Editor's Column

The Vandals Take the Handles

quad square oct 17 II“The Coalition Government will not stand by and allow vandals to rewrite or tear down our history,” declared a Liberal Party e-mail sent last month by Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, after a protestor had painted anti-Australia Day slogans on the statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. Frydenberg’s e-mail also linked to a radio interview where Malcolm Turnbull said Australians should be proud of their history and should not tamper with historical monuments by rewriting their inscriptions to satisfy recent demands by Aboriginal political activists and the ABC’s Stan Grant. Turnbull also criticised municipal councils in Melbourne and Perth who decided, because of hurt Aboriginal feelings, to no longer celebrate January 26 as Australia Day. “We should be proud of Australia and its history,” Turnbull said, “and on Australia Day we celebrate all our achievements.”

When Frydenberg entered this fray, polls were showing that a strong, patriotic stand on these issues would be popular. Newspoll found 58 per cent of voters wanted the statues to be left alone, while only 32 per cent wanted change. Bill Shorten originally proposed an additional inscription to the Hyde Park statue, which says Cook “discovered this territory, 1770”. He wanted it to add that Aborigines got here thousands of years before that. However, Shorten soon recognised popular sentiment and changed his view to fall in line with Turnbull.

This was obviously a minor victory for Turnbull at a time when he needed one, but his problem is that the federal government is not responsible for the statues in Hyde Park, or any other local government area. Despite Frydenberg’s confident declaration, the best he could do was ask the Australian Heritage Council to review existing legal protections for historical monuments. He will find that, legally, they are a state government concern and, in terms of practical administration, real responsibility lies with local government. In the case of the Captain Cook statue (a great work by Thomas Woolner, funded by public subscription and erected in February 1879 before a crowd of 60,000 people), the body in charge is the City of Sydney Council.

Thanks to a gerrymander which allows inner-urban leftists to decide who gets elected to the City of Sydney Council, Lord Mayor Clover Moore and other councillors treat green, gay and indigenous issues as holy writ. When the Captain Cook statue controversy erupted, Moore said she would pass the issue to her own Aboriginal advisory panel for a determination. This is due some time in October but there are no prizes for guessing the outcome.

The advisory panel is composed of fourteen members, all of them either indigenous activists or indigenous bureaucrats, two from the Torres Strait Islands, and none of them with any qualifications in history. The co-chair, Tim Gray, is lead singer in a reggae band and a board member of the Tribal Warrior Association. If this panel’s advice is accepted by council, the Captain Cook statue will be vandalised again, this time by an official plaque or inscription far more indelible than graffiti spray-paint, proclaiming the Aboriginal political class’s perspective on Cook. Frydenberg will find this very difficult to prevent, and impossible to reverse.

He can already read the kind of text Cook’s statue will bear by inspecting any one of the memorials around rural Australia—several bearing recent vice-regal names of those who unveiled them—which commemorate massacres allegedly committed by white colonists on the colonial frontier. Monument Australia lists thirty-six existing massacre memorials on its website, but there are a lot more in the pipeline, according to the University of Newcastle, which has gained Commonwealth funding to establish a Centre for the History of Violence. The new centre has attracted a number of what it calls “internationally renowned scholars”, one of whom is Professor Lyndall Ryan, who has found no less than 150 massacre sites from our colonial history and publishes their location on an electronic map.

This column appears in the October edition of Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe

Let me give an idea of the quality of scholarship on which these memorials rely, and how easy it is for Aboriginal activists and academics to persuade politicians to endorse their claims, no matter how implausible they might be.

During the Captain Cook and Australia Day controversy last month, the federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, in an opinion piece for the Australian on September 4, wrote how his own First Fleet convict ancestor had helped make Australia a great place. We should commemorate him and his kind, Morrison said, by preserving January 26 as our great national holiday. However, Morrison qualified his case by saying Australian history had not been without its shame and tragedies for indigenous Australians, writing:

North of Brewarrina, not far from the ancient fish traps where I was just over a week ago, is the site of the Hospital Creek Massacre, where 400 indigenous Australians were slaughtered in 1859. Unforgivably just one of many such episodes that is part of our difficult past, that should be, and is, rightfully taught in our schools.

Now, even though I have done a fair bit of research on frontier conflict, before I read this I had never heard of the Hospital Creek Massacre. So I looked up Monument Australia and found it has the text of the inscription Morrison saw, confirming the scale of the incident:

When the station stockmen found the carcass [of a cow], they tracked the killers back to Hospital Creek, where they massacred every Aboriginal they saw. It is unknown exactly how many were killed but generally it is agreed at about 400.

I looked up Trove to see if any of the country or metropolitan newspapers of the day had reported the incident, but found no mention of it. I couldn’t find anything about it in New South Wales parliamentary records in 1859, or any year thereabouts, either. This was surprising since the killing of 400 Aborigines, or anything like that number, would have amounted to the worst single case of indigenous slaughter in the history of Australia, or indeed in the history of any British colony to that time.

It was an incident that would have been impossible to keep quiet, since there were too many bodies to burn or bury. Someone was bound to find and report them sooner or later. At Myall Creek in northern New South Wales, where there was a real massacre of twenty-eight people in 1838, the alarm was raised by the station overseer when he returned to the property after a week’s absence to find the local Aborigines missing. Even though the convicts who killed them tried to burn all the corpses, some individual bodies could still be personally identified. The killing site itself was advertised for miles around and for weeks afterwards by the birds of prey and carrion circling overhead. But we are expected to believe the much bigger Hospital Creek Massacre went completely unreported at the time and remained unknown until well into the twentieth century.

The first mention I can find of it is in newspapers published between June and August 1914, including the Glen Innes Examiner, the Lismore Northern Star, the Dorrigo Gazette, and the Catholic Press. The text in each story of just 194 words is exactly the same, which means it was probably circulated by the news agency Country Press. It gives no author and the only source it cites is an Aboriginal man called One-Eyed Peter who was reportedly one of the survivors of the massacre, and who lived at Brewarrina until his death in 1911. He said 300 were killed nearby in 1859. “He was a noted character in the district,” the story says, “and spoke sorrowfully of the bad old days, when his countrymen were shot down like wild beasts.”

A different version of the story appeared in the Sydney Mail, September 12, 1928, by G.M. Smith, who attributed it to a tale a drover told him in 1882 about an event he heard about. That is, his version derived from hearsay recalled some forty-six years earlier, about an incident that occurred twenty-three years before that.

The story later emerged in a historical study in 1976 of the Aboriginal fisheries on the Darling-Barwon Rivers by Peter Dargin. This time, the source was a memoir written in his old age by William Emanuel Kerrigan, born 1861, the son of the local postmaster and publican, also named William Kerrigan, who said his father told it to him when he was a child. Dargin’s version of Kerrigan’s story now informs the New South Wales Heritage Council and, in turn, online histories of Brewarrina and district.

In short, the story is nothing better than an old bush legend, based on nothing more credible than hearsay piled on hearsay, with no plausible origin. Unfortunately, if this is the quality of story our politicians think fit to be enshrined on monuments and taught to school children, then Captain Cook’s statue, adorned with a revised, politically correct inscription, is eventually doomed to the same ignominious fate.

28 thoughts on “The Vandals Take the Handles

  • Peter Sandery says:

    I am absolutely amazed at the gullibility of our current political leaders on all sides, and the lengths that the leftist academia propagandists go to get their message across. A few years ago I was studying, amongst other things a subject entitled “Aboriginal World Views” at James Cook University. We were given a reading list of just over 500 documents, books, journals and papers from which to choose the basis of our research – it was an undergraduate course. Being something of cynic and mindful of JCU’s place in Mabo and the history wars I did a bit of research into those articles and lo and behold could find but two references, both to Geoffrey Blainey that were not sympathetic to the Reynolds/Loos black arm band ideology. I emailed the lecturer on this, not wanting to embarrass her in front of the other students but did not receive a reply.

    • Warty says:

      To use a rather hackneyed metaphor, Keith Windschuttle has already been tarred and feathered by establishment figures in our universities. He’ll manage a bit of an ear in The Australian, but certainly not in any of the Fairfax publications. He’ll register amongst a few savvy conservatives, but outside Quadrant he gains little purchase, if only because the truth tends to hurt.
      The current narrative amongst the overtly left and the neo conservatives is that this historian is a son-of-a-bitch has-been, and thoroughly discredited (and one has to examine who by).
      Keeping this in mind, there may be a bit of work you might engage in. Your email may not have been responded to, but there is far more you can do, with your currently non-partisan profile: you might perform the ‘belling the cat’ task in exposing some of the establishment voices. If you are still at the James Cook University, it might be worthwhile publicly exposing this bloody lecturer you wished to protect from embarrassment. Keep in mind that she is part of an overall ‘movement’ and as such culpable with regards to perpetuating a false narrative, so she needs to be ‘shot’ between the eyes’ . . . no mercy shown.
      Secondly, reveal to whomever you can, the truth of what you have discovered in undertaking this contaminated course. Become an activist yourself. You’re presumably young, i.e. not an old fart like me, with energy to spare.
      Not unlike Keith, my own ‘energy to spare’ was wasted on leftish causes in my twenties, and as such I was part of the problem. I cannot undo what I have done, but you, Peter, are a bit of a rare beast: you sound conservative and as such are worth your weight in gold. Use it judicially.

      • Peter Sandery says:

        Thanks for the comments, Warty but unfortunately I am 70 plus years old and though I have not lost my enthusiasm for putting forward the idea of good government through sound financial management, I returned to Australia in 2008 after 40plus years in Papua New Guinea, realise I will never be a Queenslander and I am having trouble learning to be an Australian again. But it is all a great deal of fun as I have seen in my lifetime as I am sure have you and others, history repeating itself disastrously. I have also learnt the art of patience – a couple of the ideas I and a couple of others came up within PNG took over twenty years to “gain traction” as they say these days.

  • Jody says:

    In the bureaucratic world of small and middle-sized government minor functionaries like Clover Moore can seem to be far more important, influential and intelligent then they really are. By inhabiting a very small pond they grow hubristic about their own talents and their unlimited abilities to analyse and examine the lint in their own navels. Gilbert and Sullivan had plenty of words to say about these types. What we are lacking are the Gilbert and Sullivans of this world, sad to say.

    • Warty says:

      In the overall scheme of things, existentially speaking, then your Clover Moores don’t amount to much, but as part of a voguish elite, with the ability to change Captain Cook plaques, and the ability to corral flocks of gay/Green to create an epidemic of political correctness in Sydney’s CBD, then she does matter. Gilbert and Sullivan may have composed the lyrics to satirise these types but they would never have conceived of an Orwellian dystopia like ours.

      • Jody says:

        Orwell wrote his book many decades ago. Dystopia isn’t the sole prerogative of modern times. What about the Bolshevik Revolution?

        I’m suggesting that the only effective way to combat the current problem is heavy lashings of ridicule and satire. Not many people can withstand that kind of ‘medicine’. The problem today is compounded by the collective lack of a sense of humour and the elevation of self-importance into a kind of achievement. G&S had those very people in their sights and it worked powerfully well.

        • Jody says:

          “I thought so little they rewarded me,
          And now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navy”.

          This could be about Clover Moore and any of her petty bureauocrats. Or Dr. J. Evans Pritchett in “Dead Poet’s Society” where the opening of the book is about “Measuring Poetry”. Sense of humour MANDATORY.

        • Warty says:

          Not wanting to be picky, but the Bolshevik Revolution had already occurred when Animal Farm (for instance) was published. Orwell is quoted as often as he is largely because of his prescience, not his admittedly striking use of language.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    History is constantly being rewritten, but it can never be re-run. What has happened has happened.
    An additional irony: virtually all of those who exercise their right to self-identify as Aborigines are not ‘full-bloods’, but have mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry. But for Captain Cook, none of them would be with us today.
    So they deplore the landing at Kurnell that brought them into existence.

  • rh@rharrison.com says:

    “The Coalition Government will not stand by and allow vandals to rewrite or tear down our history,” says Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

    Yet the Commonwealth spends $1.4 billion a year on organisations – the ABC, SBS and National Museum – who dedicate a significant part of their resources to rewriting or tearing down our history. Frydenberg and his friends in the Federal Government are not “standing by”: they are actively helping the vandals by diverting our taxes to enable the vandalism.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    So hard to defend – Massacre denial being another form of Holocaust denial etc – where and when did the Left get hold of the words ? – ;The Stolen Generation’ from Mr Reid after a bad fortnight on the turps – in a pamphlet – three word slogans do seem to stick regardless of research or evidence. Though TA might have got the idea, he did not invent it and the Left have controlled our language for the last fifty years. Fundamentalists like ISIS also make up history to suit themselves and destroy ancient wonders of the world with sledge hammers and bombs … it is remarkable how quickly the fascist emerges from the socialist when confronted with inconvenient facts, freedom of speech or the contest of ideas. Rod Moran’s thesis on the Forest River Massacre throws another famous ‘massacre’ into serious doubt … so we have to be careful to admit the real massacres from the propaganda of the Blackarm band. Massacre and Genocide have already been decided world wide – the UN sees Australia as a country which ‘attempted’ Genocide. There are two histories of Australia – the Indigenous studies history and the Geoffrey Blainey/ Keith Windschuttle history. The former is widely known and taught and the latter is held by a few trusted confidents who will have to pass it on to a secret society of truth seekers who may be able to recover the way in future generations.

  • Adelagado says:

    A few stockmen killed 400 aboriginals! What did they have a gattling gun? (No, probably not, the gattling wasnt even available to the US Army ’til about 1860). Its hard to imagine that outback stockman in 1859 had anything more advanced than a single shot muzzle loader. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_1853_Enfield

    This whole Hospital Creek massacre story is preposterous.

    • ian.macdougall says:

      This whole Hospital Creek massacre story is preposterous.

      What makes you say that?

      • Patrick McCauley says:

        Even with several automatic weapons spraying a 20,000 person crowd the Las Vegas bloke only managed to kill 50 – so it is a fair question – how did the stockman manage to kill 400 ? – ‘preposterous’ may be ambitious … but certainly ‘unbelievable’ is about right.

        • Adelagado says:

          Estimates vary hugely but at least 100 rounds per kill seems to be a minimum in war. That would suggest around 4000 rounds were required to kill 400 aboriginals. Perhaps they just stood there while the stockmen reloaded their (presumably) single shot rifles, but I doubt it. Incidentally this ‘massacre’ is twice the of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

          • Adelagado says:

            Oops, above I should have said 40,000 rounds were required to kill 400 Aborigines not 4000. But for the sake of the argument even with a very efficient 10 shots per kill its hard to believe this really happened.

          • ian.macdougall says:

            Arguably, the native Americans had better weaponry than had the Aboriginal Australians, being not so isolated from the rest of the world. Developing on diametrically opposite sides of the planet, by 1770 the British and French were the leaders in the technology of war, and the Aborigines were trailing behind, but had taken stone age technology about as far as it could be taken without stone (like flint) that would take an edge. But the revolution in France of 1789 and crop failures caused the French to drop behind the British, leaving the latter to discover Australia.
            Australian mounted settlers had a tremendous advantage in fights with horseless Aborigines, but firing guns of any kind from horseback was rarely practiced. The weapon of choice was commonly a stirrup iron, swung on the end of a spare stirrup strap; and absolutely deadly.


        • ian.macdougall says:

          The shooting was only going for about 12 minutes in Las Vegas, and 50 have so far died from it. At Hospital Creek there were multiple mounted stockmen according to the link below.

          “Apparently a European stockman was lost and it was feared he had been killed by aboriginals. A strong search party from wide area was made up and came across the tribe moving up the Bohara and along a dry watercourse to Narran Lake. The search of a dilly bag found a hand, the carrying of which was a common practice but whether it was the stockman`s is unknown, or if he was found later is uncertain.
          “They rounded them up like cattle, old and young, on the Quantambone plain, and shot them. It is said that there were about 400 and that was how Hospital Creek got its name. Some Aboriginal elders say that the massacre was caused by two young Aboriginal men who killed a young steer on a property near the Darling River. When the station stockmen found the carcass, they tracked the killers back to Hospital Creek, where they massacred every Aboriginal they saw. It is unknown exactly how many were killed but generally it is agreed at about 400.” [My emphasis. IM.]
          It is credible IMHO. But more than that, who can say?


  • Tricone says:

    Must admit I first came to the so called “History Wars” sceptical of Windschuttle’s intentions and broadly sympathetic with what I saw as Manne’s view.

    That all changed when I read their respective books. One may disagree with Windschuttle, but his book was meticulously constructed history from well-referenced primary sources, whereas Manne’s too often was polemic quoting polemicists and hearsay.

    We have now reached a stage where fear of being branded a “denier” inhibits anyone from challenging ambitious massacre claims, and this in turn emboldens those who exaggerate and fabricate. Not too long ago, I watched a BBC programme in which (now UK Strictly Come Dancing host) Claudia Winkelman was walking in Central Australia with an Aboriginal man who assured her that “60,000” had been killed by settlers in the area. The interviewer nodded gravely, the BBC transmitted it, and thus another “fact” is planted in the public mind.

    Were there ever even 60,000 people living in the area? Nobody asked. Who would dare?
    It can’t even sustain that many now – all would acknowledge that. The contradiction went unexplored.

    It will only get worse if we shrink from scrutinising such casual claims.

    • ian.macdougall says:

      “It will only get worse if we shrink from scrutinising such casual claims.”
      But against what database do we check them?

      • Warty says:

        Back in the 1800s people weren’t ‘big’ on databases, so one needs to refer to primary sources, rather than slanted reports from those with a political axe to grind. So one examines newspaper reports of the particular time, court reports etc. Unless one is undertaking research oneself, then it’s unlikely anyone would take the time to do so, in which case reading Keith Windschuttle’s books would be the way to go.

      • Tricone says:

        Ian, you check from primary sources, as Warty has stated.

        You may disagree with Windschuttle, and you can do so freely and in detail, without fear of ostracism, because of the amount of reference and detail in his writings.

        My own view from observation is that the most destructive thing you can do to a hunter gatherer society is settle in their midst with a reliable food supply and demonstrably better lifestyle. That’s most likely what happened to all our ancestors and, in Australia, dwarfs the effect of the relatively small amount of violence during settlement.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Animal Farm is for kids and G and S is hardly inspiring.. tacky is probably a better description.

    Read The ManagerialRevolution and The Machaivallians

    Much more realistic … and adult.

Leave a Reply