Book Review: Windschuttle on the Tasmanian Frontier

January 30, 2002

Book Review: Windschuttle on the Tasmanian Frontier

Keith Windschuttle gained renown for his biting attack on cultural studies in The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering our Past. He has just published the first volume of his alternative history (that is, alternative to the currently received view) of the Tasmanian frontier, entitled The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. He famously (or infamously) claims that some of the leading historians in his field have misinterpreted or, worse, fabricated, large scale slaughters of aborigines that never occurred. The broad claim behind the specialist scholarship is that political agendas direct historical research on the issue of aborigines and Australian history.

Windschuttle lays blame for the original fabrication of evidence for mass slaughters at the feet of Christian missionaries:

These missionaries took any rumor about violence towards Aborigines, no matter how unreliable or vague, and propagated it without checking its accuracy. Why would they do such a thing? They wanted to show the need for their own institutions. By portraying colonial society as awash with violence towards the blacks, they justified their policy of separating Aborigines from white society. They wanted their missions to appear as havens in a heartless world. This fulfilled the Protestant evangelical theology on which their actions were based: the everyday, material world was full of evil and corruption and the only road to salvation for Aborigines lay in a closed religious community. Here they could be kept apart from the modern world and separated from white society. It also meant the missionaries would keep their funding and their jobs.

Yes, the facts must be examined in this whole issue, but hasn’t Windschuttle engaged in his own kind of ideological criticism here? His assumptions about the motivation of the missionaries are broad and sweeping. Since when have Protestant evangelicals claimed that the material world is evil and promoted separatism? Evangelicals have always sought greater involvement in the world than this.

Quote from an earlier article by Windschuttle at archive/20/sept01/keith.htm.

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