Their ABC’s Six-Week Reign of Error

You’ve got to admire Tony Thomas.  His indefatigability in taking on the ABC must be unmatched anywhere in the known world.  I don’t know how many complaints he has registered over the years but I’m guessing its more than my age. In this respect he casts a giant shadow.  I know he’s had few wins but his strike rate is not encouraging. Nonetheless, he has inspired me to have another crack at the protection racket Their ABC has erected in support of fauxboriginal fauxhistorian Professor Bruce Pascoe.

The problem is that the ABC has what amounts to a statute of limitations which is virtually impossible to overcome. To put it simply, if no one complains within six weeks of publication, the error, misrepresentation or whatever becomes etched in stone, forever to remain and immune to all complaints. I submitted the following complaint on 20 October this year:

Subject: Misinformation in Bruce Pascoe Video Clip

Comments: This episode, titled ‘Charles Sturt’s Encounter in 1846’ (it was, in fact in 1849) describes an incident when explorer Charles Sturt and his party encountered an Aboriginal encampment in central Australia in 1849.  Pascoe says Sturt and his men had been traversing a wide expanse of sand dunes for weeks.  He says they all had scurvy and were dying.  Their horses were so weak they couldn’t be ridden anymore.    They climbed to the top of one last dune and beheld rescue in the form of 400 odd natives.  He says Sturt and his party staggered down the slope and quotes Sturt as saying that Sturt they could not have stopped themselves because the momentum was so great.

He then describes how the natives fed and watered them and their horses, even giving them roasted duck and cake and offering them a new hut to sleep in.  This part of the story is true and Pascoe quotes Sturt correctly in being amazed at the equanimity of the natives towards the horses.

But the first part of this story is a fabrication.  Sturt climbed that final sand dune on 25 October and spent over an hour there deciding whether or not to continue his quest to find the inland sea.  In the end wiser counsels prevailed and he decided to withdraw.  This incident, which occurred at 25 deg 54 min south and 139 deg 25 minutes east, is described on pages 49-50 of his journal Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia Vol 2. 

Although they were far from well, they were not dying and they were still able to ride their horses.  During that southern retreat he passed through a number of watered and vegetated areas.  On the 30 October, Sturt observed two natives diving for mussels in a water hole—‘they seemed to be very expert (and) were not long in procuring a breakfast’. 

On 1 November, Sturt observed that he ‘was exceedingly surprised that we had not seen more natives, and momentarily expected to come on some large tribe, but did not.’  By this stage, Sturt was quite confident of surviving.

The incident at the encampment took place, near Cooper’s Creek, on 3 November, 140 miles south of the point at which Sturt abandoned his quest.  Sturt and his party did not stumble down the hill unable to stop.  In Sturt’s words: ‘I checked my horse for a short time on the top of the sandhill and gazed on the agitated assemblage of agitated figures below me, covering so small a space that I could have enclosed the whole under a casting net, and then quietly rode down into the flat, followed by Mr Stuart and my men to one of whom I gave my horse when I dismounted and then walked to the natives’.  See Pages 75-76 of the journal.  So they did not stumble uncontrollably down a sand dune.

Pascoe talks about the duck, the cake and the new house, but fails to mention that Sturt declined the offer of sleeping accommodation to set up his own camp nearby. This is just a cheap shot, designed to highlight that the Aborigines were at home in the Australian landscape in ways that the white man was not. But no-one ever doubted this.

The way Pascoe tells it, Sturt and his party were saved by the natives, whereas in reality it was a civilised encounter between two parties, hitherto unknown to each other. 

This sort of distortion is not history. It should be either withdrawn or rewritten to correctly describe the incident.

On December 15, an answer came with a message not unexpected, and I think the same was written with a bureaucratic quill pen dipped in BS. Tony Thomas could recite it off by heart:

Thank you for your emails about the ABC TV Education video ‘Aboriginal Ingenuity’. I sincerely apologise for the delay in my response.

Your email has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards. These standards are explained in our Editorial Policies available here: 

Audience and Consumer Affairs will generally not accept for investigation complaints lodged more than six weeks after an item was broadcast or published. As you have not indicated that any special circumstances apply in this instance, we decline to investigate your complaint. Your comments have nonetheless been noted and made available to ABC Education.

ABC Education note that ‘We are aware that some people don’t agree with Bruce Pascoe’s interpretations of historical sources and encourage people to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all historical sources’. ABC Education has also updated the video title to refer to 1849 rather than 1846.

So, my complaint was read by someone who made the minor correction relating to the date of the incident but declined to investigate further because the video clip has been online for a period greater than six weeks.  It apparently doesn’t matter that it is still up on the website.  There may be a case for a six-week limit on a minor mistake in a news item or documentary, but Chris Kenny has found the same limitation applies to the egregiously fake Story of the Centurythe three-part Russian collusion documentary

My example pales into insignificance in comparison with Kenny’s experience, but nonetheless it beggars belief that an organisation claiming it is Australia’s ‘most trusted source of news’ is content to let incorrect material fester on its website, simply on the basis that it survived its first six weeks of exposure without being exposed.

Here is my response:

Thank you for your response to my complaint.  I can understand that the ABC would have a 6 week statute of limitations on errors that might appear in a news item or documentary, in that by then, the effect of such error, in most cases, will have been diminished to the point of irrelevance.  However, the item I complained about is still published on your website.  It contains specific disinformation which I have detailed.  Does the ABC, which promotes itself as ‘Australia’s most trusted news source’, accept that it is OK for incorrect information to continue to be promulgated merely because no-one brought it to your attention within the first 6 weeks of its publication? 

I note that the 6 week rule did not apply to the fact that Mr Pascoe got the year wrong.  So why does it apply to the main point of my complaint.  Let me be clear, I am not claiming that Mr Pascoe’s interpretation of his source is wrong.  I am claiming that his presentation of the facts within that source is false.   I am claiming that he is fabricating, not misinterpreting.  Was anyone tasked with looking at the references I provided?  If so, may I have their detailed rebuttal of my points? Was Mr Pascoe invited to rebut my claims?

I look forward to your substantive response,

I’ll let you know the response, but don’t hold your breath. I certainly won’t be holding mine.

12 thoughts on “Their ABC’s Six-Week Reign of Error

  • gray_rm says:

    If you don’t expect a response, why write? As a placebo? They all laugh at you.
    Writing a petty, inconsequential jeremiad to no one who will read it?
    Or smash the windows and attack politicians who protect the ABC?
    It’s going to come down to that choice. And as Conservatives, we don’t smash things.
    So, impotent.

  • Daffy says:

    The left took generations to ‘march through the institutions’. They patiently mounted their case, took intellectual captives and maintained their lies. The conservatives, the true liberals (as opposed to the modern US sham liberals/actual fascists) and honest scholars did nothing to assert their views with any strength. The battle is a multi generational one. Starting now is to do what you can: keep up the pressure on the ABC, and start the long march of eating away at the dominance of disingenuousness that corrupts the young and assuages the older

  • NFriar says:

    Well done Tony Thomas and Peter O’Brien.

    In ref to the video:
    “This sort of distortion is not history. It should be either withdrawn or rewritten to correctly describe the incident.”

    The Education system has a lot to answer for – just when Ed Minister Tudge was going to ditch Pascoe………what now?

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Good piece again Peter. The lack of interest shown by the Aborigines in Sturt’s horses, which must have been totally different to anything they’d ever seen before, seems to suggests a lot. The Aztecs of Mexico in 1519 always showed intense interest in all aspects of the Spaniards & their accoutrements, and ships etc. In Dampiers 1687 journa,l when he visited the coast of New Holland, and having come into much contact with indigenous people around the world, he wrote how he was amazed at the lack of curiosity of the people, even when the crew brought some of them on board their ship and gave them food, they looked at nothing, even though they could never have seen anything remotely like it before.

  • exuberan says:

    It is depressing to note that most Australians will never read this article let alone know that Quadrant even exists. This is the true ‘Protection Racket’ of Their ABC

  • Tony Tea says:

    The ABC is in too deep.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    Several years ago I got fed up with ABC Classic always introducing Peter Sculthorpe’s piece Quamby as being a memorial to a massacre of up to one hundred Tasmanian Aboriginals by settlers and military personnel driving them over a cliff on Quamby Bluff. I asked in writing for their evidence for this claim and requested a response, which their website promises will be forthcoming.
    The piece went missing from the playlists for quite a few months and on the rare occasion that it is now played it is said to reference a ‘dark period’ in Tasmania’s history. To this date no response from the ABC has been forthcoming.
    I know that the only ‘evidence’ was a fabrication aired by the ABC in August 2014 in a eulogy a few days after Sculthorpe died. I suppose well-meaning assertions without evidence are OK if one is trusted.

  • NFriar says:

    @Peter – they have listened to you:

    [Comments: This episode, titled ‘Charles Sturt’s Encounter in 1846’ (it was, in fact in 1849) describes an incident when explorer Charles Sturt and his party encountered an Aboriginal encampment in central Australia in 1849. ]

    A colleague of mine says that 1846 is correct:

    [It says this
    DURING THE YEARS 1844, 5, AND 6,”
    No mention of 1849.]

    Thanks Peter.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Oops, you are right. The journal was published in 1849. Egg on my face

  • bearops says:

    Don’t worry Peter, you have yet again exposed the shoddy work of ABC “Education” in that they clearly failed to even check the veracity of your complaint. They are unconcerned with facts as history is now a weapon and truth is malleable in the pursuit of power. The ABC Emperors wear asbestos pants.

  • pmprociv says:

    I’m surprised they haven’t set their lawyers upon you, Peter. Let me explain.
    Sadly, it was more than 3 PCs ago, so I’ve irrevocably lost all my old emails. But it was more than 15 years ago, when we were still living in Brisbane, and I was a proud member of “Friends of the ABC”, who spent a lot of time listening to much on RN, including its Science Show. In one episode, which kept rattling on about rising sea-levels and flooding islands throughout the Pacific, I became a little incensed by the ignorance of the presenter. I fired off a most polite email, explaining atoll formation in simple terms, and how these islands were always forming at sea-level (because of optimal coral growth), and so could expect regular flooding, as Charles Darwin had brilliantly worked out about 160 years previously. I mentioned that, in some parts of the Pacific, it seemed the ocean level was falling, e.g. in Guam Harbour, the US Navy was worried that some of its biggest warships might soon be unable to berth, as it was becoming too shallow. And that there were scattered islands around the Pacific, given the geological term”makatea” (after their namesake in the Tuamotus) which were actually dry, elevated atolls. This meant that, if sea levels were rising, they weren’t doing it everywhere, but must actually be falling in some places! Unless there was another explanation — such as tilting or uplifting tectonic plates. A few of these comprise the floor of the Pacific Ocean, and they can be pretty restless.
    Anyway, I heard no more, and forgot about it — until sometime later (it might have been weeks, or even months), when a rude email arrived from the ABC, informing me that my offensive email had been forwarded to the ABC’s legal department, which would take further action unless I desisted from my disrespectful behaviour,
    That sure left a sour taste, and abruptly ended my Friendship. I also stopped listening to the Science Show, and nothing since about the ABC has caused me to change my mind.

  • Tricone says:

    “exuberan – 17th December 2021

    It is depressing to note that most Australians will never read this article let alone know that Quadrant even exists.”

    The majority of those Australians who do know that Quadrant exists, only know that it is “far right” (but then, what isn’t ?), “white supremacist”, climate-denying and probably “anti-vaxx”.

    So they simply refuse to read any links or quotes from Quadrant.
    I know, I’ve tried.

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