Letters to the Editor

The Forest River ‘Massacre’ and more

Forrest River

Sir: Michael Connor (in several articles) and Peter O’Brien (September 2022) have made important methodological and empirical critiques of the University of Newcastle’s Massacre Map project. O’Brien’s point that “History is all about context. Without context it is nothing” is well made.

The lack of a balanced historiographical context to the entry on the 1926 Forrest River massacre allegations is an egregious example from the map. A student accessing the map’s entry would have not even a hint that the massacre claims—as a result of which two policemen were charged with murder—have been closely disputed in a debate over several years. The academic sources cited on the map are absurdly one-sided. That is, the intellectual context of the historical debate is so skewed that it amounts to select propaganda for the massacre claims. That isn’t history.

The debate was sparked with the publication of my 1999 book Massacre Myth: An Investigation into Allegations Concerning the Mass Murder of Aborigines at Forrest River, 1926. After years of research, I argued a detailed sceptical case that there was no mass murder. I also isolated what I believe to be the core truth in the matter that led to grossly exaggerated claims.

The debate, initially between myself and Neville Green, author of The Forrest River Massacres, was carried out at first in the pages of the West Australian and Quadrant. With intellectual scrupulousness, Quadrant allowed my dissenting voice to be heard, also giving Green a right of reply.

Massacre Myth was launched by Geoffrey Bolton, pro-Chancellor of Murdoch University at the time, and among Australia’s most esteemed and senior historians. It carried a preface by Sir Francis Burt, former Chief Justice of Western Australia. The latter commented, inter alia, that my research left “nothing remaining capable of sustaining a finding to any standard of persuasion that any massacre occurred”.

When the two accused policemen faced court in a four-day trial, Magistrate A.B. Kidson found there was no evidence that even a single Aborigine had been murdered, let alone the eleven an earlier Royal Commission had alleged.

Despite that legal and historical finding, the Massacre Map team give the Forrest River allegations a three-star rating. I understand that means the claims have the highest level of corroboration. It is an absurdity.

After I wrote that book, I was still puzzled about the motivations of the chief accuser in the case, Ernest Gribble, head of the Forrest River Mission. After three more years of archival research my second volume was issued in 2002, Sex, Maiming and Murder: Seven Case Studies into the Reliability of Reverend E.R.B. Gribble, Superintendent, Forrest River Mission 1913–1928, as a Witness to the Truth. The volume contained seven essays on instances of Gribble making serious allegations against police and pastoralists of violent depredations on Aborigines, including murder, in the Wyndham district from 1915 up to the 1926 Forrest River claims. All the allegations proved to be false. Gribble was removed as head of the mission in 1928. Professor Bolton wrote an introduction to my book, commenting generously that he had been enlightened by its contents.

In 2010 Cathie Clement edited a volume in the Studies in Western Australian History series, Ethics and the Practice of History. It contained a long essay by Bolton, “Reflections on Oombulgurri” (Forrest River Mission) and the 1926 massacre allegations. I was invited to write a reply, which appeared in the volume as “Forrest River, the Angel of Mons and Some Epistemological Markers: A Rejoinder to Professor Bolton”. Green also contributed a reflective piece on the issues involved.

However, despite this detailed and long-term debate concerning the historical veracity of the so-called Forrest River massacres, it appears not a word of reference to it can be found in the bibliography for the map’s entry on Forrest River. Ironically, in the context of the long debate on those claims, the Massacre Map is an historical memory hole.

Rod Moran


Not Settlers

Sir: I have to take issue with a comment by Peter O’Brien in his musings on the Massacre Map. Referring to the Myall Creek massacre of 1838, he writes that “a group of twelve settlers massacred, without any provocation, twenty-eight Aborigines”.

In my understanding, the murderers were all either convicts or ticket-of-leave men, so technically they were not “settlers” but transportees. This does not sit well in academia today, convicts being considered as much tragic victims of colonialism as Aborigines. So it has become customary among progressive historians to scorn suggestions that any convict ever raised a hand against Aborigines, and, specifically, to always describe the Myall Creek gang as “settlers”. They weren’t.

Christopher Heathcote



Sir: We would like to respond to Dina Raizel Kaye Burgess’s criticisms (September 2022) of our series of articles on Anglophobia. In those articles we documented cases of anti-Anglo racism and attempted to identify the motivations involved. Beginning in the 1950s with the Immigration Reform Groups, most Anglophobia has been motivated by leftist ideology. However, we came across a number of examples apparently motivated by minority ethnic affiliation. We interpreted such examples as the actions of individuals or of particular organisations. At no point did we suggest or imply, as we are accused, that guilt adheres to all who share those individuals’ or organisations’ ethnicity.

We understand how shocking expressions of Anglo identity and interests can be in the present climate. We think that climate is unfair and dangerous because it excludes and pathologises the identity of Australia’s founding people. It is sad but hardly surprising that Ms Burgess criticised Quadrant for publishing our articles. She did not concede that Anglophobia is a problem, reserving her outrage for what she took to be anti-minority sentiment. In contrast, we do not think all is fine when our school children are taught to hate their ancestors, citizens are punished for writing in defence of majority ethnic interests, and the founding people are on track to become a minority without ever being allowed a say on the matter.

The normalisation of Anglo­phobia is, in our opinion, harmful to Anglos and to Australian society as a whole. In a multicultural society it should be considered acceptable for all citizens to have a positive group identity and to care about the standing of their ethnicities and religions. That acceptance should apply as much to the majority as to minorities.

To be fair, Ms Burgess refers only to the third instalment of our series of articles. When viewed through that narrow lens, it might appear that we dwell too long on ethnically motivated Anglophobia. The four-part series included an introductory section that defined terms such as “ethnicity”, “ethnocentrism”, and “xenophobia”. These reflect universal human potentialities, not limited to minorities or majorities. We also examined the ideology of multiculturalism, showing its Anglophobic and sometimes criminal origins. The second instalment identified Anglo utopian leftists as forming the phalanx of Anglophobia in the 1950s and 1960s. The first three instalments described recent vilifications, followed by cases of discrimination and violence in the final instalment.

Without the context of the whole series, a reader might misinterpret particular sections, such as that on ethnic motivation for Anglophobia. However, we stand by that section, which consisted of a number of examples of opposition to free speech. These examples emerged from our inquiries. We consider them to be legitimate in both content and number. After all, it is generally accepted that calling out instances of Anglo racism, no matter their number or extremity, does not amount to railing against the Anglo community as a whole (though Critical Race Theory seeks to replace that reasonable view with categorical anti-whiteness, a development we examined in our second essay).

It is also legitimate to examine especially harsh examples of ethnically-motivated Anglophobia in an attempt to discern motivation, as we did in the case of Miriam Faine’s article. We did not claim that Faine represented all Jews. Neither does Greg Sheridan need to represent all Irish Catholics for his past Anglophobia to be worth examining.

However uncomfortable it might be, we think it important to openly discuss matters of identity and discrimination without attempting to shut down opposing voices.

Richard Harrison & Frank Salter

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