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Keith Windschuttle and Robert Edgerton: a comparison of texts

Cover: June 2008June 2008Long read
 

In November 2002 Keith Windschuttle published The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, volume one: Van Diemen's Land: 1803-1847. The publication was instantly greeted as a major cultural event almost entirely because of the accusation raised by Windschuttle that the most important contemporary historians of the destruction of Tasmanian Aboriginal society-Lyndall Ryan, Henry Reynolds and Lloyd Robson-were deliberate falsifiers. In The Sydney Morning Herald of November 22 Andrew Stevenson wrote: "Today sees the publication of the first volume of Keith Windschuttle's alternative history of the frontier, in which he accuses four contemporary historians including Henry Reynolds of deception and mistruth." In The Australian of December 9 2002, Windschuttle claimed that he had exposed "some of the most hair-raising breaches of historical practice ever recorded." On December 14 in The Courier Mail, Michael Duffy argued that "allegations of scholarly fraud on this scale are virtually unknown."

At this time I wrote a regular column for The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. As I had an interest in, and had already written about, Windschuttle's revisionist version of the destruction of Aboriginal society, which he had begun with three long articles published in 2000 in Quadrant, a magazine I had edited between 1990 and 1997, I decided to read his book carefully and to make it the subject of my next column, due on December 16. Fabrication argues that the Tasmanian Aborigines were treated admirably by the British settlers but that, because they were common criminals and because of the dysfunctional nature of their society, they deserved their fate. The book appalled me when I read it first. It still does.

On page 382 of Fabrication Windschuttle made it clear that he was indebted to the American anthropologist, Robert Edgerton, for the idea that the Tasmanian Aborigines were a "profoundly maladapted society". Once I finished reading Windschuttle I borrowed Edgerton's Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony from my university's library. I discovered that Edgerton had devoted only six pages to the Tasmanians. As I read these pages I had the curious feeling that I had already read them, a feeling not of déjà vu but of déjà lu. I went back to Windschuttle and discovered a large number of similarities between what Edgerton had written between pages 47 and 52 of Sick Societies and what Windschuttle had written on pages 377 and 378 of Fabrication.

Windschuttle had set about destroying the reputations of a series of historians largely through an attack on their supposedly faulty scholarly practice. He had even provided a sermon in Fabrication on the proper use of footnotes. I decided I would briefly discuss Windschuttle's own scholarly shortcoming in my column. I knew that I needed to let the opinion editor at The Age know of my intention. He asked me to show him the evidence. I arranged for parallel columns of the passages to be typed up quickly and sent on to him.

In my column what I wrote was this: "The most unpleasant passage [in Fabrication] is the one where [Windschuttle] describes Aboriginal society as dysfunctional and misogynistic, and where he accuses Aborigines of being ‘active agents in their own demise'. For this argument he relies upon Robert Edgerton's Sick Societies. When I read the relevant section I discovered several occasions where Windschuttle, without attribution, seems to have copied Edgerton's words almost verbatim or provided slightly altered paraphrases. In this instance he has comprehensively fallen short of the standards he requires others to meet. An old remark about the goose and the gander comes to mind."

Both the Age and The Sydney Morning Herald thought that there was a case for Windschuttle to answer, just as they had earlier tackled Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan over Windschuttle's accusations. On the day my column appeared in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, the story of Windschuttle's borrowings from Edgerton appeared in the news pages.

When Windschuttle was told of my claim by journalists he denied it entirely and threatened to sue. Robert Edgerton was contacted by Andrew Stevenson of The Sydney Morning Herald and by Bernard Lane of The Australian. To Stevenson he emailed: "It is true that Windschuttle several times paraphrases me in what could be seen as soft plagiarism. But it is also true that Rhys Jones said some of this same sort of things[sic], as I cited in my book. Also, Windschuttle did quote me in one instance." To Bernard Lane he "said" something slightly different: "It is true that [Windschuttle] often paraphrases me without citation, but in both cases we are paraphrasing Rhys Jones...I have seen worse, and do not take any umbrage in the way Windschuttle has used my book." Eventually, possibly because of his political sympathies, Edgerton sided with Windschuttle and claimed that Stevenson had misquoted him. As Stevenson had faithfully reproduced an email response (which even required a sic), how Edgerton could have been misquoted is very far from clear.

Wndschuttle's opponents never took the issue up, as far as I am aware. His supporters, however, did. On many occasions I was harshly criticized by Windschuttle's supporters-by Miranda Devine, Roger Sandall, Ron Brunton, the editorial team at The Australian et al-simply for having raised the issue. In his wild ad hominem attack on me in The Electronic Whorehouse, Paul Sheehan even devoted several pages to the Edgerton matter.

Even though the issue seemed to have done Windschuttle no obvious harm, he could not let it drop. On his website Sydneyline.com he completely denied the accusation-even Edgerton's version that Windschuttle had often paraphrased him without citation-and claimed that in every single instance of apparent overlap he and Edgerton had paraphrased separately from a common source, usually from the anthropologist, Rhys Jones and occasionally from the late nineteenth century racial Darwinist, Ling Roth. On his website, Windschuttle reproduced these supposed sources. As a friend remarked, he seemed to be unaware that what his parallel columns revealed was precisely what I had claimed in my column of December 16.

In late 2007, in their wisdom, the Quadrant Management Committee appointed Windschuttle as editor. As was predictable, he decided to use his editorship to exact his revenge with a ludicrous and scurrilous (and comical) accusation that I had been guilty of "plagiarism" in a newspaper article on pornography I had written in 1993, initially for The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. The complaint was that I had not footnoted a newspaper article or spent months ensuring that the hundreds of studies summarized in the dozen or more books I had read had all been entirely accurately outlined. What was novel about the accusation was that it was made by an anonymous informant who obviously did not want anyone to know his or her name. This was not necessary for legal reasons. Quadrant could have offered full legal indemnity. Shortly after he received a lawyer's letter, Windschuttle agreed to publish my reply in full. Although it was 2500 words it appeared in the letters pages of the June issue. Readers can now make a judgment on this matter for themselves by reading the original article in the May Quadrant and my reply. In the course of his article, Windschuttle returned once more to the Edgerton matter, more or less thereby making it clear why he had published his obviously defamatory piece.

I have never published an article showing why, in mid-December 2002, I was convinced that Windschuttle had used Edgerton improperly and in a way that self-evidently would have required a re-write if it had occurred in a postgraduate thesis or even in an undergraduate essay. No one would argue that the issue is of first rate importance. But given that neither he nor his political friends will let the matter drop I have no alternative but, finally, to outline my case.

What follows is Windschuttle's supposed source or sources; Edgerton's paraphrase of the sources; the relevant sentence or sentences in Windschuttle; and my own commentary. Readers can decide for themselves whether my initial description-"Windschuttle, without attribution, seems to have copied Edgerton's words almost verbatim or provided slightly altered paraphrases"-is true or false.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source (A)

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

No simpler technology has ever been recorded in the world's ethnographic literature.

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197)

 

The outstanding feature of Tasmanian technology was its simplicity ...

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', pp 196)

 

On the island, people made their living through the medium of a technology, so simple in the number and elaboration of its elements, as to stagger the imagination.

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197)

 

When Europeans first made contact with them in the eighteenth century, the approximately 4000 Tasmanians then living had the simplest technology ever reported for any human society.

(p 47)

 

When first contacted in the eighteenth century, the Tasmanians were the most primitive human society ever encountered. One measure of this was the simplicity of their technology.

(p 377)

 

 

Commentary:

Windschuttle's implicit claim here is that both he and Edgerton took from Rhys Jones the idea about the simplicity of the Tasmanian technology and, independently and by accident, placed it within the framework of a general statement about the time the Europeans made contact with the Tasmanians. In addition, he implicitly claims that independently and by accident they used a near-identical sentence structure not found in Rhys Jones: "When Europeans first made contact with them in the eighteenth century, the approximately 4000Tasmanians...(E)". "When first contacted in the eighteenth century, the Tasmanians...(W)". Neither claim is plausible.

Text Windschuttle claims was his source (B)

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

To hunt, men used one piece spears, between 4.5 and 6m long ...

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 196)

 

A stout, straight or fusiform stick ... was used both as a throwing stick and as a club to dispatch game which had been wounded or bailed up by other means. Small spherical pebbles were also part of the projectile armoury, thrown accurately in volleys by several men.

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197

 

Men relied on one piece wooden spears and wooden clubs that they threw, along with stones, usually with great accuracy.

(p 47)

 

The men hunted with one-piece wooden spears, wooden clubs and stones.

(p 377)

 

 

Commentary:

Readers will notice that Edgerton's and Windschuttle's sentences more closely resemble each other than they resemble Rhys Jones'. In addition three words or phrases Edgerton uses in his paraphrase of Rhys Jones, namely "wooden spears", "wooden clubs" and "stones" are not found in Rhys Jones, who refers to "spears", "a club" and "small spherical pebbles". In each case Windschuttle uses words and phrases used by Edgerton but not by Rhys Jones. The idea that Windschuttle on three occasions in the space of 13 words independently and by accident chose the same words or phrases as Edgerton for his summary of Rhys Jones when Rhys Jones had not used these words or phrases is not plausible.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source (C)

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

These [shellfish] are often taken in deep water by the native women, who dive for them, and force them from the rocks by means of a wooden chisel.

(Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 101)

 

These [shellfish] were collected by women, who dived below water, prying the shells off the rocks with a wooden wedge and putting them into small rush baskets suspended from their throats.

Rhys Jones, ‘Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?', p 20

 

Women had a combination digging stick-club-chisel which was used for a variety of purposes from digging up vegetable roots, ochre and killing game, to prising bark off trees ...

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197)

 

Rocky coast shellfish were obtained by diving, the women carrying in their hand a small wooden spatula or wedge ...

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197)

 

Women used simple wooden digging sticks to prise up roots, wooden chisels to pry shellfish off rocks, short grass ropes to climb trees, and woven grass bags to carry the fruits of their efforts.

(p 47)

 

The women used digging sticks to uproot vegetables and wooden chisels to prise shellfish from rocks. (p 377)

 

 

Commentary:

In his paraphrase of Rhys Jones, Edgerton combined in a single sentence two different female food gathering activities-collecting root vegetables and prying or prising shell fish from rocks. In neither of Windschuttle's supposed sources, Ling Roth and Rhys Jones, are these different activities discussed in the same sentence or even same passage. The first half of Edgerton's sentence is a paraphrase either of Ling Roth or Rhys Jones' "Why Did The Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?". The second half is a paraphrase of Rhys Jones' "The Tasmanian Paradox". Windschuttle's sentence is not only closer to Edgerton than any of Edgerton's sources. Apparently, Windschuttle wishes us to believe that, independently and by accident, he and Edgerton decided to combine into a single sentence two descriptions of food gathering which appear separately, either in Ling Roth and Rhys Jones or in two different pieces by Rhys Jones. To put it politely, this is entirely implausible.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(D)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

The natives made use of a grass rope, which was passed round their body and the tree [for climbing].

(Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 143 - his square brackets)

 

Bass gives the following curious description of a basket: "The single utensil that was observed lying near their huts was a kind of basket made of long wiry grass ...

(Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 145 - pages 142-5 have descriptions and illustrations of Tasmanian basket work.)

 

Women used simple wooden digging sticks to prise up roots, wooden chisels to pry shellfish off rocks, short grass ropes to climb trees, and woven grass bags to carry the fruits of their efforts.

(p 47)

 

Their most sophisticated possessions were grass ropes to climb trees and woven grass bags.

(p 377)

 

Commentary:

Edgerton's passage appears to have been based on two separate descriptions in Ling Roth (p.143 and p.145). Windschuttle has simply repeated Edgerton's words verbatim but without a comma--"grass ropes to climb trees and woven grass bags" (W); "grass ropes to climb trees, and woven grass bags...(E) " This long phrase is not found in Ling Roth, Windschuttle's supposed source. What Windschuttle is implicitly arguing here is that, independently and by accident, he and Edgerton combined in a single extended phrase a description of the possessions of Tasmanian women, which appear in two separate passages in Ling Roth and then, by further accident and again independently, put their description in a long identical phrase, a phrase not found in their common source, Ling Roth. This is implausible.

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(E)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

There in its stark simplicity of about two dozen items, is the entire corpus of Tasmanian technology.

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197)

 

In all, the entire Tasmanian inventory of manufactured goods came to no more than two dozen items.

(p 47)

 

Their entire catalogue of manufactured goods comprised about two dozen articles.

(p 377)

 

 

Commentary:

Edgerton is very close in phraseology to Rhys Jones. Windschuttle is very close in phraseology to both Rhys Jones and Edgerton. It is, however, likely that Windschuttle's source is Edgerton not Rhys Jones, as Windschuttle claims. No phrase appears in both Rhys Jones and Windschuttle that does not also appear in Edgerton. On the other hand, one phrase appears in both Edgerton and Windschuttle that does not appear in Rhys Jones, ie "manufactured goods". Moreover, Windschuttle's sentence structure resembles Edgerton not Rhys Jones. "[T]he entire Tasmanian inventory of manufactured goods came to no more than two dozen items. (E)" "Their entire catalogue of manufactured goods comprised about two dozen articles. (W)" It is likely therefore that Edgerton not Rhys Jones is once more Windschuttle's source.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(F)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

These conclusions are based on excavations at a series of open and cave midden sites in north west Tasmania.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 194

 

In coming to an explanation of the discontinuation of fishing; of the abandonment of bone tools and the other items that they made; of why at the South Australian threshold to Tasmania 10,000 years ago we have wooden boomerangs and barbed spears and yet none were found in the Tasmanian tool kit of AD 1800; of why again no hafted stone tools and no edge-ground axes were in nineteenth-century Tasmanian technology, and yet both are now known to have had a Pleistocene antiquity on the mainland ...Rhys Jones, ‘Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?, p 47

 

All stone tools were held in the hand without the aid of any hafting technique, and no edge ground axes have ever been found in an authentic context in Tasmania... In higher levels, especially from 4000 BP onwards, there was a steady and increasing introduction of high quality exotic raw materials such as cherts, siliceous breccias, and spongolites ...

(Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 194

 

... the bone points and also the spatulae at Rocky Cape, were used as awls and reamers in the manufacture of skin cloaks ... Thus not only the bone tools themselves but also the articles manufactured with them may also have been discontinued...

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 196

 

As Rhys Jones has trenchantly pointed out, the Tasmanians either lost or abandoned some seemingly useful forms of technology they originally brought to the island. They once had bone tools, wooden boomerangs, barbed spears, hafted stone tools, and edge-ground axes, but all these were gone long before the Europeans arrived.

(p 49)

 

From excavations of some long-used campsites and caves, the archaeologist and prehistorian Rhys Jones, has concluded that several thousand years earlier, their technology had actually been more complex. They once used bone tools, barbed spears and weaving needles made of fish bone. They also had wooden boomerangs, hafted stone tools, edge-ground stone axes and tools fashioned from volcanic glass. However, these had all long been abandoned by the time Europeans arrived.

(p 378)

 

 

Commentary:

Windschuttle's list of the Tasmanian tool kit--"They once used bone tools, barbed spears and weaving needles made of fish bone. They also had wooden boomerangs, hafted stone tools, edge ground stone axes and tools fashioned from volcanic glass..."is very close to Edgerton's list-"They had bone tools, wooden boomerangs, barbed spears, hafted stone tools, and edge-ground axes"-although Windschuttle has added two items. Although both lists are close to Rhys Jones' description, Windschuttle's list is closer to Edgerton's than to Rhys Jones'. There is, moreover, one line where Windschuttle follows Edgerton more or less verbatim. Edgerton concludes his list with these words: "[B]ut these were long gone before the Europeans arrived." Windschuttle concludes his own list like this: "However they had long been abandoned by the time the Europeans arrived." Rhys Jones makes the same point but in quite different words: "...none were found in the Tasmanian tool kit of AD 1800." Once more, it seems most likely here that, although Windschuttle added two items to Edgerton's list of the Tasmanian tool kit based on other reading, he relied on Edgerton for his list of the Tasmanian tool kit rather than on Edgerton's own source, Rhys Jones.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(G)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

Fire was carried, usually by men, in smouldering slow burning fire sticks, but the Tasmanians did not know how to make it (Plomley, 1962), having to go to their neighbours for a re-light if their own sticks went out.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197

 

At one time, the natives were said not to have known the art of making fire! Calder declares (J.A.I. pp 19-20): "They were ignorant of any method of procuring fire." ... Dove makes a similar statement, only he uses more words to say it in (I. p 250), and Backhouse (p. 99) "learned that the Aborigines of V.D. Land had no artificial method of obtaining fire, before their acquaintance with Europeans ..."

Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 84

 

What is more, they could not make fire by any of the methods known on the Australian mainland; each Tasmanian band had to carry a burning firebrand at all times or risk having no fire at all for warmth or cooking.

(p 50)

 

The colonists were astonished to observe they could not make fire, a skill that even Neanderthal Man had mastered. They carried firebrands and coals with them on their nomadic journeys. If the fires of one family were doused by rain or flood, they had to go in search of others to ask for a light.

(p 377)

 

 

Commentary:

The evidence here goes in both directions. Both Edgerton and Windschuttle use the term "firebrand". Neither Ling Roth nor Rhys Jones do. On the other hand, Windschuttle does add a detail to Edgerton, about relying on others if the flame went out, which is found in Rhys Jones but not in Edgerton.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(H)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

... when Rocky Cape was first occupied, 8000 years ago, bony fish, as represented overwhelmingly by wrasses (‘parrot fish') (Pseudolabrus sp) probably contributed about 20% of the non -molluscan meat, by weight. This fraction was maintained until some time between 3800 and 3500 BP when suddenly, fish completely disappeared from the diet, and this state of affairs continued until the ethnographic present ... The dropping of fish from Tasmanian diet sometime about three or four thousand years ago is now confirmed from other sites, both in the north west and the south east of the island.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 196

 

Until approximately 4,000 years ago, fish were an important food source for them, but after that time fish disappeared from the archaeological record. By the time the Europeans arrived, the Tasmanians had no fishhooks, fish spears or nets...(p 49)

Fish were originally an important part of their diet but the archaeological record shows they gave up eating fish, and the manufacture of fish hooks and fish spears, about 4000 years ago.

(p 378)

 

 

Commentary:

Once again, it seems obvious that Windschuttle's source is Edgerton and not Rhys Jones, as claimed. Rhys Jones dates the disappearance of fish eating to "some time between 3800 and 3500 BP" or "about three or four thousand years ago". Edgerton paraphrases this (rather imprecisely) as "approximately four thousand years ago". Windschuttle uses the same dating: "about 4000 years ago". He has replicated here Edgerton's imprecision. In his paraphrase of Rhys Jones, Edgerton writes about the disappearance of fish from "the archaeological record". Windschuttle also uses the phrase "archaeological record." Windschuttle's supposed source, Rhys Jones, does not. In this short passage, Edgerton writes about the non-existence, at the time of the arrival of the Europeans of "fishhooks, fish spears or nets...". Windschuttle also writes about the end of the manufacture of "fish hooks and fish spears..." In the passage of Rhys Jones that Windschuttle claims as his source, Rhys Jones mentions neither fish hooks nor fish spears. What Windschuttle is asking us to believe here is that in two passages of fewer than forty words, both Edgerton and Windschuttle have, independently and by accident, misrepresented in identical fashion Rhys Jones' date for the disappearance of fish from the Tasmanian diet; used an identical phrase-"archaeological record"-not found in Windschuttle's supposed source; and discussed the disappearance of fish hooks and fish nets, a discussion not found in the passage of Rhys Jones Windschuttle claims to have relied upon for his thirty words. This is implausible.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(I)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

The Anbara [mainland Aborigines] shared Captain Cook's amazement on being told of a coastal people who did not eat fish.

Rhys Jones, ‘Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?' p 41

 

... for the Tasmanians, winter was the stress period, when they fanned out into small groups along the west coastline and lived on those resources which were still available if less rich in absolute terms than during the summer... To have been able to bring fish into play as a complement to mollusks and crustacea during stress periods would have been a great advantage ...

Rhys Jones, ‘Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?, p 36

 

Most coastal Australian aborigines made fish a staple of their diet, and they were incredulous when told that the Tasmanians did not do the same.

(p 50)

 

Mainland Aborigines for whom fish was dietary staple, were amazed to find the Tasmanians refused to eat fish, even though they were abundant in the sea and the inland rivers and lakes, especially in winter when other food was limited.

(p 378)

 

 

Commentary:

This case is slightly more ambiguous. Windschuttle and Rhys Jones use the word "amazed" or "amazement" concerning attitudes of others to the absence of fish from the diet. Edgerton uses the term "incredulous". On the other hand, both Edgerton and Windschuttle write here of the "Tasmanians" while Rhys Jones does not. More significantly, while Edgerton writes about "a staple of their diet" and Windschuttle writes of "dietary staple", in Rhys Jones no such phrase occurs. On balance, it is more likely than not that Edgerton not Rhys Jones is once more Windschuttle's source.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(J)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

Seven thousand years ago at Rocky Point, people were using one bone implement for every two or three stone ones... Three thousand years later, the ratio of bone to stone tools had declined to only one in fifteen, and by three and a half thousand years ago, bone tools had dropped out of the technology entirely. Paralleling this decline in numbers, there was also a constriction in the range of tool types.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 196

 

Demographically and culturally, Tasmania was a closed system. Indeed it will become the classic example of such a system, for no other human society, which survived until modern times, had been so isolated so completely for so long.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 194

 

Like a blow above the heart, it took a long time to take effect, but slowly but surely there was a simplification in the tool kit, a diminution in the range of foods eaten, perhaps a squeezing of intellectuality. The world's longest isolation, the world's simplest technology. Were 4000 people enough to propel forever the cultural inheritance of Late Pleistocene Australia? Even if Abel Tasman had not sailed the winds of the Roaring Forties in 1642, were they in fact doomed - doomed to a slow strangulation of the mind?

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', pp 202-3

 

Instead of creating new and better forms of hunting, fishing or medical treatment, the Tasmanians lived on, generation after generation, actually abandoning previously useful practices without creating new ones. As Rhys Jones, perhaps the foremost student of Tasmanian ethnoarchaeology rather dyspeptically put it, 4000 years of isolation apparently led not to more adaptive cultural forms but to a "slow strangulation of the mind"

(pp 50-1)

 

 

Instead of technological progress, the Tasmanians had experienced a technological regression. Isolated from the mainland when the waters rose 10,000 years ago, and lacking any outside source of competition or innovation, the Tasmanians suffered the consequences. Jones writes:

Like a blow above the heart, it took a long time to take effect, but slowly but surely there was a simplification in the tool kit, a diminution in the range of foods eaten, perhaps a squeezing of intellectuality. The world's longest isolation, the world's simplest technology ... a slow strangulation of the mind.

(p 378)

 

 

Commentary:

Edgerton and Windschuttle are both indebted to Rhys Jones' argument about "the slow strangulation of the mind". Obviously, Windschuttle has gone to the original for the full quotation from Rhys Jones, which Edgerton abbreviated and footnoted.

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(K)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

"The men are very indolent, and make the women their beasts of burden, and do all their servile operations, such as cooking, etc... The men are extremely selfish ..."

Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, pp 113-4, quoting from R. H. Davies, ‘On the Aborigines of Van Diemen's Land', 1846

 

"... they [the women] acted only as drudges to carry their spears and game", Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 114, quoting Calder, 1874

 

The men considered it beneath them, and left it [the shellfish], and all other troublesome services, to them, who, in nine cases out of ten, were no better than slaves.

Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 114

 

While men often remained in camp resting or talking (early European observers called them "indolent"), women fetched water and firewood and gathered vegetable products.

(p 48)

 

The first European observers called the men "indolent" and "extremely selfish" and said they treated their women like "slaves" and "drudges".

(p 379)

 

 

Commentary:

In this case, both Edgerton and Windschuttle are reliant on the view of Ling Roth for the description of the "indolence" of the Tasmanian male. Once more, Windshuttle has gone to the original which is footnoted in Edgerton. Windschuttle has read Ling Roth. As James Boyce has pointed out, even though he lists the two volume work of the French explorers who visited Van Diemen's Land, Francois Peron and Louis Freycinet in his bibliography, the only time he uses their work he relies on Ling Roth.

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

(L)

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

These [shellfish] are often taken in deep water by the women, who dive for them, and force them from the rocks by means of a wooden chisel.

Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania, p 101

 

... the fishing (for shell-fish only, obtained by diving) was resigned wholly to them. The men, he said, considered it beneath them.

Ling Roth, Aborigines of Tasmania p 103

 

They alone collected shellfish, the dietary staple, by diving deep into coastal waters where sharp rocks, unpredictable currents, and stingrays were dangerous hazards.

(p 48)

 

 

The women alone collected shellfish and crayfish, diving deep into coastal waters.

(p 379)

 

 

 

 

Commentary:

Here Windschuttle repeats Edgerton's description. "They[the women] alone collected shellfish, the dietary staple, by diving deep into coastal waters...(E)". "The women alone collected shellfish and crayfish, diving deep into coastal waters...(W)" but substitutes "crayfish" for "the dietary staple". Apart from that, Windschuttle has copied out Edgerton almost word for word. The words of Ling Roth, Windschuttle's supposed source, are quite different. The word "alone" appears in both Edgerton and Windschuttle but not in Ling Roth. The word "collected" appears both in Edgerton and Windschuttle but not in Ling Roth. The phrase "diving deep into coastal waters" appears in both Edgerton and Windschuttle but not in Ling Roth. Windschuttle wants us to believe that, independently and by accident, both have arrived at identical words and phrases. Windschuttle has argued that his addition of the word "crayfish" proves he has not borrowed from Edgerton in this passage. It does no such thing.

 

 

Text Windschuttle claims was his source

 

 

Full sentence version of Edgerton

 

Full sentence version of Windschuttle

 

Possums were caught and thrown to the ground by women climbing up the trunks of eucalypts often more than 30m high.

Rhys Jones, ‘Tasmanian Paradox', p 197

 

Women also swam up to two or three kilometers across open sea straits with dangerous cross rips in order to get to the offshore islands where there were seals and mutton birds.

Rhys Jones, ‘Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?', p 21

 

 

More remarkable still, the job of climbing eucalyptus trees (to a height of as much as ninety feet!) to club possums to death also fell to women. And it was women who swam and crept up on sleeping seals to club them to death.

(p 48)

 

Women also climbed trees to catch possums and swam to offshore rocks and islands for muttonbirds and seals.

(p 379)

 

 

Commentary:

In this passage Edgerton has combined two different passages from Rhys Jones. The first sentence is a paraphrase from "The Tasmanian Paradox". The second sentence is a paraphrase from "Why Did the Tasmanians Stop Eating Fish?" Windschuttle wishes us to believe that, independently and by accident, he has combined precisely the same passages, in his case into a single sentence. This is implausible. It is true that he adds "mutton birds" to Edgerton's paraphrase of Rhys Jones. But it is also true that in this case he omitted to include, in his self-defence, the crucial second sentence of Edgerton. In my rushed piece prepared for the Age I inadvertently left it out. Windschuttle here tried to benefit from my omission. By this omission, Windschuttle tried to suggest that only he and Rhys Jones, but not Edgerton, had combined a discussion of how possums were collected with a discussion of women's harvesting of seals. In the context, this omission was misleading.

[The parallel columns have been adapted from Keith Windschuttle's website sydneyline.com. The sources listed are, of course, those Windschuttle himself claimed.]

***********************

Windschuttle initially claimed that I had raised this issue as a diversion. As I decided to edit a book examining Fabrication in detail, mainly because of the importance it instantly assumed in the Culture Wars being fought by the Howard government, the right-wing commentariat and the Murdoch press, the argument about Edgerton-as-diversion quickly made no sense. In July 2003, Windschuttle discovered that my edited collection on Fabrication was soon to be published. He spoke to The Australian's gossip columnist, D.D. McNicoll, about how he intended to respond. "In Tasmania recently Windschuttle was shown the proofs of the new book Robert Manne is editing, Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Manne's collection includes essays by historians Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan-Windschuttle's two leading critics and the custodians of the orthodox history of murderous conflict in the Apple Isle. Not over-impressed by their arguments, Windschuttle has nonetheless decided to write and publish a slim volume rebutting his critics before finishing volume two of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History."

He never has. I am still waiting.

Instead of answering his critics directly and honestly, Windschuttle commissioned an altogether inconsequential book by a non-historian, John Dawson's Washout, to do his work for him. He also wrote an unsatisfactory piece in Quadrant, which failed to answer most of the central criticisms of his work raised by the authors assembled in Whitewash.

In response to this Quadrant piece, the talented younger historian, James Boyce, the author of the acclaimed new history, Van Diemen's Land, wrote a detailed and devastating critique of Windschuttle for Quadrant. PP McGuinness not only refused to publish Boyce. He didn't even bother to provide reasons. In the body of the article, Boyce reiterated but in a new way the case he had made in Whitewash. In one of his footnotes (no.xxx), Boyce summarized brilliantly but briefly some of the basic weaknesses in Windschuttle uncovered by other Whitewash authors. The article and the footnotes can be found here.

In my view, Windschuttle has no alternative but to respond to this James Boyce piece. And he also has no alternative but to respond in detail, as he promised five years ago, to the central findings which question his understanding of Tasmanian anthropology and history of the other Whitewash chapters summarized in Boyce's footnote.

If he does not, it must be assumed that he cannot.

About the author Robert Manne

Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University. His most recent book is The Mind of the Islamic State, Redback, Black Inc.      

 
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