The massacre maps are two impressive and closely imitative digital map representations: the Colonial Frontiers Massacre Map from the University of Newcastle and a slick and highly publicised offshoot The Killing Times from the Guardian (Australia). Both interactive maps of Australia are pockmarked with coloured dots, each of which represents a violent event at a specific location. Click a dot and information appears about the killing of “Victims” (black) by “Attackers” (white), click elsewhere and animated violence against Aborigines spreads across the continent from 1788.
This article appears in October’s Quadrant.
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The history both projects use comes from the same source, the Australian Research Council-funded Colonial Frontiers Massacre Project, which is based at the University of Newcastle and led by Professor Lyndall Ryan. The Killing Times is the centrepiece for the Guardian’s indigenous coverage and last year won, for both Guardian staff and University of Newcastle researchers, a Walkley Award and the Digital History Prize, part of the New South Wales Premier’s History Awards. This coronavirus year, Professor Ryan introduced the results of her team’s research at the Parliamentary Library and the National Library of Australia—with good reason it is sometimes called Ryan’s Map.
The two maps presently draw attention to about 300 massacres. Fifty-four are located in Victoria and from these I selected thirty Western District events. Research which The Killing Times and the university academics are praised for is based on a single, shoddy secondary source. Twenty-six of the thirty texts I looked at include plagiarisms and at least one massacre is a fabrication. Ryan’s academic team also claim credit for research not done.
On The Killing Times and Massacre Map each massacre has a narrative, an explanation of the event and a list of sources and other details including numbers of Aborigines killed. The information originates with the Newcastle group, is featured on their own digital map and then repackaged by the Guardian for The Killing Times. Thus plagiarisms and errors infect the two sites, although both mention truth in their publicity. The authorship of the problem texts is clear, for on The Killing Times each massacre narrative has a precise credit: “Written by the Colonial Frontier Massacres Project.”
In the texts I looked at, the newspaper appears to have done no checking even for the claim they print that a brutal attack on Aborigines was carried out with a novel weapon: “and those stockmen that had the firearms were found with a pole at the end of which a one-half of a sheep was placed, and some unfortunate mothers, with infants in arms, crying for mercy, were perforated through”. Why didn’t the Guardian query such stupidity? Had they bothered to do so, the evidence, easily obtained, makes far more sense when read correctly: “and those stockmen that had no firearms were found with a pole at the end of which a one-half of a sheep shears was placed”. And were they also not curious about the man who originally made these interesting claims and the investigation that was held into them?
In the following discussion “Massacre Map” refers to the University of Newcastle map. The thirty narratives I chose came from their website—the Guardian may have lightly copy-edited some of these source texts. In this list of plagiarisms the names of the massacres, sometimes followed by bracketed numbers, are the identifying names on the Massacre Map and The Killing Times.
Scars in the Landscape by Ian D. Clark has been plagiarised in Campaspe (2), Campaspe Plains, Connell’s Ford, Darlington Station, Fighting Waterholes, Lake Bolac, Maiden Hills, Mount Eccles, Mount Napier, Mount Sturgeon Station, Murderers Flat, Murdering Flat, Murdering Gully, Mustons, Reservoir (1), Tarrone (2), Victoria Valley and Wannon River. There are also comparatively minor instances of plagiarism in Crawford River, Fighting Hills, Mount Rouse, Tahara and Waterloo Plains. Who Killed the Koories? by Michael Cannon has been plagiarised in Barmah Lake, Beveridge Island and Loddon Junction massacres.
Within the list of plagiarisms are four double-plagiarisms—text plagiarised from Scars in the Landscape which already contains plagiarisms. The Mount Eccles narrative uses text without acknowledgment from Scars in the Landscape, which includes text used without acknowledgment from The Mills Brothers of Port Fairy by Alan Broughton. The Fighting Waterholes narrative is plagiarised from Clark’s book, which includes plagiarised text from Aldo Massola’s Journey to Aboriginal Victoria. In Tarrone (2) and Wannon River the plagiarised text from Clark contains unacknowledged text from Michael Christie’s Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835–86. Neither The Mills Brothers of Port Fairy nor Aborigines in Colonial Victoria is listed in the Massacre Map footnotes or bibliography.
There are also suggestions not of plagiarism but laziness and lack of curiosity in that some texts, correctly acknowledged, have simply been cut and pasted from Scars in the Landscape. For example, Blood Hole has an eight-word introduction plagiarised from Ian Clark before a long quote from a single source—which also appears in Scars in the Landscape. The text, which is correctly acknowledged, appears to have been copied from Clark, for it has the same two-word changes and a short phrase he added to the original. Absolutely no real research and a single questionable, unsourced citation adds sixty-nine Aborigines to Ryan’s death tally. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into this project, and this is the result.
Where plagiarising occurs, text from another author is not placed within inverted commas and there are no bracketed credits following their words acknowledging source or authorship. Words in an original text are sometimes mixed with the plagiariser’s words and have been changed or explanatory text has been added. While over half the material for Barmah Lake has been lifted from Michael Cannon’s Who Killed the Koories? there is a textual insertion towards the end of the plagiarised words which reads “According to Michael Cannon”—he is mispresented as an extra commentator rather than the author of what has gone before. A generous gesture, perhaps.
Entries with plagiarised material from Scars in the Landscape are usually supported with the original footnotes from the book as if they were sources identified and consulted by the university research team. In Clark’s book his references are often cited without page numbers. When re-used for the Massacre Map the missing page numbers have often, but not always, been added. So, if Lyndall Ryan’s researchers have checked as they plagiarised, they must know that many of his sources are poor, yet these sources now support their own project. Where Clark has been plagiarised, his own book has been added to the footnotes and appears as a further reference consulted by the academic researchers. In the Massacre Map footnotes Scars in the Landscape appears as “Clark ID 1995” with an appropriate page number—there is no indication that any text above the footnote has been robbed from its pages.
The method of referencing, author name plus year of publication and page number, means readers of the Massacre Map need to download and search a PDF bibliography to find what exactly has been used. There is no bibliography on the Guardian site. Without it their footnotes are completely meaningless and without it the seriousness of The Killing Times is an expensively decorative facade. A credit like this for the Convincing Ground is incomprehensible without a bibliography: “Sources: Clark ID 1995:17–22; Anderson 2006:137–147; Clark ID 2011:79–109”. Readers would be better served with clear bibliographic information below each entry—though even then they would not realise how uncertain some of the texts being relied on really are. The judges for the Walkley and New South Wales Premier’s history prize praised The Killing Times but never noticed the absence of a bibliography—perhaps the prizes weren’t being given for history at all.
Plagiarisms from Scars in the Landscape reveal even more problems from the Colonial Frontier Massacres Project team. Two examples show a tainted text being used to fabricate a massacre, and academic deceit.
A fake massacre was fabricated by plagiarising Ian Clark and not examining the source he used. The massacre which never happened was given a name, Campaspe (2)— not to be confused with the Campaspe Plains massacre. These bureaucrats of death also invented a specific location at latitude –37.621, longitude 141.582, and their website offers an image of the not-guilty landscape. The fabrication is built from the following narrative; the italicised text is plagiarised from Scars in the Landscape, the misspelt name in the first line has been added by the plagiarists, and, as I say, this never happened:
John Coppock, W.H. Yaldwin’s [sic] overseer, said in a sworn statement that on 9 June 1840, about 50 Aborigines who had stolen sheep from Dr Bowman and Mr Yaldwyn’s runs, had been tracked down by a party of eight white men. A “pitched battle” took place for three quarters of an hour, in which seven or eight Aborigines were shot dead but no white men were wounded or killed after which the sheep were recovered.
The reason it is untrue is very simple, Ian Clark made a mistake. John Coppock gave his sworn evidence in 1838, not 1840: the fighting he described refers to an event on June 9, 1838, in Waterloo Plains. The faux-historians, using exactly the same evidence for their Campaspe (2) and Waterloo Plains massacres, have placed the same event in two different locations. The source Clark used is easily available and the matter covers several pages and also includes further sworn information from a farm labourer who took part in the violence. Clark’s error should have been noted when (or if) this source material was checked. Even so, the Ryan researchers could have noted the problem because they, and Clark, use John Coppock and his statement twice in their work. Clark, the Newcastle academics, and the Guardian are claiming that the same man took part in two different massacres on the same day, of the same month, in two different years. Using a single piece of evidence the Massacre Map produces two massacres at two different locations—and the death toll changes, upwards. Campaspe (2) supposedly claimed seven dead Aborigines (the Guardian suggests 7.5 dead) while the Waterloo Plains event is credited with twenty-three dead and two dead “attackers”—a murdered shepherd and a watchman. More Aborigines died at Waterloo Plains because Lyndall Ryan’s team Trove-found a newspaper account written forty-seven years later which gave the higher number of deaths—and made some erroneous statements which could have been checked.
The second case begins with plagiarisms from Scars in the Landscape and ends with modern deceit. Misappropriated words in the Massacre Map narrative for Murdering Flat (which never happened) include a seventy-five-word quotation credited to Aldo Massola’s Journey to Aboriginal Victoria—but it isn’t. Again Clark made a mistake—the cited lines actually come from The Aborigines of Far Western Victoria: A Short Talk by E.R. Trangmar. Some of Trangmar’s words do occur in Massola and he may have been drawing on the earlier writer or they were both taking material from an unnamed source. It is an interesting problem. The misattributed citation is the essential evidence presented for a claim that forty Aborigines were murdered. In their footnote the Massacre Map academics cite Massola as the source they have used, which is impossible: this is unquestionably academic deceit—there is no mention of Trangmar. There are other cases, like Campaspe (2), where I wondered if the sources being referenced had actually been checked, for there are some that should never have found their way into a serious study, but in this case it is absolutely clear they are claiming credit for research that was never done, and is false. Ian Clark made a simple mistake in handling his research; they didn’t.
This last error in attribution was one of the problems I listed when I wrote about Scars in the Landscape in my book The Invention of Terra Nullius (2005). I thought I was dealing with something very special, one of the worst academic history books ever printed. Scars in the Landscape: A Register of Massacre Sites in Western Victoria, 1803–1859 was published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 1995, and is now spreading its errors in PDF. Then I recorded, with amazement, the unjustified praise Ian Clark received from academics, who never checked. I said, not unfairly: “The work is a mess of primary sources, secondary sources and tip-shop junk. Some of the text has been plagiarised from the books he used.” I added three pages listing some of the problems I had noted. My view had not changed when I reminded Quadrant readers of its existence in an essay, “History on Fire”, noting, almost unbelievably, that in 2010 Clark’s book was still being used as a valid reference by approved historians, including Lyndall Ryan.
Plagiarising Scars in the Landscape is almost the only research of Western District violence carried out by Lyndall Ryan and her associates—apart from some not always well digested Trove searches. When The Killing Times and Massacres Project teams collected their award and prize money from the New South Wales Premier’s History Awards the judges’ congratulatory statement was a libel on the truth:
They [the massacres] have been painstakingly identified and corroborated from a wide range of sources including settler diaries, explorers’ journals, newspaper reports, Aboriginal testimony, Parliamentary papers, government archival sources and much more.
In the thirty massacres I chose, Ian Clark’s Scars in the Landscape is cited as a source twenty-seven times. In the three Clark-free narratives two are plagiarised from Michael Cannon’s Who Killed the Koories? (a secondary history without footnoted references but with an excellent bibliography for the period when it was published) and the third is a dim and doubtful new massacre based on unfounded suppositions by a local historian and credited by the academics to a “typescript in possession of the author”. The newspaper evidence on which this latter theorising is based has been edited on the Massacre Map to make it seem a first-person narrative, which it isn’t.
The reliance of Lyndall Ryan’s researchers on a single text draws attention to the promised work not done in the archives. The colonial government records preserved in the Victorian Public Record Series (VPRS) held in the Public Record Office of Victoria are an essential resource for researching and writing. For an historian these are fundamental and exhilarating primary source materials which hold riches still to be discovered. Here are carefully preserved government documents, court and trial records, the Native Police files, correspondence to and from settlers, and utterly essential references for writing Aboriginal history. The Massacre Map presently lists fifty-four events in Victoria, but of the thirty I looked at in the Western District only three of these referenced VPRS files—and they were all part of the original footnotes in Scars in the Landscape. The Massacre Map bibliography lists only three VPRS files: for context, the bibliography of Who Killed the Koories? lists thirty-seven files, and Scars in the Landscape thirteen. These latter two books are histories of the Western District while the Massacre Map covers the whole state. Though it hardly seems possible that such archival negligence has taken place, the proof is in the footnotes.
The Killing Times states, “Research and verification of all available evidence is done carefully and takes time.” It doesn’t if you dump research and simply copy and plagiarise a single text. They also say, “Only events for which sufficient information remains from the past and can be verified are included.” That is a lie. The truth is that the Guardian and Lyndall Ryan’s researchers have won undeserved awards for faked massacres, plagiarism and deceit.