Tim Blair


New Criterion



Sunday, December 29, 2002
Since Uncle's last despatch from the battle-front of the war about Australian history there have been skirmishes throughout those sections of the print media that concuss my slow-moving mutt each morning. (You'll be relieved to hear that I refuse to receive the Saturday Henny Herald. In case the RSPCA should hear about it.)

Of the eight contributions printed in that time, only two could be called reviews of Windschuttle's book. That is, written by people who appear to have read it, and addressing the issues and the evidence Windschuttle covers so thoroughly.

One additional academic historian, Stuart Macintyre, Dean of Arts at the University of Melbourne, has joined the gang of academic thugs so ably led by Robert Manne of LaTrobe University. In a contribution that gets Uncle's Monster Mealy Mouth Award (so far) Macintyre opines in the Australian of December 17th that Manne's concocted charge of plagiarism against Windschuttle "appeared to place Mr Windschuttle on shaky ground". Still, he leaves it open for us to believe he might change his mind if he chose to read the book. Don't time your boiled egg by it.

In the same item in the Oz, historian Tim Rowse of the Australian National University, who actually knows something about Aboriginal history, claimed that "[Manne's] plagiarism allegations were a small part of Professor Manne's rebuttal of Mr Windschuttle's argument that just 118 Aborigines were killed by colonists" so mistaking what both of them are saying. But we know which gang he's fighting for.

Most of the contributions in print are about the circumstances of the dispute, the personalities, their politics, their battle scars.

The cutest is from Gerard Henderson in Christmas Eve's edition of the Henny. He uses the dispute for a descant on leftists shifting righwards, according to his definition.

If you want to read a review of Windschuttle, there are currently only two that Uncle has seen.

Roger Sandall in the Australian of 23 December does a very nice job in a very short space. His demolition of the refuseniks is efficient, and he also draws attention to weaknesses in Windschuttle's own interpretation of the evidence that deserve further debate. To get this far he has to engage with the evidence that Windschuttle has put on the table, something that the academic historians who have spoken to date have adamantly refused to do. I wonder why?

Will any academic historian have the guts to engage in this debate on the merits of the evidence? If you see one emerging to challenge the left consensus, do let me know.

A kind reader has already put under my nose the second review, by H A Willis in the Canberra Times of Saturday 28 December (page 19 of the Panorama section). Willis bravely states the truth, that "Lyndall Ryan's influential The Tasmanian Aborigines (1981 and 1996) is shown, repeatedly and conclusively, to be grossly unreliable....The works of Lloyd Robson and Reynolds, somewhat more eminent academic historians, fare little better. has the feeling Windschuttle, like a cat playing with a mouse, is merely saving him [Reynolds] for the main course of a later volume." Willis also knows enough to find fault with Windschuttle.

Apart from the brave Sandall and Willis, this media war is still a phoney war. It will probably remain so as far as our university historians are concerned. But underground a fire is burning, and reputations are being consumed.

By the way, The Weekend Australian for this weekend devotes a large part of its Weekend Inquirer supplement to the issue. In the process it reprints an article on Manne by Deborah Cassrels, first published in the Courier Mail in 2001.

The Cassrels article makes it clear just how much Manne has got invested in the tendentious uses of the work "genocide" in relation to Australian history, and why old Cudgels has decided to go out in front of the genocide gang.