Australian Civil Liberties Union
Your Rights 2004
FABRICATION OF ABORIGINAL HISTORY
Rabbit-Proof Fence, Aboriginal Genocide, Windschuttle, Phillip Noyce
Checking the truth about Aboriginal genocide
Andrew Bolt, 23 December 2002, p21 Herald Sun
THE pack-attack of fashionable historians on Keith Windschuttle’s brilliant new book shows how hard it is to tell the truth about our past.
To say no -- there was no genocide here.
In The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (the first of three planned volumes), Windschuttle checks the evidence for the hip claim that Tasmania’s Aborigines were victims of a “deliberate genocide”. How gleefully that claim is made by shame-Australia-shame historians.
Some, like Professor Lyndall Ryan in her influential The Aboriginal Tasmanians, even liken our past to the Nazi genocide of the Jews.
But Windschuttle not only found there was no evidence for this slur, but that many historians had made up facts, exaggerated, used dodgy sources or misquoted documents.
Scores of examples are given. Lloyd Robson, in his History of Tasmania, claims a settler, James Hobbs, saw the 48th Regiment murder 22 Aboriginal sheep-stealers at Oyster Bay in 1815. But Windschuttle, a fine sleuth, found Hobbs was in India until 1822, Oyster Bay had no sheep until 1821 and the 48th Regiment did not go near the place in 1815.
Ryan comes off particularly badly. For example, she has said the colony’s first chaplain noted in his diary the murders of 100 Aborigines between 1803 and 1808. Windschuttle checked the diary and found references to just four killings. Ryan also claimed parties of police and convicts killed 60 Aborigines between 1828 and 1830, but Windschuttle found none of her references mentioned any such deaths. Nor could he find any evidence for her claim police killed 14 Aborigines at Pitt Water. And so on.
Henry Reynolds, author of Why Weren’t We Told?, is also accused of misquoting, which he’s admitted, and of exaggerating, as are many others. Proof given. In fact, concludes Windschuttle, ‘the British colonisation of this continent was the least violent of all Europe’s encounters with the New World”.
He counts only 118 shootings of Tasmanian Aborigines -- though the standard of proof he demands seems high -- and notes there were far more murders of whites by blacks seeking food and European goods.
He also argues convincingly that there were no more than 2000 Tasmanian Aborigines before colonisation, rather than up to 7000.
And he proves that, far from trying to wipe out Aborigines, the increasingly desperate colonial government fought to save the full-bloods, spending far more on their welfare than they did on poor whites.
So how did the full-blood Aborigines die out?
Windschuttle gives two main reasons -- “the long isolation that had left them vulnerable to introduced diseases. . . and the fact that they traded and prostituted their women (to whites) to such an extent that they lost their ability to reproduce themselves.”
And let’s not so easily dismiss the killings. But how have the fashionable historians reacted?
Most don’t dispute -- can’t -- Windschuttle’s facts, though they deny telling deliberate untruths.
Even “stolen generations” polemicist Robert Manne admits the book “delivers some powerful blows”.
So -- in an indictment of academia’s commitment to honest debate -- the counterattack on Windschuttle has instead got very personal.
Reynolds claimed he researched his book “with his mind made up”. Manne falsely accused him of “plagiarism” and called his book “extraordinarily cold”.
THREE professors, including black academic Marcia Langton, even signed a letter attacking newspapers for giving Windschuttle space when he had “no reputation as an historian” and a “twisted view of history”.
But Ryan took the post-modernist tack. She admitted “a few minor errors” but asked:
“Two truths are told. Is only one ‘truth’ correct?”
Well, yes, Professor. There is only ever one truth. The rest is what we call “false”.
I WAS thrilled to be honoured at last weekend’s Australian Film Industry awards, and must repay Phillip Noyce this huge favour.
Noyce it was who praised me for promoting his Rabbit-Proof Fence, winner of the AFI best film award, by writing several articles arguing this ‘true story” of the “Stolen Generations” was, ahem, false.
Noyce raved how he owed me a “special award”, because every time there was “one of those articles there was a blip and attendances would immediately go up”.
Seeing Noyce welcomes accurate criticism so much, it is only right to give him an award of my own in return.
So my 2002 prize for Hypocrite of the Year goes to. . . tadaah! . . . Phillip Noyce. I know, it’s been a crowded field, with a late and strong challenge from Carmen “Principles” Lawrence, but I have information about Noyce and the star of his film, Everlyn Sampi, which I feel closes the case. With a snap.
It proves Noyce has done, in effect, what his film condemns a former chief protector of Aborigines, A.O. Neville, for doing -- “stealing” Aboriginal children.
Because Noyce himself “stole” 12-year-old Everlyn Sampi. Much as Neville “stole” Molly Craig, the girl Everlyn plays in Rabbit-Proof Fence.
Noyce’s film opens with the claim: “This is a true story.” And the story it purports to tell is of Molly, who was 14 when she was taken from an Aboriginal camp at Jigalong, Western Australia, and sent to a boarding school at the Moore River Native Settlement. The film portrays her escape from there -- with cousins, Daisy, eight, and Gracie, 11 --and her trek all the way home, 2000km south.
That much is indeed true, but what isn’t true, as I’ve outlined before, are many of the key details Noyce added to the story which backed up the “Stolen Generations” myth -- that hundreds of thousands of children were brutally stolen from caring parents in a racist plot to end the Aboriginal race.
BUT here I’ll go over just those untruths in the film which to me makes Noyce a hypocrite, given the parallels between the case his film makes against Neville and the real “true story” -- of this rich director and poor Everlyn Sampi.
Claim: The film shows young Molly in a nice, peaceful settlement, in the bosom of a loving tribe.
Fact: As her daughter, Doris Pilkington, wrote in the biography on which the film is based, Molly was in fact treated “like a mongrel dog” by other children of her tribe because she was half-caste. She had no father to protect her and no school to go to.
Parallel: Everlyn Sampi, who plays Molly, also has a white father who does not live with her. Her mother shifted home a few times, and then sent Everlyn to Broome in the hope she would go to school there. She couldn’t read.
Claim: The film shows a policeman ripping Molly from the arms of a crying mother. She is stolen because the state’s chief protector of Aborigines, A.O. Neville, wants to stop her “mating” with Aborigines, a race he hopes will vanish.
Fact: Molly was taken without a struggle and with a nod of apparent consent from her “stepfather”. This occurred after local people sent Neville letters warning that Molly and her cousins were “running wild with the whites” and were treated badly by full-bloods. Worse, Daisy, just eight, had been promised in marriage to an adult Aboriginal man.
Parallel: Noyce is worried Everlyn will return to Broome and its hazards. “She hasn’t had a stable life,” he said. Just 11 when removed by Noyce -- with her mother -- to South Australia to do his film, she already smoked and had missed too much school.
Worse, as Noyce told one journalist: “The only thing she has been rewarded for is being a pretty girl with feminine charms. One day on the set, she said to me, ‘If you do that, I will give you a kiss on the lips’, which is an odd thing to say to a 50-year-old.” Odd?
He said it was one of many chilling encounters he had with Everlyn that “makes you want to protect her, adopt her”. As Neville wanted to protect Molly.
Claim: The film shows Molly at Moore River. The light-coloured children are sent on to another school near Perth. Molly is told this is because fairer children are smarter than dark ones.
Fact: Fairer children were given special vocational training in the belief they had a better chance of being accepted in white society and earning their own way. They also faced more rejection in black camps.
Parallel: Noyce has admitted he cast Everlyn, a pretty, light-coloured girl, partly on her racial appeal.
‘I saw, well, it’s a term which is racist, but it is used in the film industry, I saw ‘crossover appeal’,” he said.
“It means that the actor has the charisma and charm to appeal to African-American, white American and other audiences around the world.”
It means Everlyn -- or her film -- had more chance of earning well. Less chance of rejection.
Claim: The film makes Molly’s new home at Moore River seem a jail -- or ‘concentration camp”, says Noyce. The children may not leave, are treated badly and must work hard. Molly hates it and runs away.
Fact: Records from a 1936 Royal Commission into the treatment of Aborigines show 1003 of Moore River’s 1067 children weren’t “stolen” but voluntarily brought by their parents to get a schooling or be safe. For their own good.
Parallel: Everlyn was worked hard on the film, and a documentary shows her being physically stopped from leaving. “I’m sick of it,” she complains.
Noyce accused her of showing ‘signs of the worst behaviour that I’ve observed” in his career, and has added: “During the rehearsals, she ran away twice. We found her in a telephone booth ringing up inquiries trying to book a ticket back to Broome.”
She was caught and brought back to Noyce, of course. For her own good.
Claim: The film indicates Molly was taken from her happy family just because Neville was a racist.
Fact: Neville told the 1936 Royal Commission the only children he removed as state wards were taken “because I desired to be satisfied that the conditions surrounding their upbringing were satisfactory, which they certainly were not.”
He also tried to give such children an education to help them thrive in white society --an education Molly ran away from to spend the rest of her life in the squalor in bush camps.
Parallel: Today we still rescue Aboriginal children in tragically high numbers from abuse and neglect.
And Noyce has been rightly worried about sending Everlyn back to the hazards of Broome after the filming.
“I found myself thinking, ‘I have to look after her. She can live with us. I’ll send her to school.” And he did, sending Everlyn, with her mother’s permission, to a boarding school near Perth.
“It was impressed upon Everlyn that she needed to learn to read and write if she wanted to act again when she grew up,” Noyce said.
“But she hated it and was flown home She fled school, just as Molly did.
IT’S eerie, how closely Everlyn’s story resembles that of Molly, the girl she plays in Rabbit-Proof Fence.
And it should have been a wake-up to Noyce, how his attempt to give Everlyn a brighter future resembled Neville’s bid to rescue Molly.
In a documentary shown on Channel 9 in February, reporter James Thomas confronted Noyce with this.
Thomas: Picture this: a white man enters a remote Aboriginal community with the best intentions, takes three girls out of their community and promises them fame and fortune. Does it sound familiar?
Thomas: Are you aware of the irony that exists in what you’re doing with this film and the actual topic of the film itself?
Noyce: Well, I suppose in one way you could say that in a different context, in a different time, I’m A.O. Neville promising these young Aboriginal children a better life, asking them to do things that are against their instincts, perhaps because it’s for their own good. But we do live in a slightly different world...
HE’S right. It is a different world in some ways. It’s richer and so our choices are wider. We’re less racist, and Noyce tried harder than Neville could to keep Everlyn’s link with her mother.
But Noyce’s desire to protect a young Aboriginal girl at risk and give her the opportunities all our children deserve is not new.
I’m sure Neville felt that desire, too, and had to make harder choices than Noyce did to do the best for children facing the worst.
Noyce could have made a film acknowledging that truth -- a truth Everlyn’s own life should have alerted him to. Instead, he made a hiss-boo pantomime villain of Neville and the other public servants and missionaries falsely accused of the racist theft of Aboriginal children. Children they tried to save, much as Noyce has.
For that, Noyce has won prizes from the cultural elite. But to me, he is a hypocrite -- and not least because he tried so hard to help young Everlyn Sampi.
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Australian Civil Liberties Union