Let’s Compound the AWM Farce and Honour Uncle Bruce

Activist historian Henry Reynolds had a recent article in the Canberra Times supporting the obscene proposal to incorporate in the Australian War Memorial presentations and depictions of atrocities committed against Aborigines. He writes:

A new generation of historical research has provided powerful confirmation of the extent and duration of the ‘killing times’, particularly during the conquest of north Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century.  The work of Lyndall Ryan and her team at the University of Newcastle has mapped massacre sites all over the continent.

Extensive new research, concerning the Native Mounted Police, has raised the possibility the Aboriginal death toll may have been well over 60,000.  This would push the casualties in the frontier wars to a figure rivalling the total loss of Australian lives in the First World War.

The most innovative development in the relevant scholarship is to focus on Aboriginal resistance in its many forms, not to concentrate only on their fate as victims.

The above passage employs a technique perfected by Uncle Professor Bruce Pascoe in his award-winning book Dark Emu – the air brushing of ‘inconvenient truths’. The clear implication is that the research conducted by Professor Ryan and her team supports Reynold’s contention that up to 60,000 Aborigines could have been killed.

Peter O’Brien’s petition can be signed here

It is true that the most authoritative database of incidents in which Aborigines were killed in clashes with whites is maintained under the direction of Professor Lyndall Ryan.  Scores of historians have, over a number of years, scoured the historical record to dredge up every last Aboriginal death they could find. They have documented 416 incidents which reportedly resulted in the death of some 11,000 Aborigines.

How is it possible, then, that this legion of researchers, anxious to plumb the very depths of this well, could have overlooked 50,000 deaths?

The research that Reynolds claims “raised the possibility” of 60,000 deaths did not come from the work of Ryan and her team, as he would clearly have you believe. So, what evidence does he provide to support his claim? Well not much. He goes on to say:

The most innovative development in the relevant scholarship is to focus on Aboriginal resistance in its many forms, not to concentrate only on their fate as victims.

In other words, he can’t back up his claim with a body count so he is relying on studying tactics that might or might not have been employed by Aborigines and which would suggest an organised  military ethos. He then goes on to give three examples of individual Aboriginal ‘resistance’, without providing any estimate of how many Aborigines were killed in any of these ‘operations’.  That would not have taken up too many words, I would have thought. Reynolds then says:

Above all we need to be able to explain how they were able to avoid endless attempts to bring on an open confrontation.

That sounds very much to me like an excuse for his failure to substantiate his death toll estimate.  If the Aborigines were so adept at avoiding open confrontation, how could they possibly have sustained casualties as high as 60,000? Further:

In his statement Brendan Nelson spoke of the violence committed against the Aboriginal people but it is most important that the memorial is now able to investigate the aboriginal resistance and see it as a military operation.

Reynolds is not concerned with deaths per se, but that they should be attributed to war or warlike military operations on a large scale. That is central to his thesis that Australia was not settled but invaded.

What happens next if these activists get their ‘Colonial Wars’ gallery at the AWM?  Will they want a tomb of the unknown Aboriginal warrior placed next to the existing tomb in the main Hall of Remembrance?  Don’t be ridiculous, I hear you say. They wouldn’t go that far.  Well, here’s what Reynolds said:

The most significant symbolic act would be placing a tomb for the unknown warrior next to the grave of the unknown soldier.  Those who fought for empire would be at rest with those who fought against the empire.

The Unknown Soldier did not fight for empire. He fought for Australia and/or Britain and its values, and he was killed in France. I was not aware that Villers-Bretonneux formed part of the British Empire.  And he is not there to represent just the just dead of World War I. He is there to represent the dead of all our wars. So, even if you accepted the premise of ‘colonial wars’, you are distinguishing between the combatants of each side, rather than honouring them collectively.  That sounds divisive to me. So what about a Japanese tomb as well? 

If they get their special gallery, can the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior be far behind? Especially if the Voice’s third chamber of Parliament is established. This proposal is just one more step in the push for a separate Aboriginal sovereignty to divide this nation based on race.

And on that subject, there would appear to be somewhat of a logistical problem.  How do you get your hands on the cadaver of an unknown Aboriginal warrior?  You might choose one of a set of 37 Aboriginal remains returned to Australia in 2019.  But what are the chances it would have actually been one of those warriors? 

I have a better idea.  We could wait until Uncle Bruce Pascoe shuffles off, as he is eventually destined to do, and inter him.  Certainly, he is known, not unknown, but he is certainly a warrior allegedly advancing the Aboriginal cause (and the cause of his bank account).  And the fact that he’s not really Aboriginal would mean that the Tomb would tick only one of three necessary boxes – that of being a warrior.  That would mean that the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior would be as fake as the ‘Colonial Wars’ it would purport to represent.  Or just leave it empty with the same effect.  Perfect.

34 thoughts on “Let’s Compound the AWM Farce and Honour Uncle Bruce

  • STD says:

    Of which the epitaph would read:”Here lies, Bruce Pascoe ,the inventor of the fictional character and makeup of un-Australian folk law .

  • Paul W says:

    At heart is again confusion with the name Australia – continent or nation? The Australian War Memorial is for members of the Commonwealth. Reynolds seems to think Australian refers to the continent and anyone who is in it.
    He doesn’t advocate for his chosen mob to build their own memorial, instead he singles out the Federal Commonwealth memorial and tries to insert those who fought against its creators, the British colonies.
    What is actually happening is that they are trying to turn Australia into a binational state. The Australian society and its history (read: British) will sit alongside the “Indigenous Australian” society and history. Nothing will be left to us separately from them and being Australian will mean something very different (already there really).
    In the past every book about the history of Australia began with the Settlement. Now none of them do.

    • NarelleG says:

      Well said Paul:

      ‘What is actually happening is that they are trying to turn Australia into a binational state. The Australian society and its history (read: British) will sit alongside the “Indigenous Australian” society and history.
      Nothing will be left to us separately from them and being Australian will mean something very different (already there really).
      In the past every book about the history of Australia began with the Settlement. Now none of them do.’

  • Blair says:

    “Above all we need to be able to explain how they were able to avoid endless attempts to bring on an open confrontation.”
    “Extensive new research, concerning the Native Mounted Police, has raised the possibility the Aboriginal death toll may have been well over 60,000.”
    Perhaps their losses may have been fewer if they had engaged in open confrontation. But then with 500+ nations organising open confrontation might have been a tad difficult.

  • Biggles says:

    Shouldn’t it be Professor Uncle Bruce Pascoe? Just asking.

  • mags of Queensland says:

    I am greatly disappointed that Brendan Nelson endorses this travesty. The War Memorial was built to honour AUSTRALIAN soldiers, including aboriginal soldiers who fought under the Australian. flag. It was never designed to be anything else. I just wish these woke warriors would just put their “memorial” in the place already devoted to aboriginal history from settlement where it belongs.

  • NarelleG says:

    And people have said – “Don’t fret. It will just be a plaque in a garden area.”

    Thank you once again Peter for shining the light.

  • rosross says:

    Great work once again Peter.

  • Lonsdale says:

    Pathetic, if you people were serious you would travel to Canberra and glue yourselves to the front door of the AWM – Henry Reynolds would, to the back door.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      I doubt if Henry Reynolds could find Canberra on a map.

      • STD says:

        He is married to Margaret Reynolds who was an ALP Senator for Queensland in the Federal parliament ( 1983 till 1999).
        Daughter is Anna Reynolds. In 2018 she was elected Lord Mayor of Hobart. Affiliations include ,the Australian Conservation Foundation. She then founded the Climate Action Network in 1998..
        And in 2002 joined the World Wildlife Fund.
        In 2009 she moved to Tassie and was an advisor to Bob Brown and in 2013 became the CEO of the multicultural council of Tasmania.

  • john.singer says:

    If I heard right in the “Australian Wars” there were 350,000 Aboriginal people in Queensland (far in excess of Birdsell’s estimates) and 72,000 of them died in “frontier wars”. I feel that is far-fetched.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    How could there be any coordination of aborigines after 1788 and before (say) 1900 when they did not have the means to interact with each other for much more than walking distance? The concept that there was an army of organised resistance to settlement is false and unsupported by historical records. Likewise, the Pascoe stories of market gardens and solid residences is most unlikely to have spread from one end of Australia to the other. There were no means. That is perhaps why tribal languages were so many and so different.
    In mineral exploration, observers look very hard at patches of land that are “anomalous” as would have happened had stone homes been built. I have never seen anything remotely like this. No other geoscientist I know has mentioned it. The only signs of people at work I have seen are mounds of shell middens in parts of coastal Tasmania like south of Macquarie Harbour where you have to walk to get anywhere, plus some heaps of chipped rocks for knives and spears that did not make it to final use, fairly common in outback Northern Australia, as are rock scratches and crude paintings in many other places. Not much on show for several thousand years of living.
    There are records of skirmishes in Australian libraries. Several are from official inquiries set up to gather and report on actual conflicts. I have read some of these, end to end. An overall conclusion or two is that they were accurate and painstaking, but they often express doubt about what really happened because of partisan positions – especially so for estimates of mortality.
    Geoff S

  • padraic says:

    I suppose the AWM will also put up an exhibition about the Eureka Stockade event at Ballarat where regular British troops were involved. With my sparse knowledge of “frontier wars” I know of no other occasion where regular army troops were used to oppose Aborigines or anyone else in Australia.

    • DougD says:

      Very small numbers of regular army soldiers – no where as many as the two companies from the 12th and 40th regiments who attacked at Eureka – were involved in attacks on aborigines at Pinjarra in WA and at Bathurst in NSW. Most of those involved in these attacks were settlers. One company of the 40th regiment was stationed at Moreton Bay for some years before convict transportation ceased in 1841 and small detachments defended wagons coming down the range from the Toowoomba area against aboriginal attacks. I think the best known involvement of regular soldiers against aborigines was in Tasmania. Clashes took place in the early decades of the 19th century, culminating in the Black Drive involving about 500 regular troops and many settlers. But the regular army was never involved in fighting aborigines as it was in NZ in the 1840s and 1860s: many thousands of troops fought in battle with large Maori confederations.

  • geoff_brown1 says:

    I’ve seen the withering contempt of Aborigines for those with no Aboriginal heritage professing themselves “Aborigines.” How does Pascoe escape such contempt?

  • cbattle1 says:

    In effect, we are fighting a war now, on Australian soil. If, as the Leftists believe, there was a 100 years’ war on this continent between the invading British colonisers and the defending Aboriginal First Nations (which never surrendered or ceded sovereignty to the Crown), then it can be believed that there is now a flare-up of that war so as to overcome the British colonial legacy, which would necessarily entail the dismantling and extinction of the Commonwealth of Australia. If there is any rational validity in this belief-scenario, then the AWM is metaphorically located on the front line of this war. Lest we forget, the AWM is there to remind us of those who served and sacrificed for the defence of the Australian Commonwealth. What is at stake is not just the status of the AWM, but the very status of this Nation they loved, served and many died for!

  • Lawriewal says:

    If my 90 year old memory serves me right:-
    The first fleet landed on Australia in 1788 with less than 300 troops .
    At that time the FIRST NATIONS (as they are known today) numbered several hundreds of thousands of persons and had (again according to recent reports) a rich and enduring culture based on some 60,000 years of occupation.
    Should this be so then I am today reminded of a quote from my youth that went something like;
    If you cannot defend it – you do not own it!

    • geoff_brown1 says:

      “If you cannot defend it – you do not own it.”

      The whole “Frontier Wars” controversy raises two issues – was there ever a people that mounted such a futile resistance, or were conquered so utterly, as the indigenous?

  • padraic says:

    Thanks DougD for that information, but it hardly constitutes a “war” as the activists claim. They need to have a “war” so they can have a “treaty” which is critical to giving effect to a separate Aboriginal polity. I always thought a “treaty” was done immediately after hostilities ceased, not many years later in peacetime.
    Re geoff_brown1 and Pascoe query. That’s probably because the apparent “government-in-exile” – the one that has an Embassy in Canberra and a Passport Office in Redfern – also has citizenship ceremonies for non-Aborigines. I once met a non-Aboriginal person some years back who went to the NT and went through a ceremony making her an Aboriginal – complete with a discrete tattoo to mark the occasion.

  • Watchman Williams says:

    This is all part of diminishing the significance of the sacrifice of young men and women in war.
    On 25th April 2015, celebrating the Anzac centenary, the town of Waikerie in SA’s Riverland, flew a Turkish flag at the town’s central roundabout.
    I am a returned serviceman, but I have been to no RSL or memorial events since. The country that I, and many others, fought to defend, no longer exists.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Watchman Williams,

    that would have been in recognition of Kemal Ataturk’s famous speech and the fact that Turkey has allowed us to commemorate our own dead on their territory. I have no problem with that.

  • Petronius says:

    Having read many of the personal diaries of the explorers of Australia at no time did I get a sense of them being conscious of entering a war zone, or expecting to have to pervasively defend their presence by force. On the contrary, there was the characteristic disposition of goodwill in their encounters with the Aboriginals. The went out of their way not to steal from temporarily abandoned camps and to respect funerary practices . If they were met with hostility there was the intent not to needlessly shed blood in defending themselves. Most of the explorers were extraordinary men who set a tone for good relations between the white man and the black man in colonial Australia. I am sure they would see the Frontier Wars trope a load of nonsense.

  • JamesBowen says:

    If the council of the Australian War Memorial took time to read the founding Australian War Memorial Act of 1980 it might possibly appreciate that the so-called “Frontier Wars” have no place in a Memorial to those who died in wars in which the “Defence Force” was engaged in the defence of Australia. The only times that members of Colonial military were involved in the often deadly skirmishing between settlers and Aborigines were the very rare occasions when the military were deployed in small numbers to enforce peace between settlers and Aborigines. Perhaps it is time to review membership of the Australian War Memorial council.

  • W.A. Reid says:

    Reading ‘Gudyarra: The First Wiradyuri War of Resistance – The Bathurst War, 1822–1824’, the latest offering by Dr Stephen Gapps, it did not take long until I came across the following:

    “Although Macquarie acknowledged that the lands ‘appeared’ to be cultivated, he could not conceive that in fact they were. Aboriginal farmers had been clearing the best soils to create pastures for animals and land for crops over the course of millenia.”

    In the next paragraph I found the supporting footnote. It cited … you guessed it … Bruce Pascoe’s putatively discredited ‘Dark Emu’, as well as interviews in 2020 with two obviously self-interested ‘Uncles’.

    Forewarned, I was soon informed that a troop of soldiers had been detailed to act as Macquarie’s mounted guard and despatch riders. In Gapps’s judgement these became, avant la lettre, ‘mounted infantry’, a capability that was not developed by the British until much later in the century, and which required considerable training and support. The imprecision of Gapps’s words appears to come not as a result of any ambiguity in the source, rather from the impression that he wishes to make.

    Examples such as these reminded me of my reaction to Gapps’s ‘The Sydney Wars’ (2018). Reading this forced me to forsake previous practice (the exception being Peter FitzSimon’s sometimes-fabricated and mistake-ridden ‘Monash’s Masterpiece’) and make numerous markings and notations, querying the language and evidence used, as well as its interpretation.

    One notation referred to a statement that a group of ‘about fifty warriors’ appeared near a convict work-party. The group withdrew, ‘perhaps’ because the convicts ‘levelled their tools at them as if they were muskets’, or because of the approach of ‘a detachment of soldiers’.

    Gapps observes that this ‘might in fact have been another reconnaissance in force’, a very warlike-sounding term indeed, and one that would impress a general readership. But Gapps has – pun intended – overshot the evidence. A ‘reconnaissance in force’ is a specific type of offensive military operation or tactic used to probe an enemy’s disposition. By mounting it with considerable (but not decisive) force, a commander hopes to elicit a strong reaction that reveals the enemy’s own strength, deployment, and other tactical data.

    All this from a small, unconcealed, and presumedly familiar, convict work gang?

    No historical interpretation can be definitive but it does not follow from this that any interpretation is possible. Moreover, while the practice of using anachronistic terms reflects the telos of an author, it does little to clarify what actually happened. Neither does a plentiful use of the subjunctive (probably, some think, might well, could have, should have etc), nor the use of broad abstractions. With regard to the latter, compare and contrast Gapps’s ‘full blown military campaign’ [that culminated in the ‘Appin massacre’] with the reality that it involved just two light infantry companies, each less than a third of their usual strength, conducting what Macquarie described as ‘a delicate but very important service’.

    I could exemplify further but space …

    Gapps has certainly paid considerable attention to historiographical method: research of breadth, depth and expertise; primary documents prized; extensive use of footnotes. And he does acknowledge deficiencies in the evidence. But, like others, he has assumed a priori that what is being described is a ‘war’ (that most polysemic of words), an attitude which leads to exaggeration, as well as countervailing evidence being overlooked. I am yet to see addressed, for example, the nonchalance with which these ‘Wars’ have been treated in many contemporaneous regimental histories, or why, unlike numerous other 19th century colonial wars and insurrections (e.g. the Xhosa Wars), no campaign medal was ever issued.

    Given all this, I remain convinced that Aboriginal ‘resistance’ to European colonisation was no more than desultory and ineffectual; further, that no amount of inflated language and special pleading makes it worthy of the proper noun ‘War’.

  • Sir Peter says:

    A few thoughts.
    1. British settlement was the best thing that ever happened to the aborigines.
    2. There were no ‘nations’.
    3. This mob were not ‘first’, they probably ate the earlier lot.
    4. I’ll say sorry when you say thank you.
    5. It was yours, now it’s ours. Get over it.

Leave a Reply