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The Fabrication of Aboriginal history

The Fabrication of Aboriginal history: volume one, Van Diemen's Land 1803–1847 makes three main points. First, it states that there was no genocide in Tasmania, and most Aborigines succumbed to introduced diseases, especially influenza and pneumonia. Second, it claims that there was nothing deserving the label 'frontier warfare', and what recent historians call attempts to repel the 'invaders' began as assaults not by tribal Aborigines but by a small, assimilated band of black bushrangers led by the Sydney man Musquito. Third, it asserts that recent historians have inflated conflict between Aborigines and colonists and, in several cases, invented their evidence. For instance, Fabrication asserts that Lt-Governor George Arthur did not justify the Black Line of 1830 on the grounds that Aboriginal conflict threatened the survival of the colony. Instead, his concerns were for the welfare of the Aborigines themselves. He wanted to conciliate and remove them to a secure location.

The author maintains that Fabrication remains the most exhaustive study of its subject yet undertaken. It involved checking the primary sources of all previous authors. It found Archdeacon Broughton's 1830 government inquiry was accurate in establishing that Aboriginal violence was not warfare but primarily the plundering of settlers' huts for flour, sugar, tea and bedding, and that most settlers rejected any notion of 'extirpation'. It argues that the plausible evidence shows that all-told about 120 Aborigines died violently at white hands, while the Aborigines killed 187 colonists, mostly convicts, but ten per cent women and children. Fabrication endorses the nineteenth-century Tasmanian author, James Calder, whose book, Some account of the wars, extirpation, habits, &c., of the native tribes of Tasmania (1875), found that 'the warfare, though pretty continuous, was rather a petty affair, with grossly exaggerated details – something like the story of the hundred dead men, reduced, on inquiry, to three dead dogs'. (See also Frontier Conflict; Fabrication?)

Further reading: K Windschuttle, The fabrication of Aboriginal history, Sydney, 2002.

Keith Windschuttle