Wikipedia’s Officious Corporals


At the risk of becoming tedious, I wonder if I might again take readers to the People’s Republic of Wikipedia, where, with apologies to Martin Luther king, my book Bitter Harvest was judged not on the character of its content but by the colour of its author.

I was cancelled thanks to the outrage of one Bacondrum, who appears to rank among the editorial hierarchy as one of those very busy and officious corporal determined to bring himself to the attention of the RSM.  If he often oversteps the mark, that’s OK; he is indulged because his zeal shines through.  If you’ve served, you know the type.  In East Germany he would have been one of those block wardens, keeping the residents on the straight and narrow.  It was he who deleted the relevant discussion from the ‘talk’ page, where changes and edits to articles are thrashed out by contributors advancing their individual points of view. He was later overruled.

The two main crimes that concentrate Bacondrum’s mind are ‘disruptive editing’ and ‘conflicts of interest’.  These are what brought me undone. My disruptive editing was on account of posting an amendment to the Dark Emu article without proper sourcing.  This was my edit:

The central premise of Dark Emu viz that Aboriginal people were essentially sedentary agriculturalists rather than nomadic hunter/gatherers, was challenged by anthropologist Dr Ian Keen, in a paper entitled “Foragers or Farmers: Dark Emu and the Controversy over Aboriginal Agriculture” published in the journal Anthropological Forum in January 2021.

That seems adequately sourced to me.  My other offence in this respect is that one of the editors disagreed with my characterization of the central premise of Dark Emu.  He argued that:

Pascoe mentions specific examples, such as the eel traps and villages of the Gunditjmara, and he certainly doesn’t claim that the peoples of the central desert area were settled agriculturalists.

When I pointed out that the blurb on the back cover of Dark Emu made exactly that claim, he responded that that was irrelevant because authors have no control over what is written on the cover.

This is absurd, as no author of whom I am aware has ever been denied final approval of the cover art and blurbs that grace his or her work. I was consulted about Bitter Harvest‘s presentation, and my Quadrant Online editor tells me none of his books has gone to press without his imprimatur, nor has ever sent to the printer any of the books he has edited for others without the author signing off on the finished product. The Wikipedia editor and I will have to agree to disagree on that point. But what is undeniable is the way Dark Emu has been promoted and the way in which it has been accepted by the general public is indeed the way I described it.

As to the issue of conflict of interest, here is how I responded to that charge:

Last year I attempted, in good faith, to include a mention of my book Bitter Harvest in the Dark Emu section of the Bruce Pascoe article. I did not attempt to argue my case, just to highlight the fact that the book existed. When I became aware that I had inadvertently breached Wikipedia protocol, I argued my case for inclusion in the talk page. It was ruled that I had a conflict of interest. I respected that decision and have not since attempted to have the book included…

… It seems my conflict arises from the fact that I am a critic of Dark Emu, which, I accept, makes me a partisan player. But I do not believe that should preclude me from participation in discussion or even proposing edits to the article itself. Editor HiLo48, in arguing against the inclusion of Dr Keen’s paper is also clearly a partisan player having declared that he/she “sees no point in reading Dr Keen’s article because Dark Emu is an excellent book in which he/she can see no flaws”. It is clear that many other editors are also in this camp.

Which brings me to Corporal Bacondrum, one of those editors with two left feet in the partisan camp. That should be obvious to any clear thinking person who has read his comments as recorded in this article, but let me give you another example.

Not content with cancelling the Dr Keen discussion, Bacondrum again over-reached when, having become aware of a Wikipedia article written by Austhistory99 describing a massacre of  one group of Aboriginal people by another group of Aborigines, he decided this need to be deleted, but didn’t have the authority to do this on his own account, so he sent it to the committee.  Here is his case, if slanders can be so described

This article relies exclusively on claims made by an unreliable source, a 19th century colonial, evangelical missionary. Colonial accounts from this era are famously racist and often wildly inaccurate. The one contemporary source, is Geoffrey Blainey, a highly controversial historian in regards to Aboriginal Australians and the culture wars, and Blainey is relying on the same aforementioned colonial account. This article was created by an editor who is now indef blocked for dedicating most of his efforts here to attacking an Aboriginal academic. The editor who created this article also runs a site dedicated to attacking the same Aboriginal academic and Aboriginal people generally [2]. Looking at the way this article is phrased, the weird and irrelevant choice of images – why did we have an image of blood letting [3]? I believe this article was created to make Aboriginal Australians look like violent barbarians and play down the brutality of colonialism. Sadly this kind of nasty attempt to imply Aboriginal people were savages is common here in Australia. If this story was true we’d have numerous reliable sources, the events are fairly recent in histories page, no evidence of Aboriginal oral history documenting these events, which historians agree are usually highly accurate [4]. At the very least his contributions about Aboriginal Australians should be gone over thoroughly. Bacondrum.

Bacondrum was slapped down three to nil.  I won’t detail the arguments against deletion but they are summed up as follows:

If the article is biased, then edit it accordingly to make it neutral, instead of deleting it. — Mitch Ames.

Bacondrum’s response:

Yes, fair enough. I’ll withdraw this AfD and work on improving the article. — Bacondrum

He was as good as his word.  If you read the Massacre of Running Waters article you will find this introductory paragraph:

The Massacre of Running Waters occurred in 1875 at Irbmangkara, a permanent water stretch of the Finke River about 200km south-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia. The “Matuntara people planned the attack in the belief that a neighbouring Aboriginal group, the southern Arrernte people, or Aranda, had committed an act of sacrilege. Revenge was called for. The offenders and even the relatives of the offenders must be killed”.[1] Some 80 to 100 Aboriginal men, women and children were killed[2] by the raiding party of 50 to 60 Aboriginal Matuntara warriors.

But if you had read the article on the night of Jan 29, 2021, it would have read this way, thanks to the ministrations of Corporal Bacondrum:

The ”’Massacre of Running Waters”’ was an apparent mass killing of the Southern [Arrernte people] or Aranda people by the [Matuntara people] people that is believed to have occurred in 1875 at Irbmangkara, a permanent water stretch of the [Finke River] about 200km SW of [Alice Springs] in the [Northern Territory]. Details of the massacre are secondhand accounts by settlers and may be inaccurate or fabricated. Settlers claim the massacre was committed in retaliation to (sic) an act sacrilege committed by the Aranda. Some 80 to 100 Aboriginal men, women and children are claimed to have been killed by the raiding party of 50 to 60 Aboriginal Matuntara warriors.

There were a few other minor edits along similar lines but notably, the good Sergeant Bacondrum provided no sources to justify his amendments – clearly a case of disruptive editing.  Evidently others thought so too. Here is the response of Mitch Ames:

These edits by Bacondrum are a mess of weasel words and expressions of doubt, contrary to MOS:WTW, so I have reverted them.

It may be that the article needs some work, but filling the article with “apparent”, “may” and “are claimed” is not the solution. Either we believe the sources or we don’t. If they sources say “may” etc, then quote the source saying that, so it’s clear that it is the reference’s not Wikipedia’s voice. If the sources disagree then say so explicitly, including which sources and how they disagree. — Mitch Ames

Well done, Mitch, and it’s off to re-education camp for you, Corporal Bacondrum. If Wikipedia is to enjoy the credibility it claims, you’ll be peeling spuds for many, many years to come.

You can order the new edition of Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest by clicking here

13 thoughts on “Wikipedia’s Officious Corporals

  • Tony Tea says:

    Mitch Ames sounds suspiciously like a grown-up. Who knew Wiki employed such solid citizens.

  • lbloveday says:

    Spectator Australia has what I think is a good article on moderation:


  • MungoMann says:

    Corporal Bacondrum is a totally loose cannon. From the Wikipedia post he removed the image of the Aboriginal men letting blood from their arms into a shield claiming it was irrelevant. I added this image as an illustration of why the massacre occurred in the first place. Mens blood was being given to uninitiated boys to drink which was tantamount to sacrilege and revenge was called for, according to Geoffrey Blainey and Ted Strehlow and as further related by Justice Michael Kirby in a public speech. Who are they I hear the Corporal ask? Then the Corporal says the massacre can’t have happened because there is no Aboriginal oral tradition describing it. Really? Has The Corporal spoken to all the possible Aboriginal descendants or informants who might know something? Well in fact there is more than just an oral tradition. There is a book on the life of Moses Tjalkabota Uraiakuraia who was a young boy at the time of the massacre and is recorded as being able to recall the incident in ‘some detail’. He saw the smoke from the burning of the massacre bodies and says two of his playmates were killed in the massacre. His father then takes the terrified Tjalkabota and the rest of the family into the hills for several months to avoid being involved in any further revenge attacks. (Blind Moses by Peter Latz , 2014, p13-15). There is also a scene in the 2001 NFSA movie of Mr Strehlow’s Films where the local Aboriginal guide touches on the Massacre of Running Waters. It seems 1984 is really upon us now – The Corporal and his ilk are increasingly getting control of the levers.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Thank you, MungoMann, for this additional clarification. This massacre is also acknowledged on the University of Newcastle massacre website here: https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/detail.php?r=701

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    Saw this on Breitbart this morning and thought it illustrated the “reliability” of Wikipedia perfectly:
    “The San Francisco Board of Education voted to rename 44 of the city’s schools, claiming that prominent figures from American history, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Paul Revere, were tied to racist incidents. The committee based their decisions on Wikipedia and other wildly inaccurate information to source its claims.”
    As Wikipedia defines itself as an open-collaborative online encyclopedia “that anyone can edit”, it is perhaps appropriate to recall George Carlin’s advice to “never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

  • lbloveday says:

    Wikipedia is not the only censor of Quadrant – Internet provider iinet tags the emails I receive from Quadrant and sends them to the “naughty box” (Span Folder).

  • pgang says:

    Peter there is a story getting around today that Wikipedia have locked the page of suspected pedophile John Weaver. Weaver is a founding member of the GOP-destroying, Never-Trumping ‘Lincoln Project’. The comrades must be protected at any cost.
    Wikipedoa might be a better name for it.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    pgang, I think that’s true. I can’t get to it.

  • L Louis says:

    The refusal to accept a reference to the work of an eminent anthropologist is a disgrace made even more objectionable when the Wikipedia entry on Dark Emu is scrutinised. Under the heading Critical Reception, is “main stream recognition”. This includes an article by Amy McGuire in New Matilda , 25 May 2016. This is not “main stream”; New Matilda advertises itself as, “a left-wing independent Australian website of news, analysis and satire”. Amy McGuire was the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine; and this “interview” with Pascoe is merely an opportunity for Pascoe to publicise his views.
    Included in the claim ,“widely reviewed in academic journals”, is a review in Agora. This is not an “academic”journal- it is the triannual journal of The History Teachers’ Association of Victoria. The favourable review is by an Australian historian, Professor Richard Broome AM, FAHA, FRHSV, who is the author of fourteen books and many articles in Australian and Indigenous History. He is not an archaeologist or anthropologist, and his work on Aboriginal history is post 1788.
    . “positive reviews in other media” includes that by Kris Shalvey ( former teacher, at St Ignatius College, Riverview,). South Sydney Herald. 7 September 2016). The South Sydney Herald (SSH) is a monthly newspaper published by the South Sydney Uniting Church The SSH features stories of relevance to local residents,…”
    And finally, it was necessary “to scrape the bottom of the barrel” with Goodreads which gives readers’ rating of Dark Emu, which are recorded as ranging from one to 5 stars.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Good points, Les. I had not gone into that level of detail. That information might come in useful.

  • Perpetua DC says:

    This record, along with“Tell the Truth or You’ll be Wiki-Whacked” of Peter O’Brien’s — and other commentators — experiences with Wikipedia is a valuable one and Peter’s perseverance and his courtesy towards those abominable, gatekeeping Wikipedia editors is to be highly applauded.

    Some years ago, it was during 2012–13, a few of us had a comparable experience. We attempted to correct parts of a Wiki entry, originally posted in 2007 by persons unknown, about Eddie Burrup — the nom¬–de brush of my mother, the artist Elizabeth Durack.

    To cut a long story short – and looking back, how innocent and polite we were then – we started on a few corrections. In no time, nit-picking, censorious, intransigent editors pounced. We too persevered through their scolds and fussy fault–finding. Ultimately it was to no avail. On May 25 2013, some ‘Bacondrum’ of the day, deleted the entire entry about Eddie Burrup. Fortunately we too had printed out most of the stages that led to Wiki’s ‘cancelling’ of the Eddie Burrup phenomenon.

    Perpetua DC

  • James Franklin says:

    Note that Wikipedia has rated Quadrant “generally unreliable for factual reporting”, so citations to it are deleted. Bacondrum again https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources/Noticeboard/Archive_269#RfC:_Quadrant_Magazine

  • pgang says:

    One of the founders of Wankipedia is fed up too and is starting a rival site. This one will apparently bring together information from current encylopedias. So it will be still be heavily progressive, but without the visciousness.

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