Home > Oz Politics > Windschuttles and weathercocks

Windschuttles and weathercocks

January 17th, 2009

Amid the voluminous commentary on the Windschuttle hoax(es), the most telling, for me, was a summary of his political peregrinations from Guy Rundle at Crikey. It’s paywalled but I’ll quote the best bit:

The man who’s now editing Australia’s premier conservative magazine was advocating the revolutionary potential of LSD in the 60s, media studies as “radical pedagogy” in the early 70s, was enthusiastic for Pol Pot peasant-style revolts in the late 70s (“the oil is almost gone — soon the Aborigines and poor whites will rise up” he wrote in Nation Review in the late 70s) and re-emerged in the 90s, after the global collapse of the left, as a man who thought there was no Tasmanian genocide, that the White Australia policy was a left-wing plot, that John Steinbeck made up the Great Depression and that the British Empire could not have been cruel because its officers were Christians.

Like a mendicant Pope, he’s spent his life wandering from one state of certainty to the next, in the search for godknowswhat.

The only stage missed was his (“Killing of History”) period as a scourge of postmodernist and relativist theory and fan of the empirical approach of researchers like Henry Reynolds.

That brings to mind the more general phenomenon of migration from dogmatic left to dogmatic right, which I discussed quite a while ago here, and linked to Paul Norton.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:
  1. January 17th, 2009 at 10:29 | #1

    You forgot to mention that in The Killing of History Karl Popper was a dangerous relativist.

  2. January 17th, 2009 at 11:31 | #2

    “No Australian historian contends there was an Australian holocaust.
    — Dirk Moses, The Australian, January 13 2003

    I don’t want to call it genocidal, but I’m not going to tidy it up either.
    — Cassandra Pybus on the Tasmanian Aborigines, Sunday, Channel 9, May 25 2003

    In my opinion, genocide is neither a necessary nor a useful concept for the task of understanding the nature of the white colonisation of this country.
    — Bain Attwood, Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History, 2005, p 92″


    It seems that these days no prominent historian is willing to use the terms holocaust or genocide to describe what happened in colonial era Tasmania or anywhere else in Australia for that matter.

    To that extent at least, Keith Windschuttle won the history wars.

  3. jquiggin
    January 17th, 2009 at 11:34 | #3

    NG, I remember reading the book with at least mild sympathy until I got to that point.

  4. jquiggin
    January 17th, 2009 at 11:40 | #4

    The topic of genocide was well covered in Henry Reynolds 2001 book The question of genocide in Australia’s history : an indelible stain?. I don’t think anything Windschuttle has written adds significantly to our understanding.

  5. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 11:41 | #5

    Windschuttle like a mendicant Pope?
    More like a pedantic Mercantilist.

    I guess if you can cobble together a sensationalist $29.95 book that accuses almost the entire profession of Australian historiographers and social therorists of being “left wing black armbanders” (when the closest they would have come to revolutionary actions is to be heard saying “Eureka” in a dusty library archive room somewhere) you will get reviews from all and sundry book sellers.

  6. Father Mercy
    January 17th, 2009 at 11:47 | #6

    I find it hard to believe there was a White Australia policy. The myrmidons (chilout, African Oz, et al) are always chanting that “Australia has always been multicultural”. How can a policy based on discrimination exist alongside a policy of non-discrimination?

  7. January 17th, 2009 at 11:49 | #7

    Alanna, John Quiggin,

    Bain Attwood, Cassandra Pybus and Dirk Moses all used the words genocide and holocaust to describe Australian colonial only to retract these claims once Windschuttle arrived on the scene.

    It is simply bad faith not to credit him with forever changing the way we view our colonial history.

  8. January 17th, 2009 at 11:53 | #8

    Oops- “Australian colonial history”

  9. Michael of Summer Hill
    January 17th, 2009 at 12:01 | #9

    John, if I may reply to melaleuca by saying when history is sexed-up it is a distortion of the true facts and then becomes fiction in its own wright and a whole lot of bulldust.

  10. January 17th, 2009 at 13:04 | #10

    Cardinal Newman wrote: ‘to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often’. The career of KW has to make one question at least the second half of this maxim.
    Another former Marxist who turned decisively right is Frank Furedi (see George Monbiot’s article on support for the Heathrow Airport extension, and Furedi’s recent article on the crisis of capitalism, in which he wrote: ‘In these confused times, we should attempt to defend capitalism from its small-minded opponents’).
    But another way of looking at this is to seek out what in these people’s ideology hasn’t changed at all. In what ways have they remained consistent? I think grid-group cultural theory can help here. Both Windschuttle and Furedi come across as strongly individualist and firmly anti-egalitarian and anti-hierachical, and always have done (I’m using these terms in a technical sense). On this analysis, they haven’t changed much, hence the imperfections.

  11. John Mashey
    January 17th, 2009 at 14:33 | #11

    I know none of the participants, but I’ve occasionally seen:

    “passionate, faithful environmentalist” ===> climate change denier” without going through rational skepticism in the middle.

    I consulted with some (very good) psychology professors I know. They pointed me at terms like ambiguity tolerance and all-or-none thinking.

    They commented that sometimes, if someone takes a passionate extreme position based essentially on faith, and that faith gets punctured, and if they’re prone to ambiguity-intolerance, they can flip all the way to the other extreme.

    One mentioned some cases where someone actually oscillated back and forth, but the more common case was to do one major switch.

    Pop psych is always problematic, but I think there were potentially-useful comments.

    a) Some people are *quite* comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, distributions rather than means, error-bars rather than single hard numbers, nuanced opinions, the possibility of people who are not all good/bad, etc.

    b) Some people are at least trained in some of these things.

    c) But for others, this is a desperately terrifying worldview.

  12. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 14:50 | #12

    I guess the purpose of an extreme view like Windschuttle’s is to have a moderating influence on people he sensationally charges with fabrications and all sorts of misdemeanors including different political views (generally people try to be conciliatory) as in the fact that Mel notes that Cassandra Pybus now states

    “I don’t want to call it genocidal, but I’m not going to tidy it up either.”

    I think that this was attempt to shut him up more than anything.


    My one question is how are we going to moderate Windschuttle and bring him back from the edge?

  13. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 15:00 | #13

    John#10 – thats very interesting. Didnt Brendan Nelson and Michael Costa do a similar thing ie left right left or right left right?
    Ok truth session – who else has done it? I confess to having voted for nearly every party except Fred Nile and the Shooters Party.

    I still havent got the result I want. The right have overtaken the balanced in most major parties and the states are no indicator of fed inclinations and I suspect Treasury of being run by by tin men. Where is a person to go? Although I confess to not minding Rudd. At least a gentleman and not a heckler. I hope he can find a heart for the tin men.

  14. Jill Rush
    January 17th, 2009 at 15:04 | #14

    Rundle’s piece is very entertaining and raises the question of individuals who first promote extreme left views and then extreme right views.

    Is it the money of the right looks too good? It is the Look at Moi, Look at Moi, Look at Moi phenomenon? Certainly Windschuttle’s views have led him to pick up some nice little earners. Probably even more importantly, is that he has gained nationwide notoriety.

    It is hard to believe that someone who has wildly variable values has any wider principles -except perhaps “I know best”.

    If it wasn’t so personally embarrassing Windschuttle would probably be revelling in the current controversy. Possibly he is anyway.

  15. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 15:14 | #15

    Agree Jill# I agree. Windschuttle is probably revelling in it because it will give him a right of reply (oh no….) sooner or later.

  16. robert
    January 17th, 2009 at 15:54 | #16

    Can anyone reveal (Guy Rundle might mention this, but as I’m not a Crikey subscriber I can’t gain access to his full article) what event(s) turned Keith Windschuttle away from the extreme Left? It’s my belief (fortified by a reasonably thorough Google search) that KW, for all his love of controversy, has been remarkably coy about answering that question. (Unlike George Orwell, Richard Crossman, Arthur Koestler, and others who explained in considerable detail why, and when, they abandoned all sympathy for communism.)

    I’d be surprised if monetary considerations had much, if any, of an impact on KW’s change of ideology. But I don’t know.

  17. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 17:42 | #17

    Dont quote me but didnt he get a bit ostracised by the academic community at some university…could explain a lot but its a vague reading lost in the haze somewhere now

  18. robert
    January 17th, 2009 at 18:09 | #18

    Well, maybe KW did get ostracised by fellow academics, but somehow I can’t see that, if it occurred, as being any sort of determining factor in KW’s ideology change. Some people (maybe most) would feel inwardly sabotaged by such ostracism. But would KW have felt thus? I doubt it. He has always relished quarrelling as such, I suspect, whatever his political allegiance at any specific time was. Again, I don’t know. This is guesswork.

    “All-or-none thinking” has been mentioned by John Mashey at #11. It could be a partial explanation, not only of KW’s switches from one ideology to another, but of why we have never been given a clear “The God That Failed” statement from KW (such as we got from Orwell, Crossman, Koestler, and other intellectuals) as to why he forsook the extreme Left in the first place.

  19. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 18:52 | #19

    Robert – Nope – we havent had that from Windschuttle. At least Brendan Nelson has made the “I finally came to agree with the idea of liberalism because”…. speech.
    Can we ask him to oblige us with a please explain? Maybe with that other book we are waiting for.

  20. Alanna
    January 17th, 2009 at 18:53 | #20

    I dont think Michael Costa has ever given a reason either…maybe he is like Windschuttle.

  21. BilB
    January 18th, 2009 at 09:17 | #21


    Have you considered the possibility that, in the light of his highly variable approach to reality, that Winschuttle is in fact a writer of fiction, at heart, and should be treated as such. Affrontingly entertaining rather than challenging or threatening!

  22. Jill Rush
    January 18th, 2009 at 09:40 | #22

    I suppose BilB it could be said that Windschuttle does have a plot; or has he lost it?

    However he asks us to suspend our disbelief far too much for his writing to be successful in the fiction genre and “affrontingly entertaining” is a generous assessment.

  23. Chris Warren
    January 18th, 2009 at 11:14 | #23

    If Australia was established by genocide, then genocide it was. The problem is that a full and rigorous argument for genocide, that is totally convincing, has not yet emerged. A series of mass slaughterings does not necessarily equate to genocide.

    This is not to say that a hypothesis for genocide has no basis.

    Nineteenth press clippings, smallpox outbreaks, frontier conflicts, settler diaries, medical and scientific knowledge, aboriginal oral history, all combine to point to unofficial colonial genocidal intents and outcomes.

    The British that landed on the shores of Port Jackson came from a empire built on absolute slavery of other races, and this underpinned their subsequent interaction with Australian natives.

    If the aboriginal tribes of Australia had been some long cut-off tribe of ancient Anglo-Saxons, would the British have acted differently?

    The real problem in Windschuttle is that he did not condemn as fabrications the same types of errors by, for example, Alan Frost and Judy Campbell.

    Windschuttle is engaging in a political struggle, not a legitimate academic endeavour.

    Windschuttle and his ilk (eg Brunton) want Australians to believe that aborigines disappeared by innocent disease, when, in similar circumstances, such disease did not depopulate either Papua New Guinea nor New Zealand.

    Reviewing and correcting faulty footnotes, and contesting various interpretations of evidence are always worthwhile activities and writers should be free to propose new interpretations without fear of reactionary and right-wing ratbags.

    As new materials become available we must always revise and rewrite our history. This is something rightwing dogmatists such as John Howard and self-style ‘conservative objectors’ such as Windschuttle (and others) are desperate to avoid.

  24. January 18th, 2009 at 12:26 | #24

    I think that groupthink can play a role in migration between dogmatic positions.

  25. Mike Pepperday
    January 18th, 2009 at 16:49 | #25

    #13: Who else has made the radical left-right switch? KW’s predecessor, Paddy McGuinness. Paddy was not coy (#16) about the switch either – he once wrote a column on the subject.

    Brendon Nelson strikes me as always having been a buccaneer.

    The switch is partly explained because ambiguity and nuance (currently trendy buzz-word) are incoherent. We want the world to make sense. The left wing view and the free market right are both coherent world-views. In-between is not.

  26. Alanna
    January 18th, 2009 at 16:58 | #26

    Unfortunately Windshuttle not only accused many academics of coming from the left but also many artists per this quote from David Williamson

    “Williamson also questions the obvious: “I’m not convinced that our conservative commentator’s belief that just about all our artists are of the left is valid.”

    I dont think they came from the left. They probably just didnt like John Howard if the truth be known. Windschuttle needs to get over his one party view of the world. Democracy isnt like that.

    A real put down article on David Williamson can be found at – you guessed it Quadrant online.

    Its a sour publication all round.

  27. Jill Rush
    January 18th, 2009 at 20:52 | #27

    A very interesting read Alanna. A telling comment was “Those in Australia who share the conservative views of the majority of the community are excluded from the nation’s artistic life where the Left are the censors and cultural gatekeepers”.

    Having read and seen a number of David Williamson plays over the years the politics are always presented as secondary to the relationships, the personal failings and strengths of characters in a variety of situations and often exposing corrupt behaviour. The plays make people uncomfortable in order to question their own society. Infidelity which he explores, for instance, is neither a creature of left or right but is a topic.

    To see this article highlighted shows that Quadrant has got real problems and the current editor will not address those problems.

    The article itself starts out as a critique of a Williamson play, goes off into a rant on how the left gives artists a hard time so that artists have to conform and ends up saying that although the audience liked the play that it was slight and not worthwhile as Williamson had tried something different.

    A decent editor would have noticed that it was not a review, not analysis in any real sense as the body of Williamson’s work was ignored and an unbalanced view of the themes Williamson has developed over the years. Apart from that the essay was poorly structured. It needed an editor’s red pen not a benediction. Attacking the left using the theatre of David Williamson did not make the essay entertaining.

    What brings success in the theatre, is not an adherence to the left or the right, but the ability to connect to the audience who encompass a range of political viewpoints. Political rants rarely work. Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” exposes corruption in high places but will rarely be dramatised because audiences find the long political speeches boring, even without a left, right slant.

    Williamson has shown a consistent ability to give Australians a voice. Williamson explores ambiguities between what is said and what is done. Windschuttle by his recent response to the hoax shows that this is not something he can do. His conversion to the right means he needs to go with a view of the world which involves condemning those who fail to fit in with his (now) right wing certainties.

  28. philip travers
    January 18th, 2009 at 22:15 | #28

    I call myself a Left winger,I simply cannot help it.I have lost at tennis with my Left handedness. So if in fact, the reality of being Left wing or not, in the modern sense,which mayalso include reading Karl the Marx but noting other figures may have more prominence,more backbone and more radishes to eat than a nickel in a Nicklelodeon, I think that was a musical playing apparati.The radish, reference, will be found in a Columbia University Encylopedia 1945 vintage.Work hard and find the reference ,if your wing desire it. So ,take a moment to notice the news from Sri Lanka.Where the Tamil Tigers,will need Christ’s means to walk on water out in the ocean somewhere,because they are being crushed said the man.And even though Sri Lanka suffered terribly at the hands of a well known tsunami of not so long ago,all is fair in love and war became the routine again. India had a plan to build an enormous canal or underwater drain for shipping purposes around to trading partners and back.This massive engineering work would probably destroy Sri Lankan fishing ,it was said at the time by critics.Mighty India didn’t seem to give a stuff. This is leading to all you cats sitting on the back alley of wingism, what particular boot would you like being thrown at you,if in fact, you have nothing to say of any relevance at all, on passing news,and thus no credible insight!? The boot will not be tossed by me,but, by those who maybe hoping Australia can do more to stop bloodshed.

  29. Katz
    January 18th, 2009 at 22:49 | #29

    PROF. HENRY REYNOLDS: Two things. One, genocide is a crime of government. And, two, there has to be an intent. There has to be an intent to kill a group of people even if that isn’t fully carried through. Now, in my view, the British Government, that is the British Imperial Government, never had the intention to wipe out the Tasmanians. Nor do I think Governor Arthur did. He was engaged in a war. He was willing to use as much force as was necessary to crush Aboriginal resistance, but this doesn’t make it genocide. It makes it a form of warfare.

    This is what Reynolds concluded about the question of genocide both before and after the Windschuttle imbroglio.

    Windschuttle changed nothing because there was nothing to change.

    Windschuttle did expose some sloppy practice by other historians. But his attempts to make sense of the history of Tasmanians Aborigines are deficient in narrative, critical analysis of documents, and understanding of context.

    Little wonder his much-promised companion volumes are still-born.

  30. Nick K
    January 18th, 2009 at 23:14 | #30

    I don’t really think Brendan Nelson counts as being a genuine intellectual conversion, inasmuch as he strikes me as being someone of limited intellectual capabilities period.

    He seems to have gradually morphed from trendy progressive to populist windbag. In other words, he has gone from promoting simplistic nonsense on one side of politics to promoting simplistic nonsense on the other side of politics.

    More a case of getting out of bed on the other side.

  31. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 09:10 | #31

    Agree Jill # 27
    That telling quote you posted from Quadrant shows the desperation of Quadrant to promote their views as “the majority views”. I suspect the majority of conservatives dont even agree with Quadrants stand. A certain Mr Denman in another thread noted that many of his progressive conservative friends (I usually call them moderates) are horrified by the extreme right views promoted by elements within the party and by these sorts of publications.
    I also have a friend who has been a labor party member for many years and she said an almost identical thing about the promotion of the right wing extremes by elements within the state labor party. I would tend to place Costa and Roozendal. (the spellling of his name escapes me and Im not inclined to look it up)
    I think some people need to adopt black and white positions of “certainty” as this thread suggests and this really says motre about their inability to observe and comprehend subtleties or amiguities around their position, than anything else ie a somewhat expedient superficial clumsy mind.

  32. Socrates
    January 19th, 2009 at 10:13 | #32

    Thanks for the link to Norton’s excellent article, which I hadn’t seen. To me the ability of these people to swap from extreme left to extreme right is not surprising. It has nothing to do with politics, which is a means to another end: advancing their own self-importance. Once you subscribe to a totalitarian doctrine, in which you believe that your views overrule others right to have a view, then you have already abandoned most moral restraints. After that, isn’t it just a case of win at any cost, to make your ego feel better? I think the real problem with all of these people is not arrogance but intellectual insecurity: a desperate need to prove themselves right.

  33. Chris Warren
    January 19th, 2009 at 10:57 | #33

    re #29

    It is not clear why Reynold’s says “Genocide is a crime of government” when article 4 of the convention says the exact opposite.


    “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

    Possible smallpox genocide in North America (Amherst) and by unknown parties in Australia, was not necessarily endorsed or known by a government.

  34. Katz
    January 19th, 2009 at 11:32 | #34

    Interesting point, Chris.

    Private persons or groups could carry out acts of mass murder. Indeed events like the Myall Creek Massacre could be seen as genocidal.

    However, a government can either attempt to prevent such murders from occurring, or they could connive in those murders, or they could actually assist the murderers.

    In the case of the Myall Creek Massacre, several whites were hanged for the crime. This was most unusual in the annals of race relations.

    Most of the time colonial governments wrung their hands and complained, with some legitimacy, that they were powerless to stop depredations because they simply didn’t have the resources to stop massacres.

    There is no case that I am aware of that colonial authorities went out with the intention of destroying whole groups of people. This is Reynold’s point.

    However, there is the recklessness argument. Perhaps colonial authorities should have been aware that massacres would happen if whites were allowed to take possession of crown lands. But by the same token, NSW authorities, at least, attempted to stop squatting at first, but discovered they were powerless to do anything about it.

    Thus to return to your definition of genocide, in the case of “private individuals” being found guilty of genocide, that would only happen if the national justice system failed to punish persons guilty of genocide.

    Thus, international law applies only after there is a failure of national law.

  35. Hal9000
    January 19th, 2009 at 12:06 | #35

    The Queensland Native Police was raised with the express purpose of ‘dispersing’ those indigenous peoples standing in the way of development of the Colony. It operated by strategic campaigns interspersed with responses to individual pastoralists’ complaints about, say, cattle losses. The killing was primarily done by indigenous constables, but the officers were all European.

    Now, while I’d agree with Reynolds that there was no specific intention to exterminate Aborigines as a race, the operational strategy of the force was similar to contemporaneous vermin control agencies such as the Brisbane Rat Gang. The concept of genocide, first developed to describe the catastrophe visited upon the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, is not really useful to describe the treatment of indigenous Australians by the Queensland colonial authorities. Perhaps a neologism is required.

  36. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    January 19th, 2009 at 12:45 | #36

    It is a tendency to see things in simple terms, to rely on simple arguments containing logical leaps.

    Windschuttle’s criticism of Chomsky for supporting the Khmer Rouge is a classic of the genre. The Quadrant editor was himself also a fan of the Khmer Rouge at the time, but he has revised this away as well.

    That takes a certain mode of brain operation.

  37. Chris Warren
    January 19th, 2009 at 13:10 | #37


    Do you have a reference for your quote? I am not across these issues as they relate to Qld.


  38. Jim Birch
    January 19th, 2009 at 13:10 | #38

    There seems to me to be a split between the definitions of genocide that could produce quite different assessments.

    tfd.com defines it as “The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group” which is more like the meaning I learned from my parents. In this case a perpetrator would be trying eliminate all members of the target group. Even a concerted attempt to eliminate all the local aborigines, which seems on my limited knowledge, more like what happened in the worst cases, wouldn’t necessarily be genocide under this definition.

    The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which I must admit I hadn’t read until now – has a much wider definition of acts acts committed with intent to destroy the group, in whole or in part, including killing, physical or mental harming, prevention of births or removal of children. As I read this definition, intention is required but not just actual killing but also indirect means like removal of children of a only part of the target population is sufficient. I don’t really see how anyone (who can think straight, which may or may not include KW) could deny this wrt the Australian aborigines, except by rejecting the convention itself.


  39. Chris Warren
    January 19th, 2009 at 13:18 | #39

    A word on terminology.

    Homicide does not mean killing all humans. It is the simpler, objective, a killing of a human.

    Regicide does not mean killing all kings. It just means killing of a king.

    Strictly speaking, I think, genocide does not mean killing all of a genotype. It just means killing of a member of a genotype – a member of a race.

    However the distinction between homicide and genocide implies that more than one individual is killed. The Convention is worded in plurals.

  40. cows say moo!
    January 19th, 2009 at 13:19 | #40

    Chris – - have a look at Jonathan Richard’s: The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police. University of Queensland Press. 2008

    It is the latest and best (in my view) book on the QLD native Police. Richards has found reams of new records which through more light on the activities in QLD

  41. Katz
    January 19th, 2009 at 13:57 | #41

    also indirect means like removal of children of a only part of the target population is sufficient.

    But those practices didn’t emerge until the 20th century.

    That is outside the scope of the controversy between Windschuttle and the historians he discountenances.

  42. jquiggin
    January 19th, 2009 at 14:25 | #42

    “That is outside the scope of the controversy between Windschuttle and the historians he discountenances.”

    Except as regards the new vaporware Volume 2 mentioned in the post, which is supposed to be about the Stolen Generations.

    Perhaps Windschuttle could make an annual announcement of a virtual Volume 2, alerting the right to historical evidence they should disregard, but without the necessity of actually writing anything.

  43. Chris Warren
    January 19th, 2009 at 17:24 | #43


    How have you determined that removal of children didn’t emerge until the 20th Century.

    Has this been studied or published?

  44. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 18:35 | #44

    Chris – the practice began in the earliest days of settlement with children taken as guides, farm labour and servants. The first known institution was the native institution at Parramatta in 1814 which took children and raised them so they could become “civilised” and learn english production methods which centred on activities around small plot farming hoping they would then “civilise” others. It was a failure. When the females grew up they ran away with native males and reverted to aboriginal culture quite naturally. It was legally sanctioned in 1909 by the Aboriginies protection act which gave the board the legal power to take children away from their families and a later amendment (1915) made it possible for officials to take children without a court order or the consent of their parents.

    These things are not hard to verify or look up but as usual some people make sweeping statements that are not at all factual without any sources whatsoever. Its a hallmark of the deniers isnt it?

  45. Katz
    January 19th, 2009 at 19:58 | #45

    Governor Macquarie’s experiment in 1814 was not aimed at taking children away from their parents, at least not permanently. It was a naive attempt to change Aboriginal culture as a whole.

    As Alana says, the formalised practice of permanent child removal didn’t begin until 1909. In some states this policy was more explicitly eugenicist than in others. WA was notoriously eugenicist under the administration of A.O. Neville.

  46. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 20:57 | #46

    Katz, the 1814 experiment was an experiment in the permanent raising of these children to adulthood (after which they were free to do what they wanted). Contact with their aboriginal relatives was discouraged. I have the papers on that initial experiment here somewhere but alas too tired to look for it now (but I may tomorrow to check my own understanding)

    This discussion on stolen generations goes back to early settlement with the exploitative use of aboriginal labour dating from early settlement I would suggest, notwithstanding its legislative ratification in 1909.

    The stolen generation links to Winschuttles arguments against genocide of Tasmanian aborginies by virtue of the definition of genocide and examples of circumstances that illustrate that intent.

  47. Katz
    January 19th, 2009 at 22:14 | #47

    the permanent raising of these children to adulthood

    As opposed to temporary adulthood?

    To view Macquarie’s experiment as “genocidal” in any sensible meaning of the word is absurd.

    On a similar basis, compelling Aboriginal children to attend school to learn a European curriculum could also be seen as genocidal. Do you believe that to be the case?

    Exploitative use of Aboriginal labour and all other forms of discriminatory practice may be racist, but they cannot sensibly be called genocidal.

    Discussion of projects and plans may involve discussion of genocidal principles. But discussion alone can never be genocide.

    If one strays too far from Reynolds’ definition of genocide (@ 29) one finds oneself torturing the concept into incoherence.

    I repeat. Eugenicist practices typified by A.O. Neville’s policies were genocidal.

  48. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 22:29 | #48


    You said

    To view Macquarie’s experiment as “genocidal” in any sensible meaning of the word is absurd.

    That is actually a very incorrect interpretation of what I said. Please read what I said again. Of course it is absurd.

  49. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 22:40 | #49

    The removal of children to keep as domestic servants, or use as guides, or to exploit for their labour, could more than reasonably be called genocidal.

  50. Alanna
    January 19th, 2009 at 22:48 | #50


    The mental element of the crime is defined as follows;
    “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”,

    I draw your attention to the words “in whole or in part”
    There is also a physical element and the crime must contain both parts (under international law)
    (a) Killing members of the group;

    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    I would call what happened to the Tasmanian aboriginies genocide.

    For the removal of children both c) and e) could be satisfied. I would call the stolen generations an attempt at genocide notwithstanding that some involved may have thought they were acting honourably. The effect is in total and motivations were in many cases self serving as was the pushing of aboriginies on to reservations in the name of protection and limiting their freedom of movement. White aprons – black hands – its a very worthy read – the use of blacks as almost domestic slaves and wetnurses etc. This was in QLD.

  51. January 20th, 2009 at 01:25 | #51

    Alanna @ 13:

    “Didnt Brendan Nelson and Michael Costa do a similar thing ie left right left or right left right?”

    Sounds like the salsa to me. But which of them’s leading?

  52. January 20th, 2009 at 01:38 | #52

    Chris Warren @ 39:

    I wouldn’t get too bound up in interpretation or definition based on reductive etymology. Rather I’d read about the intent and purposes of Raphael Lemkin in inventing the term in the 1930s. There are worse places to start than Samantha Power’s ‘A Problem From Hell’.

  53. Katz
    January 20th, 2009 at 06:20 | #53

    The removal of children to keep as domestic servants, or use as guides, or to exploit for their labour, could more than reasonably be called genocidal.

    I don’t doubt this, so long as the policy is pursued in a determined fashion and with intent.

    Until the 20th century there was no such intent.

    Overwhelmingly, until the 20th century Aboriginal children in the major Aboriginal population areas continued to live with their families. That is why government policies, when they were enacted on Aborigines, were so traumatic.

    To argue otherwise dilutes and trivialises the concept “genocide”.

  54. Chris Warren
    January 20th, 2009 at 08:10 | #54

    mister z

    Unfortunately in law such rigour is needed.

    Social sciences are awash with drivel and dogma precisely because there are competing plastic definitions and everyone wants to create their own definition or interpretation that suits their (often hidden) agenda.

    The Convention definition has to be upheld and not expanded on or contracted or qualified.

    So if my etymology conflicts with the Convention then the Convention applies. This may occur over the issue of “intent” which does not arise in my earlier post.

    Anyway it is worth rethinking.

  55. Simon
    January 20th, 2009 at 08:41 | #55

    The UN Genocide Convention is irrelevant. It was written for the world of the mid twentieth century, not the early nineteenth.

  56. Chris Warren
    January 20th, 2009 at 09:34 | #56


    This is too easy to say. If I formally outlaw Gulags today does this mean there were no Gulags in the past.

    Genocide is outlawed because it is morally wrong – and (this is the important bit) it was morally wrong prior to being formally outlawed.

    Genocide and slavery was wrong even going back centuries. The UN Convention just makes definitions easier for analysis.

    Genocide (in the terms of the Convention) pre-existed the Convention.

    So clearly it has some relevance.

  57. Katz
    January 20th, 2009 at 09:54 | #57

    That is correct Chris Warren.

    But the question is when did genocide come to be seen as a moral wrong?

    The Old Testament is full of stories of genocide carried out with alleged divine approbation. The fate of the Canaanites is one of the more noteworthy.

    Biblical injunction was also used to justify slavery, slaves allegedly being the offspring of Ham and therefore damned.

    Thus generations of people who sincerely believed themselves to be moral could construct moral arguments favouring genocide and slavery.

    Enlightenment philosophy attempted with some success to discredit these faith-based views.

    It is sobering to recall that this debate for and against slavery was raging in the US during the period of greatest territorial spread of Australia’s pastoral system. Yet these bible-based ideas hardly took hold at all in Australia.

    Already, most nineteenth-century white Australians had abandoned bible-based justifications for regarding others as being inferior and as meriting discrimination or even annihilation.

  58. Alanna
    January 20th, 2009 at 11:20 | #58

    Both Costa and Nelson salsa’d themselves left right left right off the dancefloor. Windschuttles pirouetting as fast as he can but I think the hes spinning off the dance floor as well.

  59. Chris Warren
    January 20th, 2009 at 12:02 | #59


  60. Hal9000
    January 20th, 2009 at 13:39 | #60

    Chris Warren @ 37.

    Sorry for not getting back onto this blog sooner. Best source for Queensland Native Police: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/book_details.php?id=9780702236396

    Jonathan Richards The Secret War Brisbane: UQP 2008

  61. Alanna
    January 20th, 2009 at 14:18 | #61
  62. Alanna
    January 20th, 2009 at 15:24 | #62

    For anyone to suggest that aboriginies were not killed, caused serious physical and mental harm, did not have the deliberate infliction of economic conditions so harsh as to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part, have children forcibly removed to another group (and women and men to slave for food only on patsoral stations), segregated, run of their lands, marginalised into poor lands, brought back only for free labour – for anyone to suggest our combined actions were not genocidal is so wrong.

    To suggest we were just sailing along trying to make our own way, minding our own business, and the aboriginies inadvertently got in the way – and it was a battle for resources – and it was all very innocent – we only had little accidents at times is just an nasty false whitewash. In the town of Shepparton in 1972 where I went for a holiday I was disgusted to find the aboriginal, half quarter and eighth and sixteenth castes were not allowed to swim at the same end of the swimming pool as white children. The memories were apparently long in that town because how the pool attendants could tell the difference with some kids Ill never know. They must have known these kids families. So deep did the feelings run a couple of little ones told me “we arent darkies – we are quarter castes” and “we stay away from the darkies” Nevertheless they were still swimming in the black end of the pool.

    I also knew another aboriginal boy and he told me the first time he ever realised he was black was shortly after he started school and he made friends with three white boys and went to one of the boys houses after school in Kempsey. He distinctly remembers the mother answering the door and saying “you boys can come in but Im not having that thieving little bastard in my house.”

    We have a lot to answer for. If we think we are somehow less racist that the South Africans or superior to slave traders in the U.S. we need to have a good long hard look at ourselves. Its not pretty (in fact its pretty damn ugly) but you cant show respect to Aboriginies, and they wont feel that respect, until we do have a good long hard look at our history. The aboriginies dont need the “wipe it white” Windschuttles of the world. They need to know that we are capable of changing and showing respect for them, their culture and their race. What makes it all so much worse (and so much more obvious) is that they are one of the most peaceful races very much unlike us.

    To even enter into argument about semantics or dates or definitions of genocide or footnotes is just reducing it to a patter of meaningless words and in that process still we dont see them or acknowledge them or give them the respect they are due. Its not facing up to it. Why dont we ask them what they think and why doesnt Windshuttle do that?. I know why – because he is either too scared to ask or because he is as racist as some ever were. Perhaps he doesnt want to know how much they hate us but more likely he doesnt care -aboriginies remain just some separate indefinable race he doesnt care to understand, not part of his society. I guess some people dont have the metal in them to face horrendous things and thats what it mostly boils down to.

  63. Stephen L
    January 20th, 2009 at 21:55 | #63

    Reading over the thread from 2005 I’m embarrassed by the length of my posts, but I’m still intrigued by the question I raised:

    Does anyone know of anyone born after 1964 who has done this sort of jump from doctrinaire left to doctrinaire right? Particularly anyone prominent.
    Alternatively anyone moving from moderate left to hardline right would be interesting.

    If this doesn’t seem to have occurred then it throws an interesting light on the reasons for the shift for older figures. It also creates hope that we will eventually be done with people such as Windshuttle – they will die out and not be replaced.

  64. observa
    January 21st, 2009 at 08:01 | #64

    “As new materials become available we must always revise and rewrite our history. This is something rightwing dogmatists such as John Howard and self-style ‘conservative objectors’ such as Windschuttle (and others) are desperate to avoid.”

    Never a truer word said and here’s the latest facts readers of the UK Telegraph are consuming at present about enlightened ‘Stolen Generations’ Antipodeans at present-
    Essentially ‘it has emerged’ that “There are now more than 4,500 Aboriginal children in state care in New South Wales (NSW), compared to 1,000 in foster homes, institutions and church-run missions in the state when the forced removals policy ended in 1969.”

    This on top of the breaking news that around 30000 Australian children overall are in foster care at present, a doubling over the last 10 years and that’s certainly on Howard’s watch and some wall to wall Labor States for most of that. However let’s concentrate on that 4500 aboriginal children in NSW. UK readers might be forgiven for thinking genocide, eugenics and child stealing is alive and well in NSW at least on those figures and perhaps listening to expert actors like Hugh Jackman on daytime US TV chat shows. Windschuttle clearly begs to differ with the new conventional wisdom and with those 4500 aboriginal children in the ‘child protection system’ in NSW now, the opportunity to shut him up for good presents itself. How so?

    Well let ‘Glenda Stubbs, a foster parent and chief executive of Link-Up NSW, which reunites children from the Stolen Generations with their families’put it succinctly-

    “If you are placed in a home or you have a family that didn’t learn parenting skills then you don’t have these skills to pass on,” she said. “If you are a domestic servant all you learn is how to clean things, you don’t learn how to nurture children.”

    Ipso facto you’d logically expect an extremely large proportion of these children to be the descendants of stolen parents, or more likely grandparents given the 40yr time lapse since the stealing policy lapsed. Lets have an independent commission of enquiry to establish this clear and obvious link and shut Windschuttle up once and for all eh? Or has the research already been done by our enquiring seekers of truth and I missed it? What proportion of the children are descendants of the stolen generation? Eighty or ninety percent as we’d all expect?

  65. Chris Warren
    January 21st, 2009 at 08:13 | #65

    As your ill-gotten income rises you move to the right.

    When you feel the need to mainipulate society to your benefit (or work for those who do) you move to the hardline right.

    The only thing countering this is a high IQ and high moral consciousness.

  66. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 09:41 | #66

    That would be a very interesting question “What proportion of the children are descendants of the stolen generation? Eighty or ninety percent as we’d all expect?” So it implies a multiplier effect from the original stolen generations to now. Thats what people dont realise, the mental feelings of hopelessness or shame or inferiority or even lack of parenting skills get passed on from prior generations to the next. Interventions that send in the army, to remove them or withhold income (like authoritarian parents controlling their money supply) dont help. Interventions like housing and education and health and sport and controlling liquor licenses that profit from economic hardship in regional areas do help – all positive policies seriously neglected in the past decade.

  67. observa
    January 21st, 2009 at 12:12 | #67

    But what if it’s only say 5 or 10% Alanna? Where would that leave the Stolen Generations story and conclusion then? Or is it the case that there are some questions we don’t ask because we’re afraid the answers mightn’t fit the prevailing orthodoxy? It’s a reasonable question to ask to show the causal link. Is that multiple jump in aboriginal children in custodial care today, the multiplier effect from past unjust removals(ie any prior to 1969)or not?

  68. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 15:29 | #68

    It wouldnt diminish the stolen generations story. If would diminish your idea (and perhaps mine) that the stolen generations has a multiplied effect in future generations. Well also it could be entirely false premise Observa. I think you and I both know that – there could be a whole lot of other variables at play. Are more children being removed because there has been little spending on housing for aboriginals and they are in decay with too many people living in one house leading to social problems, is it because of a shrinkage of available jobs in regional areas, is it because of problems with insufficient alcohol regulation. Define the variables and eliminate and then there could be a problem in your definition of the variables and there could be a problem in the data (are there differences in sub groups that the whole poulation doesnt capture). You ask me Observa? I know as much as you but it would be interesting just to know the first bit wouldnt it.

  69. Tim Peel
    January 21st, 2009 at 21:24 | #69


    There’s a lot in your posts here that seem a bit cut and paste. Has anybody here actually even intimated this?

    For anyone to suggest that aboriginies were not killed, caused serious physical and mental harm, did not have the deliberate infliction of economic conditions so harsh as to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part, have children forcibly removed to another group………

    One of the great tragedies for the aboriginal people is the number of otherwise well-meaning middle-class white people who use the Stolen Generation issue to pursue other present-day political battles.

  70. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 21:44 | #70

    Tim # 69 I actually wrote that myself Tim but if you follow the threads above it (but perhaps you came late to the discussion?) that quote draws from the definition of genocide (which yes is a paste coming from the convention definition) and no I dont cut and paste and nobody but you has intimated that I do.

    I take it this is not intended as a compliment Tim but I will accept it as one anyway.

    It helps if you feel strongly about something and are articulate enough to express it.

    I pursue my own battles Tim but this one is about and for the Aboriginies not whatsome supercilious young thing happens to interpret as a slight on their political agenda.

    Dont bother me with this nonsense.

  71. Tim Peel
    January 21st, 2009 at 21:48 | #71


    Sorry, I did not mean you cut and pasted from someone else, but rather from a stump speech you might give whenever the word “aborigines” is mentioned.

  72. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 22:06 | #72


    Having said that I will happily criticise policy if you want. There isnt one social welfare agency or charity in Australia that has one ounce of respect for John Howard’s policies on social welfare over the past decade (Aboriginal or otherwise).

    There are reams and reams of media comments and pleadings over the years from charities to the Howard government. The Salvation Army isnt a political organisation and nor is the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and nor is the Red Cross and nor is it left to consider social welfare policy important. Social welfare has been in mainstream practice for over 60 years and quite normal in our society. There is nothing political about wanting to see good initiatives in these areas – not army interventions but housing, education etc

    Our society is not just a society for those of means and arrogant aspirational self interested young men. In this regard Howard left the mainstream of good governance and did not provide sound leadership.

  73. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 22:13 | #73


    Rather than coming in here JUST to criticise, put down and attack others – why dont you state your own views Tim?

    Lets hear them. Im waiting.

  74. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 22:20 | #74

    Ah…..silence (Well thats good. Something tells me I wouldnt have much liked Tim’s views anyway).

  75. Donald Oats
    January 21st, 2009 at 22:34 | #75

    Nowadays removal of children does not generally get followed with deliberate shifting around and renaming them. We don’t try to hide the children from their parents, unlike the rather common behaviour in the past.

    Where alcohol or violence is involved, the child’s protection from harm is the first concern. I don’t know how many of today’s removals are due to these reasons, or how many are from other causes.

    When it comes to Windschuttle’s claims about the stolen generation and more particularly the claims that apart from a few minor squirmishes, nothing much happened, I have trouble digesting it. In the early 70′s I recall watching government-made educational films about our Australian history – including the contacts with Aborigines. The actual footage of Aboriginal and boys in chains and neck manacles will remain etched into my brain until the day I die. They sure weren’t going on a picnic, and nor were they “criminals” being apprehended. It was a chain gang. And if anyone says it was some left-wing government propaganda (the films, that is), I don’t agree with them.

  76. Alanna
    January 21st, 2009 at 22:56 | #76

    Donald – everything to do with social welfare of any kind to the “plotters and schemers”, is a “left wing plot” or a “left wing” organisation except the irony of it all is that the so called “left wing plot” doesnt exist and never existed in this country and is a relatively recent (well about 35 years) crazy (far right) conservative fabrication (they publish absolute tripe en mass to snow the media).

    They dont call them the “crazies” for no reason (and many in their own party have had them up to the back teeth as well because they have gone beyond the pale naming everyone from academics, to scientists, to artists, to social welfare researchers, to the ABC, to environmental scientists, to public servants as left! Who is next?? Almost like they wish McCarthyism back. If we were all that left we would be calling each other comrade and they would be closed down or in jail as dissenters).

  77. observa
    January 22nd, 2009 at 12:09 | #77

    “Nowadays removal of children does not generally get followed with deliberate shifting around and renaming them. We don’t try to hide the children from their parents, unlike the rather common behaviour in the past.”

    But wasn’t that largely true for all children born out of wedlock before the seventies Donald? In white society pregnant unwed mothers who did not want to run the gauntlet of backyard abortions were whisked away from their immediate surroundings to have them on the quiet and immediately given up for adoption. In that sense most white ‘illegitimate’ children were brought up secretly with adoptive parents. There was also a strong tendency to farm children out among friends and relatives should too many be a financial burden or the family fall on hard times.(it occurred in my mother-in-laws rural family of 8 where one brother would grow up to be a State cabinet minister) Noone saw any point in even telling children they were adopted, let alone having contact with the biological mother.

    Now when that polite society would come across neglected aboriginal ‘illegitimates’ and take them into care, why would we expect them to be treated any differently? Nowadays we want to ferret out and erect individual monuments to miscarriages buried in hospital grounds in the past and construct adoption registers for future biological reunions. How times change, but where was the racial discrimination in that discriminatory system by today’s standards, albeit if remote aboriginal women were largely preyed upon sexually by a white male underclass, their offspring would clearly be overrepresented statistically, particularly if shunned by the tribe. Our society today can’t even begin to fathom that ‘illegitimacy’ of the past and its social mores, any more than I can barely remember smoking the cigarette brand ‘doctors recommend’ in the office or train.

  78. observa
    January 22nd, 2009 at 12:25 | #78

    Actually for a lesson in what ‘illegitimacy’ was like in 1927, perhaps instead of Rabbit Proof Fences teachers might play Blossoms in the Dust with Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson as the spectacular pioneering Edna Gladney in Bush country, Texas for some idea of the flavour of those times. Again I’d say let’s see the figures on those 4500 aboriginal children in NSW custody now that can trace their ancestry to a stolen parent and see the causal link or not.

  79. Alanna
    January 22nd, 2009 at 19:15 | #79

    “In white society pregnant unwed mothers who did not want to run the gauntlet of backyard abortions were whisked away from their immediate surroundings to have them on the quiet and immediately given up for adoption.”

    True Observa – it was really the rise of feminism that gave women the choice of keeping their baby even if they were single. So in the 1970s there was a rise in single mothers but it may not have been a sign of economic hardship breaking families up (but Im sure that played a part) – it was also the feminism whereby more single women kept their babies. Before that they were “almost” forced to give them up for adoption and they were taken away before the nother could barely set eyes on the baby and what you say is correct in that the child was often not informed.

  80. Alanna
    January 22nd, 2009 at 19:19 | #80

    But Observa
    You are only focusing on one aspect of removal here (and many aboriginal removals were absolutely “forced” not “almost forced” ie the parents or mother had no say and they were not just unwanted pregnancies and specifically they were any child with one ounce of white in them. They left purebreds behind – didnt want those did they. That is racist.

  81. Alanna
    January 22nd, 2009 at 19:21 | #81

    By racist I mean – it was not a policu driven by kindness (although on the surface it was portrayed thus) or else why concentrate on mixed bred aboriginal children with some white in them even if that white was the product of rape or abuse or defacto relationships of convenience???

  82. Alanna
    January 22nd, 2009 at 19:25 | #82

    I suspect they wanted the mixed breeds raised by whites to breed out the aboriginal genes conmpletely and that is genocidal but it was portrayed as a rescue of children and many involved in the program (the “rescuers” for example would sincerely have beieved they were doing the “right” thing for the child – so then it gets confused. But notwithstanding the key elements of the policy as designed (but not as carried out) were genocidal. This goes to the heart of the policy design and the intent behind it.

Comments are closed.