Social Commentator

FRASER ISLAND MASSACRE ― Vrai ou Faux

The subject of this monograph is whether there was a massacre of Aboriginals on Fraser Island, Queensland between the dates of 24 December 1851 and 3 January 1852?  You might ask, why bother to comment on a massacre in Australian colonial history, let alone feel the need to query the veracity of the event, when surely such events were common enough at that time of our history? After all, conflict was the rule rather than the exception in the discovery and settlement of the new world? The trouble is that those who propagate this view of history allege that 304 massacres occurred in the settlement of Australia.

Now an educated Australian with a substantial connection to the country, going back say four, five or six generations, would find these statements an affront to his pioneering heritage; l’article est injurieux. Furthermore, such papers and publications are cast in a style of writing that appears to suggest the possibility of “erroneous facts, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”. They are a challenge to common sense. Therefore, one might be forgiven for enquiring into these matters to determine whether they might stand the scrutiny of an audit. Scholarly papers and articles were once assumed to have inbuilt quality assurance because learned men or scholars of the past were gentlemen of integrity, who adhered to the principle of intellectual honesty, characterized by an unbiased, honest attitude. The idea that a third party might stoop to check the sources, the accuracy or otherwise of the quotes, the accuracy or otherwise of the citations was certainly not a manly thing to do. But when an individual or a group who have no grassroots in a cause or firsthand experience of victimisation or discrimination and are given the privilege to study the history of their country, thereby use that privilege to write scurrilous papers, articles or books that seek to destroy the hearth stone of the pioneers and founders of the country, then it is time to scrutinise their works.

There is, of course, within the study of Australian colonial history two broad schools of thought, which appear to have grown out of W.E.H. Stanner’s ABC 1968 Boyer Lecture where he coined the phrase “the Great Australian Silence”. Stanner surveyed the then classic texts on Australian history and found “total silence on all matters Aboriginal (which) seems to argue that the racial structure which is part of our anatomy of life has no connection with our civilisation past, present, or future”. The other factors that contributed to a changed outlook on Australian history were the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 which followed the Holt Government’s referendum of 27 May 1967 related to Indigenous Australians.

One of the schools of thought is directed to fostering and encouraging high quality academic research to investigate and reveal an accurate and complete study of Australia’s history.

The other school of thought is known as the Black Armband approach which holds that the central tenant of Australian colonial history is: Aboriginals violently resisted settler incursions, that the settlers in turn attacked and massacred the resisting Aboriginals, and then wrote fake official reports regarding their reprisals against the Aboriginals.

How did this come about? A strange political phenomenon arose in the Federal parliament in 1949 with the election of the Liberal-Country coalition under Robert Menzies. From that date forward, the Liberal-Country coalition Government stayed in power for twenty-three years. The 1949 election marked the end of the Labor Government which had been in power since 1941. Broadly speaking, Menzies and his government were anglophiles who believed in free enterprise coupled with a strong work ethic within a framework of a merit-based, apolitical system of advancement.

The Labor party struggled with their commitment to socialism. What type of socialism would it adopt and how would it be implemented? The implementation was the easy bit; Labor, if elected, would simply nationalise all important industries thus allowing the workers to take control of the means of production without the need for a revolution. However, the type or strain of socialism proved to be the stumbling block. It was said that party members who were Catholics were opposed to a Soviet or communist style of socialism which they believed had infiltrated the trade union movement. As a consequence, the great schism occurred in 1955 and the Labor party split with the break-away group called the Democratic Labor Party. Until the election of Whitlam, the Labor party remained inward looking hoping to regain their lost glory.

On 2 December 1972, a federal election was held for all 125 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as a single Senate seat in Queensland. The Australian Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam obtained 67 seats out of the 125. This was the first Labor government elected in twenty-three years. Whitlam and his government then set about implementing their election platform which was extensive and wide ranging. Almost every Australian was affected but some people were greatly benefited by his policies of entitlement.

2 December 2022, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Whitlam Government. Whether the passage of fifty years is sufficient time to admit of a review of Whitlam’s policies to determine if his actions have been detrimental to the core values of the Australian way of life, I cannot say. But what I intend to do is to look at the concept or method behind his policies. By that I mean that I don’t intend to get bogged down in political dogma, such as communism, progressivism, liberalism and conservatism.

It is often said that Whitlam introduced free tertiary education. He did not. Prime Minister Menzies introduced the Commonwealth scholarship scheme in 1951. Scholarships were awarded on the basis of academic merit and paid the university fees of all recipients without a means test. The rationale behind the scheme was academic excellence by promoting the most capable students.

After the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, university fees were abolished. The competitive scholarship nature of earlier student assistance schemes was removed. The rationale for assistance was now about promoting broader participation. Menzies believed in merit with an emphasis on academic excellence. On the other hand, Whitlam believed every citizen was entitled (had a right) to tertiary education.

Again, take the matter of single mother’s benefit, which was introduced by the Whitlam government in 1973 to provide financial assistance to supporting mothers who did not qualify for the widow’s pension.  Prior to Whitlam, widows could make application and show that they were deserving of welfare. Other single mothers were excluded. Whereas Whitlam confirmed by legislation that any single mother supporting offspring had a right to welfare even though they were morally undeserving of the financial support.

The above two examples show that the Menzies government had an approach to governance which might be said to advance merit and moral rectitude while at the same time balancing the budget. On the other hand, Whitlam might be said to have had no policy but simply adopted populist reforms for the undeserving and fiscal profligacy.

Whitlam also went on to make additional changes to the social fabric of Australia. Australia had a long association with Papua New Guinea which commenced with Queensland annexing New Guinea in April 1883. After WWII, Australia held a trusteeship over the country for its economic development and political preparation for independence. Under Whitlam, PNG achieved self-government in 1973 and independence in 1975. This is what he said: “By this legislation, we not only divest ourselves of the last significant colony in the world, but we divest ourselves of our own colonial heritage.” So, we once again see Whitlam adopting the populist approach of simply meeting superficial political agitation rather than giving critical trustee support and know-how in preparing PNG for statehood.[1]

The next area of comment might be broadly defined as Aboriginal and race relations within the Australian community. Prior to the 1967 referendum, the federal government had no legislative authority over Aboriginals nor did it have a specific legislative power over domestic racial inequalities/disadvantages. In regards to Aboriginals in the sixties, there was certainly a good deal of agitation for improving or changing the then laws and policies relating to Aboriginals. The 1967 referendum gave the federal parliament power to make laws regarding Aboriginals. However, the head of power did not go far enough. It did not allow the federal parliament to make a law that covered the field which would thus make all state laws repugnant to the federal law and consequently, strike them down for inconsistency. Now to overcome this difficulty, Whitlam placed particular emphasis on the adoption of international agreements as a method for securing human rights protections domestically and internationally. Accordingly, the most significant International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions to protect human rights were ratified or enacted by the Whitlam government.  Of course, the most memorable is section 18C (racial vilification) of the Racial Discrimination Act. Whitlam set entrain many other schemes and entitlement for Aboriginals.

Prior to Whitlam, the Menzies government had developed in consultation with the states a policy of assimilation which meant, in practical terms, that, in the course of time, it was expected that all persons of aboriginal blood or mixed blood in Australia would live as do white Australians. The acceptance of this policy governed all other aspects of native affairs’ administration. Of course, from time to time, adjustments were made at the margins of this policy. This approach did not suit a hard-core reactionary group of métis agitators and hangers-on and thus the most memorable aspect of this time was the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which Whitlam visited and promised that a Labor government would ‘absolutely reverse’ the Liberal-Country government’s policies. It is unnecessary for me to list out in detail the changes Whitlam and Labor made after 1972 and all the subsequent legislation and developments. Suffice is to say that they have fallen on the old guard like a ton of bricks and there they remain to this day. Once again, Whitlam reacted to minority agitation, simply motivated by populism where the perceptions of grievances are more imagined than real.[2]

To sum up, Menzies governed with a policy of nationalism striving to create an Australian character from a diverse colonial past; preference was given to a white Anglo-Celtic national identity formed within the Christian mould. Prior to Whitlam, Labor supported this concept but seemed fixated on implementing socialism which was rejected by the electorate.[3]  Whitlam could see that socialism was a waste of time and adopted a populist approach, promising to acknowledge and support all or any of the grasping and self-centred groups within the electorate who thrived on a liberation diet rich with lashings of white-Anglo dominance, repression and oppression.  This approach, in hindsight, was a nasty, selfish and divisive policy, which has now degenerated into virulent forms of public policy such as political correctness, identity politics and social justice mania.

On the face of it, two groups within the Whitlam collage, women and Aboriginals, have successfully maintained the rage over time and have continued to agitate for the imaginary goals of equality and self-determination. Within each group there is a cadre of scribes and propagandists solely dedicated to the perpetuation of the mythology of oppression, discrimination, dispossession, extermination, etc & etc. In fact, it would be fair to say that these two groups have dominated and pushed out virtually all other serious discussion that has arisen regarding other issues. In fact, over the past decades there has been a sharp and intense historical focus on the contact between Aboriginals and British settlers to the exclusion of all others aspects of colonial history. Attempts have been made to develop this alleged conflict history into a major discipline of history in its own right. Henry Reynolds et al have been the major proponents of this particular school of thought which has become known as the Black Armband view of Australian history. Of course, when viewed against Whitlam’s anti-colonial political agenda one can readily discern the motive for this historical narrative. However, the reader needs to keep in mind that this is not the authentic voice of the aboriginal natives of Australia.

W. E. H. Stanner, the leading Australian anthropologist, who worked extensively with indigenous Australians made the following observation regarding their ability for diplomacy or conciliation:

The blacks have never been able to make a formal protest, except by an occasional spear. They have never been able to stir and hold any lasting interest in their plight. They themselves have no notion of tribal tragedy on a national scale, nor perhaps would it interest them if they had. Most of their interests and loyalties are narrowly tribal. The petition sent to the King by eighteen hundred civilised natives in 1937, asking to be saved from extinction and given political representation in Parliament, was the only articulate national plea they have yet made on their own behalf, and they were almost certainly prompted to it. The interest taken in their welfare by a few missionaries, protection societies, and secular organisations is very much a luxury in which only a thin selvedge of urban interest concerns itself. It draws no support from the mass of the people.

Doubtless much of this apathy is due to the fact that the tribes never stood and fought the invaders in the resolute and able way of the Zulus and Maori. The Aborigines were never politically minded enough to speak of their ‘rights’, or to demand minimum conditions for the co-operation they undoubtedly did give, and still give, in the work of settlement. They never set up any real competition for the land of which they have been dispossessed without compensation. Not having any established villages or hamlets they could, and did, bend their frontal line whenever the whites came, and after flinging a few spears, co-operated in their own destruction by accepting a parasitic role which enabled them to live peaceably near the intruding whites.

Therefore, Reynolds’ propaganda is not the voice of full blood tribal blacks from the 18th – 19th centuries but a hybridised, synthetic voice of the 20th and 21st centuries, a reconstructed cultural heritage as opposed to an authentic tribal culture.[4]

Whitlam didn’t set up a country nor did he attempt to form or pioneer a country. He is no founding father of the Australian nation or of its national character. One hundred and fifty years after foundation, he joined a political party in the hope of leading the party to electoral success and gain self-aggrandisement by becoming the political leader of the country. His party during his membership, failed to win electoral victory in twenty-three straight years of regular democratic elections. Whitlam had no policy. He was the greatest snake-oil salesman Australia ever had. His election policy was a box of bon-bons, full of lolly and folly. To gain office, Whitlam adopted a populist approach of simply appeasing each and every mob of street agitator that barked and shouted at the hustings of his campaign.

Surely, as there are mountebanks for the natural body, so are there mountebanks for the politic body; men that undertake great cures, and perhaps have been lucky, in two or three experiments, but want the grounds of science, and therefore cannot hold out.


[1] The reader might ask, so what? One view of PNG is that it is a failed state; the cause of which is directly attributable to premature statehood being foisted on it by Whitlam when it was ill prepared for statehood. Australia has also lost the strategic advantage of the having forward bases at Manus Island and Rabaul.

[2] A phenomenon of Aboriginal relations in Australian society is that the further away a white Australian resides from an Aboriginal community the greater is his inclination to support Aboriginal causes.

[3] I also pledge myself to actively support and advocate at all times the party’s objective — the socialisation of industry, production, distribution, and exchange. Labour Party Parliamentary candidate’s pledge.

[4] The need for a marginalised, leftist Métis to gain political power through alleging cultural wrongs by the ruling white elite-a Whitlam construct.

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