A Few Lies to Start the Truth Commission on Its Way

Michael Connor

Contributing editor

This is a tragic story. It is our story. Each text cited in this article concerns our history and each is both wrong and self-evidently ridiculous, yet each is probably believed by a majority of Australians—even their authors may believe them. Here is “history”, the only history, which flows through the mainstream media and its tributaries. These are respected voices found on the ABC, Vogue, Australian Geographic, RoyalAuto, Buzzfeed, Meanjin and Griffith Review. Three of the most ill-informed texts come from leading Australian writers.

No school teacher or university student, no Coalition parliamentarian or bookshop owner, no theatre-goer or book discussion group member, no White Aborigine or farmers’ market stallholder, no arts grant recipient or clergy person, would doubt the truth of these extracts, which are annihilating weapons in a racial civil war most Australians don’t even know they have lost. A majority of Australians now instinctively “know” that this is how it was and this is what our country already believes when five commissioners who will conduct Victoria’s Truth Commission are about to take the stage.

The Truth Commission, acting with royal commission powers, will take place over three years and impose an authoritarian lock on our history, as the Age noted with approval, by creating “an official record of the impact of colonisation on First Peoples in Victoria using First Peoples’ stories”. The suicide of truth has been announced. A joint statement from the Victorian government and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria who are responsible for its creation made it appear the conclusion has already been decided, though what they call silence in the present feels more like loud and unending propaganda:

Today has been owed for 233 years. 233 years of violence, dispossession and deprivation. 233 years of deliberate silence … As a state, as a nation, we must do better. That means not only hearing Aboriginal voices—but actually listening to them. And taking meaningful action in order to achieve real and lasting change. Victoria’s truth-telling Commission will be led by experts and held in partnership with community.

The promise of lasting change also came with a promise from the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Gabrielle Williams: “the government would establish financial compensation for Indigenous people if the commission recommended this action”. So a commission dominated by indigenous people may compensate indigenous people if the evidence of indigenous people suggests indigenous people should be compensated by the government. In black and white that’s very clear, though it may not solve the real problems of Aboriginal people or encourage them to face their own violent traditions and link these with their own present.

The selection of the commissioners was race-based—majority Aboriginal, “including at least two Traditional Owners (and one must be an Elder)”. No cries of racism were heard when this was announced, this is not the way our democracy works/ed, nor was there criticism of woke-pandering selection criteria which called for “knowledge and understanding of: Systemic disadvantage and its causes; Expertise in Indigenous rights; Community engagement; Decolonisation; Transitional justice; Government system reform and/or historical inquiries”. But will they be able to untangle truth from untruth?

Some of the worst damage to Victoria’s race history has been caused by a whale. In the late 1830s a captured whale at Portland broke free and in its panic swam towards the shore and beached itself. Whalers set off in pursuit but when they attempted to regain control were attacked by raiding Aborigines armed with spears and stones—lethal weapons in the hands of hunter-gatherer warriors trained in their use since boyhood. This part is usually left out of the history. The whalers risked being murdered and mutilated and their bodies stripped and robbed. They retreated to their fishing base, where there were muskets. Armed with superior weapons they returned to the whale, were again attacked, and reacted. Violence met violence.

We have no knowledge of what casualties there were or of where exactly this incident took place. All accounts which give these details are supposition and fantasy. The Aborigines retreated up the sands, took shelter behind the tree line and continued harassing the whalers with their weapons. Presumably at the end of the day the whalers left the scene with the whale bone and the whale tongue and the flesh remained for the Aborigines to gather. The whalers had done the hunting, the Aborigines did the gathering. This truthful account, based on the single piece of evidence we have, is unpopular. Historian activists prefer a deadly Aboriginal death toll of up to 200 armed, initiated warriors who unbelievably presented themselves for destruction.

The original account was collected by George Robinson, Chief Protector of the Aborigines, when he visited Portland in 1841. After noting the story, as told to him by settler Edward Henty, he began on the very next day changing the emphasis to make it seem a savage attack carried out by whites against blacks. At the time he was hearing of what had happened in the past, Portland was dealing with a newer atrocity in the present. News had arrived of the killing of two men, a settler named Gibson and a shepherd known only as Larry. The two men had been mutilated, possibly tortured, and Larry crucified—“his arms were extended, and were speared through the wrists to the ground”. Our national history is incomplete until the records of Aboriginal violence against each other and against the settlers are taken out of hiding and put back into our story. Truth in our history is everyone’s right.

In the Australian Geographic the tale was told by a local tour guide who belongs to a well-known local family who are strongly involved in the modern presentation of the story:

Tyson has a very straight way of telling a story. Sitting in the picnic ground at Mt Eccles National Park, 43km north-east of Portland, he recounts the Convincing Ground Massacre of 1834–35, when up to 200 Aboriginal people, asserting their right to take as food a whale washed up on a beach, were “rounded up” and shot. That sparked the Eumeralla Wars, which lasted 15 years and saw, Tyson says, the Gunditjmara fight a guerrilla campaign.

The ABC, with blameworthy irresponsibility, presented a news story asserting that the historic whaling industry try pots displayed around the city had been used to boil down the bodies of Aborigines supposedly killed in this massacre: “Clan wants Portland’s monuments removed amid fears Aboriginal history being ‘erased’”. The ABC journalist began by stating that the whale fight is “a battle described as the bloodiest massacre of Aboriginal people in the state’s history”. Unfortunately he is not wrong—this is the way it is perceived and taught. The Wikipedia entry is typically corrupt and misleading and the zealots who censor and control it have banned dissent. Embedded in the ABC article is a publicity photo, provided by a local activist, of a man standing on a defaced monument to the Henty family, holding a boomerang in his raised right hand:

Large cauldrons used for boiling down whale blubber dot the [Portland] foreshore, a reminder of the town’s earliest industry. For Mr Rotumah [the man in the photo], these are not milestones to be celebrated, rather reminders of the oppression his people faced more than 180 years ago. “To everyone else, they’re just a part of white history, a reminder for settlers, but for us it means something completely different,” he said. The Hentys established a whaling station at a beachside site later known as the Convincing Ground, north-west of the Portland foreshore in Allestree. It was here that a dispute over a beached whale carcass led to the murder of up to 200 Aboriginal people. With guns, the settlers “convinced” the Indigenous people of their right to the carcass. “The kilcarer gundidj is the clan that was decimated that day, and all but two survived [sic] according to our oral history,” Mr Rotumah said. “Our oral history tells that we’ll never find any bones or any remains, because the remains of our people were boiled down in those cauldrons. A lot of people who live in the shire, they’re worried about their history being erased.”

The story continued with the protagonist taking his oral history to local authorities, “I just thought it was the right time to talk to some brother boys and go down and start having some discussions.” The local mayor, Anita Rank, “said she thought it was a courageous move for Mr Rotumah to reach out to the council”—and an audit of monuments is to be conducted. “We just want them gone,” said Mr Rotumah.

In RoyalAuto, a widely circulated magazine published by the RACV, there was a friendly and well-intentioned puff piece for Aboriginal-themed tourism, “Indigenous tourism in Victoria set to shine”, which included murder and Dark Emu fantasy in its sales pitch:

Braydon Saunders and Tyson Lovett-Murray [cited above and the supplier of the warrior-on-vandalised-plinth photo to the ABC] talk about the banning of their language and traditions, and of the elders’ ever-present fear of losing their children if the women were found practising traditions such as weaving eel baskets.

“We were the original sustainable farmers,” says Braydon Saunders. “We weren’t just hunter-gatherers. Our ancestors were looking after the landscape, taking care of biodiversity, doing planned burns and concentrating on the production of one species.”

Their Gunditjmara ancestors trapped short-finned eels in a complex system of channels, ponds and weirs. They sometimes fattened them up on kangaroo meat, separated the pregnant eels from the others, and captured them in intricately woven grass baskets. The reliable food supply allowed them to settle and build villages of stone huts where they lived year-round. They smoked eels in hollowed-out trees for trade, and stored food in sinkhole “fridges”—all at least 4000 years before the ancient Egyptians built their pyramids. 

These first three texts demonstrate the sophisticated usage of a sympathetic media by activists attempting to take control of our history. The final text also shows the speed in which the Dark Emu hoax is developing into a cult. (For more detail on the evidence, and its misuse, see my earlier article “Convincing Ground: An Invented Massacre” at Quadrant Online, December 1, 2007.) It also illustrates how dissenting arguments are excluded, ignored and maligned if they are not bent to conform with outside notions of justice for Aborigines.

Buzzfeed and Vogue (Vogue!!) provided a platform for Tara June Winch, prize-winning indigenous author, to beat the Prime Minister with fake history:

There’s so much to tell you, but I don’t know how up to speed you are, I don’t know how deeply your education has failed you. Prime Minister, Scott Morrison attended Sydney Boys High School, it looks nice there, good teachers I’m sure, and yet last week he said, “there was no slavery in Australia”.

We know that’s just not true, we’ve written about it since the explosion of our Aboriginal literature as a response to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, we know of it in historical records written by White men, by the oral histories of those Blackbirded and their descendants, and it’s still unbelievable? [sic]

We know of it in those sold to the field under the Masters and Slaves Act during the colonisation of Australia, shackled by the neck, our people, photographed like that even, and it’s still unbelievable? [sic]

No one, not even when she was accepting $80,000 for a literary award given in the Prime Minister’s name, asked her what exactly the Masters and Slaves Act was and how it appears she is the only proud Wiradjuri French citizen who appears to have heard of it. The most likely explanation is that the insight came from Google. A search for aborigines and slaves led me to an online PhD thesis from the University of Western Australia. In footnote 8 on page 10 of “Shared lives on Nigena country” by Jacinta Solonec is a reference to the Masters and Slaves Act (WA), 1892. But in the text above the footnote the author is actually discussing the Masters and Servants Act (WA), 1892. Her foot-of-the-page reference is a simple error of transcription and that may be how Aboriginal slavery, via Google via Tara Winch, came to Australia.

No one who heard or read Winch’s comments had a clue what she was talking about. No one questioned her or asked for more information. It was automatically assumed that an indigenous writer knows our history. They would also have accepted that when she wrote about her grandmother she was noting an injustice solely reserved by white supremacists for poor stolen Aborigines:

We know in the forced servitude and control of “wages” throughout the 20th century, my Nana Alice included, aged 14, was sent away to work as a domestic. 14. I have a 14 year old child at home right now. A child. It’s so unbelievable? [sic]

It is very believable, for that was the situation for all working-class families. Close members of my family were in service or sent for farm work at the same age or younger, but I don’t remember them ever whining in later life of what they had endured. It was simply the way things were.

Vogue adds a further note written by Winch. Unfortunately this self-confidence in error and ignorance is typical of her indigenous contemporaries who demand to be heard and have nothing true to say. By the way, I wonder where her polished, published writing style has gone:

“We don’t need … to read our books nor hear our voices and know our history, we already know it—it is YOU that NEEDS to read our books and hear our voices and know YOUR history,” Winch wrote to conclude one of her takeover posts, reminding us to seek out the voices of First Nations women to richen our understanding of Australia’s history.

Translated it means that Aboriginal conversation is two monologues glaring at each other.

In Meanjin, award-winning indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko revived an old slur. I had become interested in this fifteen years ago when writing The Invention of Terra Nullius and hoped it had died from its own stupidity, but in 2015 it was again out and about:

Elders generally, though not always, counsel patience, diplomacy, peaceful protest. But across Australia I hear more and more Aboriginal men and women saying they are tired of endless cant in defense of the savages who arrived in 1788 and kicked off the heads of Aboriginal babies while claiming to bring the Enlightenment. Whether it will take asymmetric warfare to restore Aborigines to a place of political autonomy in our own countries after two centuries of struggle is anybody’s guess. But only a fool would fail to ask the question.

In an online text for Griffith Review the same lie about babies’ heads was used by Bruce Pascoe. Strangely both the Lucashenko citation and this one were published by different Left literary magazines in September 2015. When I tried to find its source, and all its users seemed vague on the point, the earliest usage I could find was by archaeologist Rhys Jones in his 1971 University of Sydney PhD thesis and even there it is unsourced. Bruce Pascoe presents it as he heard it, he says, in a King Island schoolyard in the 1950s:

I’d had earlier experience with the stories Australia tells itself. As a schoolboy on King Island I hadn’t known where to stand or look when other boys in the playground told a story about burying babies in the sand and kicking their heads off like footballs. Of course these babies were black and presumably their mothers had been raped and shot—or shot and raped—moments before. The kids had probably received this story with attendant mirth from their fathers; they were quite possibly stories about deeds conducted by their grandfathers.

Further into the same article Pascoe unites babies’-heads stories with another of his passionate personal hates:

The Christian religion promoted the idea of conquest and obliteration of Indigenous peoples. The papal bull of 1493, the Doctrine of Discovery, called for colonisation of other people’s houses, and allowed its troops to believe they were worthy husbands and fathers. It is that papal bull that allowed Australian men to kick the heads of babies, convinced that the babies deserved nothing else.

I was also at school, not far from him, at the same time and also remember atrocity stories. The ones that frightened us came from the big kids who told us tales of Japanese war crimes. I doubt Pascoe is telling the truth and I find his malice racially divisive and hurtful. The people he maligns include working-class men like my father who, so soon after returning home from military service, were dealing with the traumas of their war experiences, and the idea that he would have found this humorous and repeated it to us is beyond belief. Maybe the story Pascoe tells is actually about his family, not ours, and as a personal confession we should try and imagine Mr Pascoe senior giggling with “attendant mirth” telling young Bruce the tale of his dead white tramway employee grandfather (1891–1933) on a St Kilda beach.

These untruths spread racial hatred: 200 Aborigines were not massacred at Portland; the site where a fight over a whale took place is uncertain; Aboriginal bodies from this “massacre” were not boiled down in whalers’ cauldrons; there never was a Masters and Slaves Act in Australia; babies’ heads were not kicked off. The silence of the usual chatterers is deafening.

Each of the stories related here is wrong but no voices query or complain, no academic historian has corrected the record and none of the Aborigines who speak so fluently and publish so many best-selling words ever call for cool reason and attempt to halt the flow of falsehoods. Will the Truth Commission even try?

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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