Monday, July 31, 2023

Lushington D. Brady: Do You Want the Narratives of Aus History or the Facts? Pt 1.

Academic historians are an odd bunch. Especially in Australia. They’re all too ready to write up fairy-stories and garbled oral legends as “history”, but not much interested, it seems, in actual, documented, primary sources. For instance, peer-reviewed Australian journals cite the “memories” of an Aboriginal stockman in the Northern Territory, telling of how Ned Kelly fought Captain Cook to protect Aborigines, as the serious stuff of academic history. I kid you not.

When Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu claimed to have examined primary sources to prove that Aborigines lived in large towns, built vast grain storages and waterworks and invented democracy, almost no academic historians spoke up to point out that he was talking a pile of dingo poo. On the contrary, he was appointed to a cushy academic position and his ludicrous book deposited in school libraries and reading lists across Australia.

It was up to mostly amateurs to actually look at the primary sources Pascoe cited and realise that he was, to put it mildly, misrepresenting them. The same goes for the so-called “Aboriginal Massacre Map”: many of the supposed massacres have no primary evidence at all, or the few facts have been grossly distorted. Henry Reynolds in Tasmania has shown how many of the claims of academic historians are almost willfully spun from scant evidence, if any.

Others who, free from the burden of an academic position, actually bother to examine primary material find many other assumed orthodoxies of Aboriginal history are mostly fictions.

In the 1980s, I found the journals of George Taplin, the missionary who set up the Point McLeay Mission on Lake Alexandrina (where my wife was born) and managed it between 1859 and 1879. The journals were (and still are) in the State Library in Adelaide, in an old typewritten copy. At the time, I thought that some fool should type them up again. As it turned out, I was that fool. But I had discovered a goldmine of information, much of which did not conform to the dominant narrative.

A friend gave me some old letter-books from the mission, covering up to 1900, which I carefully copied. By then I was hooked on searching out first-hand sources and went on to type up the thousand pages of the various Royal Commissions “into the Aborigines”, of 1860, 1899 and 1913–16. Many other documents have now suffered the same fate. More recently, I have been typing up the correspondence of the Protector of Aborigines in South Australia, more than 13,000 letters in, and 8500 letters out, 1840 to 1912.

All in all, I’ve transcribed around 6000 pages of primary-source material and put it all on a website.

Well, that just won’t do at all. Put them in the public arena and any fool might read them and sniff that something isn’t adding up with the dominant narrative.

Comprehensively, this primary source material does not support the current narrative. In fact, it supports a more complex and interesting perspective. The dominant paradigm, which is being taught around Australia, in schools and at universities, asserts that:
• Aboriginal people were “herded” onto missions;
• Aboriginal people were driven from their lands;
• Countless children were stolen from their families.

Recent, futile, attempts to debate Australian leftists on social media have been an abject lesson in just how deeply these narratives are entrenched. Indeed, confronted with the suggestion that they are so much bunkum almost invariably provokes spluttering rage – but very little counter-argument. Certainly, no evidence: these are things that, like a mediaeval peasant convinced of the reality of witches, everyone ‘just knows’.

Sadly, what they ‘just know’ doesn’t really amount to much. Question the assertion that Aboriginal children were ‘stolen’ as part of a genocidal plot, for instance. Of course they were stolen! They’re called the Stolen Generations, after all! By which logic, 15th century witches really did engage in black magic and consort with the Devil: they were called ‘witches’, after all. The assertion is all the proof needed.

The primary records tell a slightly different story. A story, as one should expect from history, that is complex and difficult. But the left don’t do complexity: simple, plain assertions are their stock-in-trade.

Colonisation disrupted Aboriginal traditional life and family patterns. Women had children by white men (as well as by Africans, Chinese, Afghans and West Indians) and lived peripatetic lives around the towns. Many children were abandoned or orphaned by single mothers who either could not support them or died. Many children were brought down from the north by stockmen and survey teams, sometimes from interstate, and then abandoned in the city.

Just as today, the state has obligations to children, which often, true, verges on the paternalistic. At the same time, the Protector was, in fact, the legal guardian of abandoned Aboriginal children.

Facilities in those days were either rudimentary or non-existent, so the most suitable place for such children, short of locating their living relatives (which occurred occasionally), was to ask a particular mission if they could take them. Often this was not possible, so the Protector had to look around to find a place for a particular child.

So how many? I typed up the School Records, 1880 to 1960, from one mission/government settlement and found that, for example, between 1880 and 1900, only eight children – out of a roll of 200 over those years – had been brought to this mission. There were barely as many again in the next 50 years.

It might also be pointed out that this paternalism, however well-meaning, was not reserved for Aboriginal children. A ‘hate-fact’ that invariably enrages the left is that during the same period – well into living memory – more white children were taken from their families, usually single mothers, than Aboriginal children. Of my own family and friends, several of the older can tell personal stories of babies ‘given up’ to the state.

Mothers died, fathers died and mothers re-married, families fell destitute or broke up for all manner of reasons. The reasons for Aboriginal children being put into care of any sort were not much different from those for any other Australians, and at four per cent, neither was the rate of “removal”.

And, contrary to the narrative, the conditions that led to removal were often dire.

Incidentally, more than 30 years ago, I got hold of the birth and death records from an Aboriginal community covering the period from 1860 to 1965. I typed them up and tried to identify the decade in which infant mortality was highest. I was surprised to find that the worst decade in all that time for infant mortality (including one poor child who died of “starvation”), was the 1950s. Why so?

Tentatively, I would suggest that, after the war, the movement away from the community by more enterprising Aboriginal men and their families, in search of better work and schooling opportunities, left the community short of carers, people who had customarily been expected to provide food and shelter for the children of the “stayers”, so that levels of neglect rose significantly […]

[F]rom the record, there does not seem to be any concerted effort to take children from their families. In fact, the Protector notes that he does not have the legal power to do so, and I suspect neither did he have the intention.

But “stolen generations” is far from the only narrative that creaks, if not collapses, under the weight of primary evidence.

I’ll look at the others in Part 2.

Lushington describes himself as Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. This article was first published HERE


hughvane said...

Of history invention, we remember that (circa 2021 or '22), a fringe element of malcontent Maori claimed their people to have been the first to Antarctica.

Nothing was said about their return to mainland NZ, so one is left to wonder how it became known that whoever it was paddled/sailed down there in canoes actually did so.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

When I last looked at the Queensland school curriculum a few years ago it claimed that an 'invasion fleet' of Dutch ships had made landfall in the early 17th century. Upon checking this out it transpired that ONE ship, which had become lost at sea during a storm, limped in. There may have been a dozen ill, weak guys on board with a few 16th century muskets. Some invasion fleet......


"Henry Reynolds in Tasmania has shown how many of the claims of academic historians are almost willfully spun from scant evidence, if any." I think this is a mistake, Henry Reynolds is a leading "black armband" academic historian specialising in huge "body counts" of massacred Aboriginals based on weak or almost no evidence.