Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Good to see the attention being given to Windschuttle's book on the history of black-white relations in Tasmania.

Apart from the debate on last Thursday's PM, we now have a reply in the Weekend Australian (no link) from Henry Reynolds, some cosh work from Professor Robert Manne in Monday's Henny Herald (no link), and a session on Max-weird McCutcheon's Australia Talks Back (just tonight, so you'll have to wait for audio). And the letters, of course.

You have to admire Reynolds's smoothness, which contrasts with the edginess of Windschuttle, and makes the former good radio talent.

None of this can diguise the fact that Reynolds is back-pedalling like the coyote when he knows he's approaching that cliff. On tonight's Australia Talks Back he abandons his demand that Tasmanian Aborigines be given recognition in the Australian War Memorial. You will, no doubt, recall that this arose from the proposition that the conflict in Tasmania was a war of national defence against British imperialism, on the model of the post-WWII wars of national liberation.

Now Reynolds only requires recognition in some suitable form.

Forget all that. The fact that will remain is this. In future, no historian or writer of any repute will be able to argue that there was either a policy of warfare, let alone genocide, practised upon the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, because Windschuttle has shown these tendentious myths of the 1960s and after are based on lousy scholarship by people with a political agenda.

You can enjoy watching how the indisputable truth of the past 30 years is abandoned without acknowledging the part that Windschuttle, demon denialist, has played. That's politics.

The diatribe Professor Manne writes in Henny Herald, and in the Age, is a curious piece of work, on which Uncle will have something more to say later. For now, just note the extraordinarily, even by Henny's standards, propagandistic style of it.

The heading is "BLIND TO TRUTH, AND BLIND TO HISTORY" a strange way to attack a book that is punctilious in its historical method. In fact, Henry Reynolds takes Windschuttle to task for approaching his subject like a "bare-knuckle barrister". That is, poor Henry thinks Windschuttle has looked too closely at the facts, and is a brute too. A view Manne shares, accusing Windschuttle of "an attention to detail worthy of Sherlock Holmes." as if that were an offense.

The fact is, as Manne knows, to the historians of indigenous liberation, getting the facts right is an offence. It spoils the story.

And the accompanying illustration, of an Aboriginal woman and baby being shot in the back, repeats the old slanders and extends them to Windschuttle.

Professor Manne introduces his diatribe with a cocktail of personal observations and leftist disqualifications. Windschuttle is "once a radical Marxist", and now a "neo-Tory apologist for British imperialism".

By resorting to this kind of abuse Manne is committing his own kind of apostasy, to the liberal principles he appeared to subscribe to as the former Editor of Quadrant. His sacking from that position was clearly an enlightened act.

Finally emerging from her funk, Tasmanian historian Lyndall Ryan, whose reputation Windschuttle has so completely demolished that no re-construction is conceivable, takes resort in post-modern clap-trap. History offers "plausible alternatives". Strange that she has only just discovered it. Previously, she thought alternative views to hers should not be published.

There's more to come. But remember this is the moment the tide turned.