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Aboriginal massacres DID happen

Who do you believe, missionaries or The Australian’s Keith Windshuttle

The terrible reality of the violent death of Aboriginal people, on the frontier of Australia’s pastoral invasion of Aboriginal lands, is a part of Australia’s past which needs to be named for what it was. Yet there are those who would ‘whitewash’ this history. One such massacre denier, Keith Windschuttle,  pushes a blinkered view of Australia’s past which tries to hide the stark reality of violent Aboriginal death at the hands of white colonists. He particularly derides those Christian missionaries brave enough to report what they saw and, in particular, what Aboriginal eyewitnesses told them.

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One such missionary was Rev Lancelot Threlkeld at Lake Macquarie (NSW) in the 1830s. Threlkeld is one of Windschuttle’s favourite targets. His most recent belittling of Threlkeld’s reports was in The Australian, Let Cook and Macquarie stand: Grant and Taylor are wrong, where he not only mocks his evidence of violence against Aboriginal people but derides the nature of his pre-missionary life as well.

It was only through courageous missionaries like Lancelot Threlkeld that the Aboriginal evidence of what happened can be heard. Windshuttle’s technique is to deny or play down the awful extent of atrocities committed against Aboriginal people by ignoring or belittling anything which he does not personally judge to be ‘direct evidence’ – such information as official body counts and police reports.

In the 1800s in colonial Australia, the missionaries were closest to Aboriginal people and often the only ones who befriended them, the ones who knew them best. These were the days before the later, regimented institutional missions. Back then there were often only isolated single missionaries, or perhaps a missionary couple or two, living with Aboriginal people and daily associating with them. They knew how many wounds they treated, they heard the Aboriginal accounts of the massacres and the dead and they were taken afterwards to the massacre sites. No court would admit Aboriginal evidence then and Windshuttle will not admit it now. Aboriginal people had no voice then. They prepared no written reports of their suffering. Windshuttle wants history to stay that way, keeping the Aboriginal voice silent by imposing his own rules of what evidence he admits.

Windshuttle is not alone in wanting to write the Aboriginal voice out of history. A century ago many historians and anthropologists felt it best ‘to draw a veil’ over the death and abuse of Aboriginal people on the pastoral frontier.   This is to deny the truth, to leave a sanitised history, recounted and justified only by the powerful, by those who benefited from Aboriginal people’s demise.

Any honest understanding of our history can never progress with Windshuttle’s intellectual straightjacket, restricting information about the past to the exacting requirements of a legal courtroom. Windshuttle’s restrictions simply write Aboriginal opinion out of history. We have few enough sources of Aboriginal eyewitness accounts as it is and those we do have, we owe to the concern and courage of missionaries like Lancelot Threlkeld who observed and recorded the diminution of the Awabakal people of Lake Macquarie from thousands when he first went to live among them to a mere handful when he left. The Aboriginal dead have no voice, no marked grave, no accounts of the massacres which brought their people to the brink of extinction. They only have the voice of people like Threlkeld who tried his best to report what he saw and heard. He may not have got every fact right but he was in close daily contact with Aboriginal people and he knew far more about what happened to them than Windshuttle ever will with his blind refusal to accept Aboriginal evidence because it is second hand and worse, to him, unofficial.

The dead and injured Aboriginal people of Lake Macquarie have no other voice than Threlkeld’s. Yet it is just possible that through his writings, they, although dead, may yet speak. Threlkeld is one who does deserve a statue, perhaps at Threlkeld Reserve on the shore of Lake Macquarie near the people he loved and served.

Threlkeld reports a massacre

“..A war of extirpation [had] long existed, in which the ripping open of the bellies of the blacks alive; the roasting of them in that state in triangularly made log fires, made for that very purpose; the dashing of infants upon the stones; the confining of a party in a hut and letting them out singly through the doorway, to be butchered they endeavoured to escape, together with many other atrocious acts of cruelty, which are but the sports of monsters boasting of superior intellect to the blacks.”

1837 Annual report of the Mission to the Aborigines, Lake Macquarie, NSW

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