A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

The Git outside the UTas cafeteria colloquially known as Lazy Ben's A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

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Saturday, 24 September 2005

The Git decided to become a genuine Australian some weeks ago and had his interview yesterday. All went well, though to The Git's amusement, there had been no record in the Dept of Immigration's database even though he has been here since 25 April, 1965. The interviewer said that as The Git was over 50 years of age, he didn't need to speak English. "Pardonnez moi", he said, "but I've forgotten most of my French and Latin. Do you mind if I stick to English?"

Some time in the next few weeks The Git will attend a formal ceremony where he will recite the following:

From this time forward, [under God], I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Reciting "under God" is optional; while 72.9% of Australians profess to believe in one of the many available gods, we live in a largely secular society.

The Git's motivation is not due to any sudden jingoistic urges; it's simply that he needs a passport in order to visit his daughter in New Zealand in January. Rather than obtaining a British passport and travelling as a Briton, he'd rather be identified as what he has long felt himself to be: Australian. To be truthful, he'd rather be identified as a Tasmanian than an Australian, but secession from the Commonwealth seems a remote prospect at this point in time.

Of course there's always the danger of being labelled "racist scum" when identifying oneself as Tasmanian. The UK writer Anthony Campbell in his review of Henry Gee's In Search of Deep Time concludes:

"When white settlers arrived in Tasmania they regarded the Stone Age inhabitants as animals and hunted them down to extinction."

Now of course the original white settlers are supposed to have committed this genocide back in the 1830s and 40s, so The Git can hardly be held responsible. He wasn't born until 1951 and even then it was on the opposite end of the planet. However, The Git has several Tasmanian aboriginal friends who all appear to be remarkably un-extinct to coin a word. According to the Bureau of Census and Statistics, in 1996 2.6% of Tasmanians were aborigines. The Git believes  that in the district where he dwells, the percentage is closer to 5%.

So, who is this Henry Gee who is promulgating the fiction that Tasmania's white settlers hunted down aborigines like animals to the point of extinction?

"Henry Gee joined the international science magazine Nature in 1987, where he is now Senior Editor, Biological Sciences. He has a Ph. D in Zoology from the University of Cambridge."
[Full Story]

One thing The Git knows for certain is that Henry Gee might very well pay lip service to scientific empiricism, but he most certainly knows nothing of the Tasmanian aborigines and their fate. Almost 12,000 does not equal zero! So where did this well-educated empiricist obtain his data for his pronouncement? The Git's best guess is from some well-educated, post-modernist historian -- quite probably Henry Reynolds, or Lyndall Ryan. To quote Keith Windschuttle:

"Lyndall Ryan claims that in July 1827 a party pursuing the Aboriginal killers of a stockman at the Western Marshes left 60 blacks dead or wounded. She has taken this report, without acknowledging it, from Shayne Breen's 2001 book on northern Tasmania, which cited a newspaper story. But if you trace the story back to its source in the archives it refers to an event where a party led by Corporal Shiners of the 40th Regiment and four stockmen pursued the Aborigines. At nightfall they got to within forty yards of the Aboriginal camp before the dogs detected them. They got off three shots and only wounded one man. In other words, the press report was a wildly exaggerated rumour."
[Full Story]

There a a few things to note here. Tasmania by 1827 had a number of free settlers as well as a large number of convicts. It was primarily a penal colony. The penal bureaucracy left extensive records that are freely available for perusal in the State Archive, where the ever-friendly and helpful staff really know what data's there and will help you find it if it exists. While competent historiographers in the past relied as far as possible on primary sources, this is completely unnecessary if you are a post-modernist. Followers of Derrida and Foucault do not believe in truth; there exist merely opinion and cultural belief. Thus Ryan saw, and indeed continues to see, no need to ascertain accurate historical facts to justify her assertions.

Ryan's claim of 60 blacks left dead or wounded by Corporal Shiners and four stockmen cannot be logically sustained unless you believe that the aborigines were unbelievably stupid and therefore liable to become extinct. The guns the men used were muzzle-loaders and so slow to reload. It was night time and the bush (forest) was dense. The aborigines had been alerted by their dogs and it would be unusual if the dogs had not also harried Shiners and the stockmen. The Git can think of no plausible reason, other than rank idiocy, why the aborigines would not have immediately decamped and melted into the bush after the first gunshot. Given that this latter appears to be what actually happened, clearly it's Ryan who has this insulting belief about the aborigines.

To quote Windschuttle again:

In Fabrication, I now put the number of Aborigines who died violently between 1803 and 1834 at 120. I provide a table where I list every incident, the date, place and circumstances under which it occurred plus a reference to the source concerned. This figure is not absolute or final. In fact, I invite readers to provide me with any references or evidence to show if there are incidents I missed or need reassessing. If any evidence that is at all plausible comes in I will update the table on my website and in future editions of the book.

Relations between aborigines and white settlers in Tasmania were mostly cordial. There were however occasional and sporadic violent incidents, mainly the killing of isolated shepherds. Two exceptions to this were the notorious aborigine bushrangers, Musquito and Black Tom. The former was not a Tasmanian and the latter had been raised by Thomas Birch, a white Hobart merchant. The predations of the two criminals have been elevated by Manne, Ryan, Reynolds and their ilk to a the status of a patriotic Black War. Indeed, Reynolds once claimed it was the greatest internal threat that Australia ever faced. It's hard to reconcile this with the killing of exactly one soldier by an aborigine. Windschuttle again:

Let me finish by talking about reconciliation, which Manne claims my book tries to undermine. I cannot see how a story about violence and warfare between blacks and whites, if it is untrue, can help reconciliation at all. What good does it do Aboriginal people to tell them the whites wanted to exterminate them, when they never did? What good does it do Aboriginal people to tell them they were a conquered people, when they never were?

There are many Aboriginal people today who actually support my case, especially in Tasmania. I have been invited to attend a ceremony on September 12 which the Liah Pootah people will conduct jointly with other residents of Hobart to commemorate the bicentenary of the first British settlement in Tasmania at Risdon Cove in 1803. These descendants of the Aborigines are commemorating the British arrival because, like all Tasmanian Aboriginal people, they are also descendants of the British settlers. They are celebrating both sides of their heritage. Compare this with the contribution towards reconciliation made by the Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan version of Australia history. The message Aboriginal people have taken from their books is that the British arrival was comparable to an invasion by the Nazis. The Reynolds and Ryan story, which Robert Manne's book tries to perpetuate, does not foster reconciliation, it only fans racial hostility and hatred. It is not only historically untrue. It is also racially divisive and politically inept.
[Full Story]

Each of us is responsible for what we believe. By and large, we don't just believe anything merely for the sake of believing in something. We can be said to exercise intellectual responsibility by believing what is true and refusing to acknowledge what is false. The Git believes that to do otherwise shows profound contempt for the rights and liberties of others. 

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Thoughts for the week:

To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend. -- Jacques Derrida 


But psychoanalysis has taught that the dead -- a dead parent, for example -- can be more alive for us, more powerful, more scary, than the living. It is the question of ghosts. -- Jacques Derrida


Freedom of conscience entails more dangers than authority and despotism. -- Michel Foucault


As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end. -- Michel Foucault


The question is not truthfulness, the question is credibility in a moment in time. -- Colin Powell

Current Listening:

Neil Young -- Re-ac-tor

Graeme Nash -- Songs for Beginners

Iron Butterfly -- Inna-Ga-Da-Davida


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Jonathan Sturm 2005