. September 15th, 2005 at 22:02 | #3

    Paranoid conspiracy theories is a hallmark of the lunar right. What’s more interesting is how they continue to thrive, despite the right commanding virtually every important political office and media outlet in the country.

  4. September 15th, 2005 at 22:17 | #4

    No doubt the figure for Katrina is where it is because all the bodies have not yet been retrieved.

    And what cs said.

  5. Rob
    September 15th, 2005 at 23:26 | #5

    cs, if I felt on reading an account based on the most important primary source that I needed to read that source for myself, I would say that thhe account I’d just read had failed in some regard. It’s not quite the same as one’s curioisity being stimulated to further enquiry – rather that one feels unconvinced and feeling in need of verification. I take John D.’s point, however.

  6. September 16th, 2005 at 00:42 | #6

    It’s insane this fixation by Windschuttle on precisely documented numbers. He seeks to tidy up the agony and the murder into precisely known quantities that can be safely audited and tucked away in the mental drawer.

    The plea by someone up above that we not be ideological about this subject is equally insane. As though a final factual solution can be arrived at from which point we will no longer have anything to learn.

    My ideology is primary in my thinking on subjects such a these. Ends do not justify means. Murder and invasion are not exculpated by later technological and economic success. It’s irrelevant which way the arrow points on the road of human civilsation. Wrongs remain wrong, and must be atoned for. For the sake of all. The demands of human psychology are vainly scorned when we refuse to make a sober accounting of our origins. Eventually the price must be paid. It’s our choice – when. But the bill must be paid with interest the longer we procrastinate, grizzle and deny.

    It is a give-away of our social immaturity that we still won’t face up to the past. We lag way behind other recent colonizing civilisations such as NZ and Canada. What the bejeesus are we afraid of. Nobody’s going to take away our toys when we finally come clean and put the mess behind us.

  7. September 16th, 2005 at 01:10 | #7

    John’s got it right in the post, wbb, once a positivist, always a positivist. The narrow epistemology remains even as the ideology turns.

  8. jquiggin
    September 16th, 2005 at 06:55 | #8

    Although Windschuttle adheres to an extreme form of positivism most of the time, he can mix it with postmodernism when it suits his book.

    Take his claim that the Tasmanians had no concept of land ownership and therefore could not be fighting to defend their land. The first part is typical Windschuttle (he could not find evidence of a word for ‘land’ and therefore assumed one must not exist). The second part is an extreme version of socially constructed reality.

  9. Robert
    September 16th, 2005 at 08:57 | #9

    wbb Says: September 16th, 2005 at 12:42 am “It’s insane this fixation by Windschuttle on precisely documented numbers.”

    But isn’t it also the very point!. So arbitrary, random, ‘politically chosen’ numbers are more acceptable. What an outrage.

  10. R J Stove
    September 16th, 2005 at 16:23 | #10

    Professor Quiggin refers, in his original post, to: “Windschuttle’s political jump from Marxist left to Christian right“.

    Not sure quite what Prof Q is driving at here. If he means that Keith Windschuttle is himself a Christian rightist, then I beg to differ.

    In an E-mail last February – addressing, inter alia, this very issue – KW told me (I don’t think I’m breaching any confidences by reporting this message on a public forum: if I am, I apologise to all concerned) that he himself practised no religion of any sort.“I’m not a Christian [he wrote], though would regard myself a Christian fellow traveler (this is a term borrowed from Gough Whitlam).”

  11. Glenn Condell
    September 16th, 2005 at 17:03 | #11

    ‘Take his claim that the Tasmanians had no concept of land ownership’

    what he really meant was ‘they have no Western concept of land ownership’ or ‘they haven’t even made it as far as contracts yet’. There’s a prejudice built into such an unqualified statement; Ross Cameron sans bombast, Crichton Browne sans deliberate offense. The notion that communities might share ‘ownership’ of traditional lands doesn’t seem to cut ice or mustard with Windschuttle. They had no piece of paper certifying ownership, or any evidence acceptable to our man, so they couldn’t have been defending their land? Dear me. The fact that they didn’t have a Western concept of evidence has cruelled them for the Windschuttles of the world.

    Speaking of Western concepts of evidence, I wonder if the fact that the US military ‘doesn’t do body counts’ bothers him at all. Quite apart from the fact that many of those killed were blown into pieces too small to be adduced as evidence of anything. Precious little evidence for future Windschuttles. Which of course will suit them down to the ground.

    History is supposedly written by the winners. Mr W, like your Davis Hansons, fancies himself among that group and even dreams of conquering Rome (with his next tome)and settling down among the Romans as an esteemed warrior from the provinces.

    They deserve each other.

  12. Ken Miles
    September 16th, 2005 at 17:20 | #12

    Hi John D,

    Thanks for your reply. Sadly, I don’t think that you’ve understood Mark Finnane’s rebuttal at all.

    For one, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Mark Finnane has never said anything which can be accurately phrased as:

    Mark Finnane declares it to be so extraordinarily high that it makes the Tasmanian colonists the bloodiest of four continents for four centuries. Worse, for instance, than the Spanish conquistadors who killed 40,000 Aztecs in the last days of the siege of Tenochtitlan in 1521.

    At least, his article in Whitewash suggests the exact opposite. Given that you haven’t supplied a source for your paraphrase, I’d humbly suggest that you’ve significantly misrepresented argument.

    Finnane has tried to refute the notion that early Tasmanian history wasn’t particularly violent. He hasn’t (at least as far as I’m aware) tried to show that Tasmania was “the bloodiest of four continents for four centuries” – in fact, has anybody suggested this?

    By using Windschuttle’s population and death statistics, it is quite easy to show that from the Aboriginal point of view Tasmania was a violent place (and the levels of violence skyrocket if one uses Willis’ death rates). Violence between Aborigines and settlers lead to death rates similar to Australian death rates in World War I (given that Finnane compares Tasmanian death rates to WWI, this directly contradicts your claim about Finnane suggesting that it was the bloodiest conflict in four centuries – have you read Whitewash?).

    Also you’re trying to attribute a moral argument to Finnane which he doesn’t make. Nothing he has written in Whitewash suggests that he considers that an Aboriginal life is worth more or less than a European life. Rather he is trying to judge the level of violence in various societies by looking at the available statistics. The corresponding violence levels are far more consistent with the mainstream historical view, rather than Windschuttles.

  13. jquiggin
    September 16th, 2005 at 17:35 | #13

    RJS, I think Windschuttle is a political Christian: that is, he sees Christianity as a source of the superiority of the West, but does not actually accept the supernatural part of Christian belief. This is very common on the intellectual right, particularly in the US

  14. John Dawson
    September 16th, 2005 at 18:45 | #14

    Anthony asked me to clarify the distinction between facts and FACTS.

    FACTS are the facts totally absent from diatribes such as Glenn Condell’s.

    If Condell bothered to read Windschuttle’s book he would discover that it didn’t expect Aborigines to have land ownership contracts, or even the notion of individual ownership of land, it discussed ownership, be it private or “communal�. Other colonised cultures, such as the Maori, had a concept of ownership; the Tasmanian’s didn’t. So of course it was the Western concept that was considered, that’s the point, there was no such Tasmanian concept to consider, at least not as far as land was concerned.

    And if Condell bothered to read Windschuttle’s book he would discover that it doesn’t demand forensic proof, but “evidence of some kind� of killings. As Robert implies, the alternative methodology is “arbitrary, random, ‘politically chosen’ numbers.�

  15. John Dawson
    September 16th, 2005 at 22:42 | #15

    Ken Miles says I misrepresented Mark Finnane. I retract any implication that Finnane said that the British in Tasmania were worse than the Spanish at Tenochtitlan or the bloodiest colonists of four centuries, and apologize. To my knowledge Finanne has made no such comparisons. They were badly formulated illustrations of mine.

    Finnane does compare the Tasmanian colonization to “places like New England, north-western Canada, Brazil, south-western Africa and elsewhere from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century�, and if you go by his methodology you can make Tasmania worse than almost anywhere. By relying entirely on the per-capita-per-annum statistic, Finnane can conclude that the Tasmanian Aborigines were: “disproportionately
    affected by the violence of the early colonial years, and to an extraordinary degree�. His graph in Whitewash titled: “Estimated violent death rates in Tasmania, 1824-1831 based on Windschuttle data 2002� depicts soaring death rates for Aborigines, nearly twenty times as high as the white death rates – for years when more whites were being killed than Aborigines. Doesn’t this imply that the violence was much worse for the Aborigines than for the whites? And if the violence was much worse for the Aborigines than for the whites while nearly twice as many whites were being killed than Aborigines, doesn’t that imply a white life, according to Finnane’s calculations, is worth less than an Aboriginal life?

  16. jquiggin
    September 17th, 2005 at 07:07 | #16

    The per capita death rate has regularly been used (often by writers on Windschuttle’s side of debates over colonialism) to make the point that the death rate in apparently low-intensity warfare between hunter-gatherer tribes exceeds that in European wars like WWI. It’s not surprising that the same point would be made in the present context. There’s some discussion here

  17. Stephen L
    September 17th, 2005 at 15:06 | #17

    To answer Elizabeth’s question, I have not read Fabrication. I have, however, read several pieces by Windshuttle summarising his position, as well has heard him speak in debates.

    Based on this I am in no position to judge whether Windshuttle is more or less correct than Reynolds in the total estimates of Tasmanian Aboriginal deaths. It is however clear that Windshuttle is coming from a deeply biased ideological perspective, as he accuses his opponents of being (which is not to say that they are not similarly guilty).

    The evidence can be seen from one example where there were disputed reports of the number of Aborigines killed in an incident. Windshuttle chooses to accept the lower figure. His critics choose the higher figure on the basis that the witness reporting it is more credible. Windshuttle then states that the lower figure is correct, and that anyone arguing for a higher figure (or even splitting the difference) is clearly ideological and black armband.

    The position is simply unsustainable. If Windshuttle was saying “the number of deaths may be as low as 118″ he might have a case. But to state that “the British were responsible for killing only 118 of the original inhabitants” when he knows that there is evidence the total is higher proves he is simply on an ideological charge.

    Of course, even if one accepts the higher figure in this case, the total is still much closer to Windshuttle’s figures than Reynolds, but the point that he resoultely refuses to accept extra deaths *as even possible* when a credible eyewitness reports them shows he will go to any lengths to minimse the toll.

    And Elizabeth – hopefully the death toll from Katrina will be well short of 10,000, but anyone who thinks the final toll is going to be 261 is in fantasy land.

  18. John Dawson
    September 17th, 2005 at 21:06 | #18

    A number of people have referred to Windschuttle’s Tasmanian death toll.

    Web objects that it is an attempt to tuck it away. The reason the death toll had to be tabulated was to bring some reality to the debate. Prior to Windschuttle’s work orthodox historians regularly threw around impressions and “general estimates� supported by nothing but a few anecdotes, true or fabricated. Consequently the worldwide wisdom that genocide was committed in Tasmania became entrenched. Windschuttle puts his evidence up for all to see, scrutinize and criticize – for the most part his opponents don’t.

    Ken Miles asks whether I agree with Windschuttle’s statement regarding a death toll of 118. I do if it is taken as shorthand for his full statement that it represents: “an attempt to record every killing of an Aborigine between 1803 and 1834 for which there is a plausible record of some kind.â€? That statement was followed by a request that readers send him records he may have missed. The first printing of “Fabrication” recorded 118, the second 120, and on Windschuttle’s website Table Ten now records 121. The last addition was a killing recorded by John Wedge that was discovered by James Boyce. As best as I can discover, it represents the one and only genuine record of the one and only killing of the one and only Aborigine that the hundreds of Windschuttle denouncers, with all their tax paid incomes have come up with to date to demonstrate the alleged “hole of such magnitudeâ€? in Windschuttle’s thesis.

    Stephen wonders who is more right Windschuttle or Reynolds and believes he caught Windschuttle out in a biased interpretation (more info please). The point is Stephan can scrutinize Windschuttle’s death toll data; it’s all laid down for all to see. Reynolds holds most of his cards up so only he can scrutinize them. In “Whitewash� Reynolds claims knowledge of: “literally dozens, if not hundreds, of references to the murderous attacks by the ‘borderers’ as they were called.� He has been claiming such knowledge since 1981, when his “voluminous, various and uncontrovertible� evidence of “a great loss of life� spawned his figure of 20,000 Aborigines killed throughout Australia. After Windschuttle exposed that figure to be a guess, Reynolds claimed once again, in 2000, that he had: “collected hundreds of references to frontier violence. So abundant was the material and so convincing that I eventually stopped noting new references. I could have written a large and detailed book on frontier violence with copious documentation but it would have been a repetitive and ultimately depressing exercise�. Repetitive or not, why not prove his case once and for all and win a major victory of the history wars? He wouldn’t even have to fund this project himself like Windschuttle did; no doubt he could pick up an ARC grant and get a University press to publish his large book.

    Five years and a couple of books later, and Reynolds is still invoking all this unrevealed evidence that “many scholarsâ€? back with “detailed, meticulousâ€? evidence. So where is it all? Wouldn’t “Whitewashâ€? be an ideal place to reveal at least some of it? What better way to put Windschuttle in his place? Reynolds couldn’t reveal his evidence there, he explains, because: “space forbids any more than a brief reference to the extensive literature.â€? So he presents two quotes, neither of which contains evidence of any specific killings. If any think I’m misrepresenting Reynolds, I can’t really blame them – but they can read it on page 129 of “Whitewashâ€?.

    Reynolds’ modus operandi is to invoke his “mountain of research� and endorse himself as the repository of knowledge gleaned from “official documents,…letters …newspaper articles� etcetera, and commend his interpretation of it. We are to take his word for it, for how could we expect a national treasure to undertake the depressing task of tabulating all that evidence so we can scrutinize it?

    Well our taxes paid for much of his career and pivotal decisions were influenced by Reynolds’ interpretation of his “copious documentationâ€?. I for one taxpayer want to see it. It is time he put up or…

  19. Glenn Condell
    September 18th, 2005 at 20:02 | #19

    ‘Other colonised cultures, such as the Maori, had a concept of ownership; the Tasmanian’s didn’t.’
    Ergo, the land wasn’t theirs?
    John, I haven’t read Windschuttle or Reynolds and I probably won’t. But I have seen them debating on TV on a few occasions and have read a few threads like this where people spar about their ideas and approaches. I wouldn’t have anything like the learning you’d bring to the subject but I have a fair idea of their respective approaches and why they are opposed. It’s only a comment thread after all, and just my 2c. Anyway, have you never made a judgement that wasn’t backed by comprehensive study? Put it this way – have you ever had a pop in conversation at say Bob Ellis or Noam Chomsky? How much of their work had you read at the time?
    No-one these days can be a real polymath, there’s too many FACTS about and not enough time to cram them into your melon. All most of us can do is try and keep up with the History Wars and Culture Wars etc in between working long hours, changing nappies, commenting on blogs and having a kip.
    From here it seems that both Reynolds and Windschuttle have had to trim their sails subsequent to their battles, with each man’s ‘camp’ convinced the other has the bloodier nose. Just as Windschuttle’s fidelity to the record will exert a pull toward a greater factual stringency in ‘bleeding heart’ contributions to the disputed ground, so the Reynolds camps’ assiduous efforts to demonstrate how much of the story would be missed with an all-Windschuttle approach has an salutary value for the dries. Surely our history, or rather, History, benefits by this process. Both sides have had to make concessions that show up the extent to which their preconceptions conditioned their conclusions and that leaves a wider, more open channel thru which future assessments can be made. And of course it was enormous fun for all concerned, even ill-informed nobodies like me!
    I mentioned earlier the fact that the US doesn’t do body counts means; this means the ‘facts’ for future historians will be rather thin on the ground. The US in say Fallujah and the colonists in Tassie were overwhelmingly more powerful and resourceful than the local inhabitants and that power enabled them to (1) kill a lot of locals and (2) limit or exclude public knowledge of at least some of the killing. Nothing unusual really, it’s almost a law of military power relations when they’re so lopsided. Would you disagree?
    This isn’t to say it was a free for all; just that any official accounting cannot be the whole story. That approach is as unwise as pretending you can cast a line into the past and dredge up numbers which have no basis in the record. The truth as always lies someplace between.

  20. September 19th, 2005 at 09:30 | #20

    Glenn Condell Says: September 15th, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    Jack,…Anyway you’re probably right – you do have a flair for ephemera, but a corollary weakness in relation to bigger pictures. A bit like those hagiohistorians eh?

    This statement does not make any sense at all, either in relation to what I said or in relation to the project of the so-called “hagiohisorians”. (Huntingon, Murray, Diamond being out of their depth in history compared to the far hind-sighted Codell?!)

  21. John Dawson
    September 19th, 2005 at 17:39 | #21

    Glenn Condell – I’ve had more than my fair share of space so I’ll keep my reply brief. I don’t say that you have to read all the books before you have a right to an opinion – I’ll leave that to academics like Dirk Moses http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?article=3320
    Yes I do condemn Ellis and Chompsky without reading their works. I judge them by the bits I do read and by what trustworthy commentators say they say.

    The problem you have is that those who you should be able to rely on, the humanities and social science academics, are not trustworthy commentators. That has been demonstrated most recently by “Whitewash� and by the number of academics who back it to the hilt. There are exceptions, but I wouldn’t want to harm their careers by naming them.

  22. Glenn Condell
    September 19th, 2005 at 18:14 | #22

    OK, fair enough John, thanks.

    You too Jack, you old logic nazi you.

    Hanson is the one I’m thinking of most; he probably gets his dates right, but he gets such a boner about the mighty American military behemoth he can’t think straight about it. An appropriate distance from the subject is one of the good historians accoutrements.

  23. Ken Miles
    September 19th, 2005 at 18:53 | #23

    Hi John D,

    Thank you for your retraction.

    There are very good reasons for reporting deaths/population, rather than just deaths when trying to assess the degree of violence in a society. For example, comparing the reported murder rate of Papua New Guinea vs. Malaysia, we find that PNG has a lower murder rate (if one accounts for unreported murders then it might be higher, but for the purposes of this example, I’m going to ignore that). Does this mean that Malaysia is a more dangerous place than PNG? No. It is simply a consequence of the two countries having significantly different populations.

    Far from being a “disgusting misrepresentations”, Mark Finnane’s conclusions are pretty basic statistics.

    When you write:

    His graph in Whitewash titled: “Estimated violent death rates in Tasmania, 1824-1831 based on Windschuttle data 2002� depicts soaring death rates for Aborigines, nearly twenty times as high as the white death rates – for years when more whites were being killed than Aborigines. Doesn’t this imply that the violence was much worse for the Aborigines than for the whites? And if the violence was much worse for the Aborigines than for the whites while nearly twice as many whites were being killed than Aborigines, doesn’t that imply a white life, according to Finnane’s calculations, is worth less than an Aboriginal life?

    I think that your misunderstanding Finnane’s point. He isn’t trying to imply that white people are worth more or less than Aborigines. Rather he is pointing out that Windschuttles thesis is internally inconsistent. If you accept Windschuttle’s numbers (and I don’t – but that’s another story), then the picture that emerges is far from a “nuns picnic” – rather you observe death rates which are comparable with a fall blown war. That the white death rate was considerably lower doesn’t mean that whites are worth less than blacks, but rather that the white death rate was considerably lower than the black death rate.

  24. Ken Miles
    September 19th, 2005 at 19:23 | #24

    Hi again John D,

    I’m glad that you’ve added qualifiers to Windschuttles quote. Unfortunally, when it was published (History as a travesty of truth, The Australian, 9/12/02) there were no such qualifiers (there was also nothing about contacting him if you knew of any other cases). Nothing about it only being confined to the killings confirmed in the historic record. It quite clearly stated that the British were only responsible for 118 deaths. It doesn’t worry me that the number has risen to 121, but what does worry me is the assumption that unless a death is recorded in the historical it didn’t happen. That quite frankly is just plain stupid for a number of obvious reasons.

    PS. Have you seen HA Willis’s list of Tasmania Aboriginal deaths?

  25. jquiggin
    September 19th, 2005 at 21:23 | #25

    “His graph in Whitewash titled: “Estimated violent death rates in Tasmania, 1824-1831 based on Windschuttle data 2002â€? depicts soaring death rates for Aborigines, nearly twenty times as high as the white death rates – for years when more whites were being killed than Aborigines. ”

    This is the crux of the disagreement between Windschuttle and Reynolds (and me, among others). Reynolds starts with the presumption that, in a conflict between a group armed with guns and one armed with spears, the group armed with spears is going to suffer more casualties.

    Windschuttle starts with the presumption that, in a conflict in which only one side keeps written records, the side keeping records will document casualties on the other side at least as faithfully as it documents its own. He bolsters this up with the assumption that, as Christians, the convicts and jailers of Van Diemen’s Land were committed to peace and non-violence.

    I know which of these assumptions seems more reasonable to me.

  26. September 19th, 2005 at 21:32 | #26

    Hi Ken Miles

    My comment was: “This, along with his disgusting misrepresentations…� The “this� clearly referred to the exclusive reliance on the per-capita-per-annum statistic, so the “disgusting misrepresentations� clearly referred to something else. One of Finnane’s misrepresentations has Windschuttle making the “statistical error� of “using figures for a number of years against a denominator of just one year’s population�, when Finnane knew full well (or should have) that no statistical error was involved.

    There are valid ways to use the per-capita-per-annum statistic, the way Finnane uses it in “Whitewash� is not one of them.

    PS: Re your last post: my qualification was Windschuttle’s explanation when he introduced his tally in his book.

  27. September 19th, 2005 at 22:56 | #27


    A simple question, have you read Fabrication. Just curious.

  28. jquiggin
    September 20th, 2005 at 07:23 | #28

    I read it, not very throughly, when it came out, but mostly I rely on Sydney Line and other Internet accessible sources where Windschuttle’s position is stated more succinctly.

  29. September 20th, 2005 at 23:10 | #29


    Guns may not have been much, if any, of an advantage for Tasmania’s whites prior to the widespread availability of repeating weapons. The typical flintlock user of the day was hard pressed to fire three rounds per minute in ideal conditions – imagine trying to reload quickly while being charged by a group of spear wielding locals. Flintlocks are also unreliable, being inclined to misfire. For the typical user flintlocks were inaccurate, with an effective range of some 50 meters – this explains the military tactic of massed fire. They were large and heavy weapons difficult to wield and fire at all, much less accurately, in rough or wooded terrain.

    Tasmania’s Aborigines would have quickly twigged in to the flintlock’s limitations and adpated their strategy accordingly.

  30. John Dawson
    September 21st, 2005 at 00:39 | #30

    Reynolds agrees with J F Beck. On page 42 of “Fate of a Free People”, he says: “The muskets of the period were extremely unreliable and were certainly no more accurate than a spear thrown by an experienced hunter. Numerous spears could be dispatched while white men were reloading”. Reynolds insists that the Aborigines bested the British in bush combat. This is consistent with Windschuttle’s tally of more whites killed than blacks, and inconsistent with Reynolds’ “general estimates” of more blacks killed than whites.

    BTW, Windschuttle exposes much more than the “one erroneous quote” that Reynolds was trapped into admitting to a reporter. Reynolds keeps very quiet about these exposures in “Whitewash”. He must count on “Whitewash” readers not reading “Fabrication” or not noticing or not caring.

  31. September 23rd, 2005 at 01:00 | #31

    “Murder and invasion are not exculpated by later technological and economic success.”

    That rules out Andalusia then!

Comment pages
1 2 2606
Comments are closed.