RED CENTRE, DEAD CENTRE. The True Story of Peter Falconer, by Paul Dillon now available from Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd, London for purchase and online Kindle and ePub & eBook.
RED CENTRE, DEAD CENTRE. The True Story of Peter Falconer, by Paul Dillon now available from Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd, London for purchase and online Kindle and ePub & eBook.
The name of this monograph is taken from Henry Reynolds’s book, The Other Side of the Frontier. In particular, from a subheading called Three Celebrated Attacks, under which he deals with a South Australian incident known as the Maria massacre of 1840, ‘and the successful Aboriginal attacks on’ Hornet Bank of 1857 and Cullinlaringoe of 1861. Please note that Reynolds calls the Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe incidents, successful Aboriginal attacks on white settlers, as if they were events to celebrate. Each of the above three incidents involved white settlers, male, female and children being killed, mutilated and sexually violated in circumstances of total depravity. In other words, the killing of civilians in undefended and unprotected situations and then mutilating their corpses. The Maria incident involved the murder of helpless shipwreck survivors, Hornet Bank, a night-time home invasion on sleeping family members and Cullinlaringoe, a daytime attack when the family were having a catnap after lunch.
The conventional approach to these three incidents would have been for a common or garden variety of historian to have sat down and gone through the European source material and given a standard Eurocentric narrative about what happened, how it happened and why it happened. Then Bill Stanner blew the lid off Australian history with his “Great Australian Silence” statement. He said it was a disgrace to the heritage of Australia because it failed to acknowledge the Aborigines, who according to him had been totally ignored. He added that current attitudes and research would possibly rectify this and end the silence. True to form, schools of thought, theses and books have poured forth like a biblical flood and broken the dirty big drought of silence that had descended over the historical landscape of Australia, loudly proclaiming and defending the rights and entitlements of the Aborigines. Prime Ministers and the High Court have rained cats and dogs on the tin roof of the old regime for being out of touch and downright wrong and ornery when reviewing the contribution Aborigines have made to the historical and cultural advancement of Australia.
Stanner’s injunction appears to have provoked Henry Reynolds and he came up with the idea of relating historical incidents ‘from the other side of the frontier’. He has been the Garbaldi in leading the resurgence of Aborigines in Australian history; leading the charge with a determined and indefatigable spirit to prosecute the cause for the Aborigines, hammering the market place with a plethora of books and publications. Now as a statement of intent, ‘from the other side of the frontier’, is an admirable approach to Australian historical studies. One would put aside the European or white sources and pick up the Aboriginal sources and go forth with a new vision of a glorious future and the cockies shall see your righteousness. Of course, the best and surest way to find out would be to ask an Aborigine what really happened at the time of white settler expansion into the Australian interior. After all, they were one of the principal actors in the alleged invasion chronicles of Australia. Unfortunately, there are no Aborigines left. Nor are there any Aboriginal sagas, nor a Dharmakoori, no hidden stelai to be found in the Valley of Lagoons or the Arnhem Land escarpment, no Rosetta Stone, no epigraphy, no papyrology, not even a clay tablet or a palm-leaf sutra might be scrounged from the old ochre trail to Blue Mud Bay from Oodnadatta, all is in vacuo. The three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, never featured in the Aboriginal way of life. The Aborigines were as Marcel Marceau, practicing the “art of silence”. They lived in a period now known as prehistory, the period before the invention of writing systems. So how are we to obtain the Aboriginal perspective of their encounter with colonialism or white settlers?
Therefore, the European or white sources cannot be abandoned or rejected. What are we left with then? The dreary old parchments of yesteryear hidden away in government vaults, deliberately mislabelled, bowdlerised, expurgated, censored, placed in the Jewish filing system or just plain torn-up and burned? As to the cache of private memoirs and writings that may be found in various libraries, they cannot be relied upon either because they were written by a bunch of right-wing, bigoted, racists who had nothing good to say about the Aborigines. There ya go, no mean feat to write the history of the settlement of Australia from the Aboriginal perspective.
The next question that arises is a matter of methodology. How then are the European sources to be stripped of their Eurocentric contamination, their racism? Who is to extract the relevant information? What guidelines are to apply to the process and who is to verify the resultant material and, if competing interpretations arise, who is to arbitrate? This activity will require a high level of reasoning and professional objectivity. Just scooping up sources and slanting or twisting them to reflect a particular view is nothing more than yellow journalism or rendering a tendentious script. It will require a strong and highly developed integrity to analyse, evaluate, assess and to avoid subjectivity and bias.
Reynolds has with unflagging eagerness and persistence maintained that high levels of frontier violence and conflict were involved in the colonisation of Australia, which should be rightly characterised as a war and Aboriginal resistance should be admired and given significant cultural recognition in the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. He is not alone in this view. Stretching behind him is a phalanx of paladins, all armed to the teeth, ready and willing to swing into action in support of his idee fixe, many of them dangling scalps from their girded loins. Reynolds has sifted through the many words and papers that litter Australian history, all written incidentally by whites or non-Aborigines and has found a trove of chronicles that contain, according him, a catalogue of aboriginal hostilities towards white settlers. Reynolds has developed over the lengthy span of his career, a school of thought that has been dubbed the ‘black armband’ view of the pastoral settlement of Australia. He has developed a macro-history that is painstakingly spelt out in his book, Forgotten War which perhaps can be briefly summarised as follows:
Armed conflict was the central feature of the relationship between settlers and the indigenous nations. It was a war of conquest to transfer the sovereignty of the Aborigines to the British government and its successor colonial administrations.
Reynolds effort to single out one factor in the settlement of Australia, such as armed resistance by Aborigines, as the central driving force of Australian settlement is a nonsense. His book reminds me of a scrub turkey’s nesting mound which consists of leaf litter and sundry other detritus at which the ever-present male bird spends long hours of fastidious scratching and raking to produce a pile of rubbish. Like the tiresome turkey, Mr Reynolds has raked and scratched the congeries of Australian history into a pile of humbug. Human history, at virtually every level, appears to embody a large degree of arbitrary acts committed at random. The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large collection of incidents put forward to support the theory. This is what this book is about. Does the historical evidence support Reynolds’ theory of armed conflict or are the events just the random opportunistic acts of criminal gangs of indigenous bandits and thugs?
Let us compare and contrast the Reynolds’ theory of Aborigine resistance with some of our home-grown rebels who all gave voice to their grievances and demands. Take our dearly beloved Ned Kelly, even though he was the product of the bog Irish, he managed to write the Jerilderie letter. Thus, sharing his thoughts with us and at least giving a warning of what was to come:
The police can’t protect you, all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund. And do not attempt to reside in Victoria but as short a time as possible after reading this notice, neglect this and abide by the consequence which shall be worse than rust in wheat in Victoria or the drought of a dry season to the grasshoppers in New South Wales. I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.
Then there is the Eureka Rebellion, they assembled themselves around their flag to resist further licence hunts and harassment by the authorities and swore an oath:
We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.
And who could forget the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 which was a major confrontation between Queensland graziers and their shearing hands:
Fellow Unionists, an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack has been made upon the above shearers’ and labourers’ unions by the squatters’ associations. It therefore becomes our duty to take such action as will best conserve our interest and frustrate the attempts of organised capitalism to crush unionism and reduce wages in this district…
Yet Reynolds says the following about the sources of the ‘other side of the frontier’:
The historian has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased.
This is because the Aborigines cannot represent themselves. They must therefore be represented by a know-all, who knows more about them than they know about themselves. Reynolds has assumed the power to narrate the Aborigines’ story by seizing white settlers’ sources and material and subjugating its words and contents to the meaning he desires to attribute to them. This is not a credible historical method but a discriminatory attack on the settlers and a false voice of Aborigines. He has developed a macro-history with ideological and racial investments, which go well beyond academia into realms of politics and social theory. Moreover, it is destructive of existing national and cultural symbols, beliefs and perceptions. His concepts appear robbed of their empirical content but are festooned with nod and winks to his prejudices and objectives. This particular ideological structure of thought should not be allowed to go unchallenged since we must always ask what kinds of intellectual, cultural and material energies went into the construction of this ideology.
There is no Académie française in Australia or an equivalent academic curia which might make authoritative pronouncements on matters pertaining to or incidental to Australian history and culture. The closest we have to such an institution was when the High Court delivered judgement in what is now called the Mabo  case. The interpretations or understandings arising from that case seem to me to ignore or fail to recognise the limited power and scope of the High Court’s authority in matters of Australian history. Since Australia was discovered and taken possession of by the British, it is said the principle of discovery gave title to the British government against all other European governments, and such title might be consummated by possession. Captain Arthur Phillip on disembarkation and entry, together with the formal proclamation and reading of his instructions, duly bestowed British sovereignty over the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, which was further strengthened by the fact that the Aborigines of the day did not object but acquiesced in the British occupation of the country. Arising out of that is the fact that the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies came under the control of the British Parliament, which had omnipotent powers to legislate for the control and regulation of Australia and its inhabitants, white or black.
It seems to me that a line was drawn in the sand by Mabo  where it was held:
1. The acquisition of territory by a sovereign state for the first time is an act of state which cannot be challenged, controlled or interfered with by the courts of that state.
2. Under the common law of England, a distinction has traditionally been drawn, for the purposes of identifying the law of a new British Colony, between colonies where British sovereignty was established by cession or conquest and colonies where such sovereignty was established by settlement or “occupancy”.
3. The result is that, in a case such as the present where no question of constitutional power is involved, it must be accepted in this Court that the whole of the territory designated in Phillip’s Commissions was, by 7 February 1788, validly established as a “settled” British Colony.
How is it then that Henry Reynolds’s with his mare’s nest of history, has continued to dazzled, if not the world, then at least most of the literati of Australia? How is that Henry Reynolds and his acolytes persist with this endless stream of historical verbiage about the war fought on the Australian homeland between the white settlers and the Aborigines?
Chapter Two ― Hornet Bank, Henry Reynolds
In 1974, Henry Reynolds published Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, I quote:
Some of the dangers and complexities of frontier contact can be illustrated by reference to the fate of the Frazer and Wills families who died in Aboriginal attacks at Hornet Bank in 1858 and Cullinlaringoe in 1861. At Hornet Bank the Frazers initially had good relations with the local Aborigines who had been ‘let in’ and who assisted in the work of establishing the station. Suddenly violence erupted. In a well-planned attack most of the family were killed. To Europeans this was an example of senseless and motiveless savagery perpetrated for the sheer joy of killing. On the frontier Hornet Bank came to symbolize the dangers of ever trusting the blacks. But from the Aboriginal side things looked very different. By piecing together scattered pieces of information it is possible to partially recreate the course of events. The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Frazer family or their employees. Such behaviour merited dire punishment in tribal society. When no action of appeasement or retribution came from the Europeans the blacks took matters into their own hands and carried out the vengeance which traditional custom demanded. The whole Frazer affair then looks very different indeed when seen from the other side of the frontier.
The reader is asked to note that Reynolds does not give any authorities or footnotes for his categorical statement: “The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Fraser family or their employees.”
In his introduction to his above paper Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, Reynolds appears to be saying, the aboriginal version of events must be put and since there is no aboriginal version, white commentators are to be used only after a thorough vetting as to possible bias:
Yet many problems confront the historian wishing to reassess this aspect of our past. Perhaps the most difficult is the task of trying to look at early race relations from the other side of the frontier, to see the encroaching tide of settlement as far as possible through the eyes of the Aborigines themselves. Clearly no easy endeavour! The historian – perhaps rather the ethno-historian – has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased. Fortunately a small number of explorers, officials or squatters were remarkably intelligent and perceptive observers of Aboriginal life despite the lack of sophisticated anthropological knowledge. Information gathered has to be weighed and tested against modern studies of traditional life and acculturation in Central and Northern Australia. What eventually emerges can hopefully be built up into a meaningful mosaic of the Aboriginal response to settlement.
Reynolds makes no reference to his own bias and how it might be filtered out or supressed. In 1976, Reynolds published in the journal of Historical Studies, the following article, The Other Side of the Frontier: Early Aboriginal Reactions to the Pastoral Settlement in Queensland and Northern New South Wales. He made the following observations:
Considerable problems confront the Australian scholar who seeks new perspectives. Evidence is scarce, widely scattered and comes overwhelmingly from European settlers and travellers, missionaries and officials. Oral history can still yield valuable material about early contact in the north and centre of the continent where settlement was recent and will be essential for the study of 20th century race relations, but it is probably already too late to gain detailed information from Aboriginal sources about the first years of contact in the greater part of south-eastern Australia. Modern anthropological studies of acculturation provide the historian with valuable insights but they need to be used cautiously when investigating the 19th century. Traditional Aboriginal society was so fragmented that any generalisation about a particular clan or tribe may be inappropriate if applied elsewhere. It seems probable that the Aboriginal response to Europeans was far more complex and diverse than our limited stockpile of evidence will ever suggest.
The above statement outlining his approach to writing about ‘the other side of the frontier’ is a fair assessment of the problems one would face in attempting to produce a credible version of the motives and reasons for Aboriginal destructive behaviour towards white settlers on the frontier, without the added burden of trying to justify it. Since the Aborigines never came forward as a group and approached government regarding their possible grievances, their actions have remained reactionary and troublesome, without justification or reason. The above article appears to be an attempt to deal with a lot of historical information from white sources detailing depredations by Aborigines on livestock and station plant and stores in the pastoral settlements across northern New South Wales and Queensland. Depredation means the act of attacking or plundering. Reynolds faithfully details the acts of robbery and the killing of livestock and white settlers as a kind of rite of passage, an acculturation into:
In some places the Aborigines appear to have become effective herdsmen on their own account before they had come in to European settlements. This helps explain why Aborigines often became effective workers in the pastoral industry in a very short time, for they had learnt about the exotic animals before coming in, while as first generation stockmen they continued to utilise many traditional skills.
Then he goes on to say:
I turn now to consider the violent conflict which dominated relations between white and black in practically the whole of Queensland. My concern is not with European brutality towards the blacks but with Aboriginal violence—perhaps their counter-violence—towards the settlers and with the motivation for attacks which resulted in about 500 deaths on the pastoral frontier between 1840 and 1890.32
Revenge killing for the death or serious injury of kin was a common feature of traditional society.33 Clearly many Europeans died in such culturally sanctioned executions. Settlers often understood this.
32 With N. A. Loos I carried out a survey of frontier deaths in Queensland consulting a wide range of source material. We estimated that 800-850 Europeans and their ‘allies’ i.e., Chinese, Melanesians and so called ‘civilised’ blacks, were killed between 1840 and 1897. Precision is impossible, but somewhat more than a half of those killed were employed in the pastoral industry.
33 See R. M. Berndt, ‘Law and order in Aboriginal Australia’, in R. M. and C. H. Berndt Aboriginal Man in Australia, Sydney 1965, pp. 167-206.
These statements or conclusions from his research are in reality absurd, and fall into the category of apologetics. It is similar to a legal representative submitting during a plea in mitigation that the victim deserved it and the perpetrator had benefited by acquiring new criminal skills. Reynolds has not provided an historical analysis of, but a defence of, Aboriginal violence towards white settlers. He is simply saying, Aborigines were violent people who killed each other as part of their cultural make-up, therefore, it is not unreasonable to argue that they adopted a similar practice towards white settlers but he tacks on the Eurocentric concept of political resistance. This line of reasoning lacks academic gravitas.
In 1981, Reynolds published his seminal work, The Other Side of the Frontier. In his introduction to the book, he says:
This book presents an interpretation of the Aboriginal response to the invasion and settlement of Australia during the hundred or so years between the late C18th and the early C20th. It is a white man’s interpretation, aimed primarily at white Australians … It is based on extensive research among a vast array of historical records. Yet the book was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship. It is inescapably political, dealing as it must with issues that have aroused deep passions since 1788 … I sought to put down as clearly as I could my vision of how the Aborigines reacted (Emphasis added) to the invading Europeans and to include as much detail as possible without needlessly clogging the flow of the text.
The following is Reynolds’ considered opinion on the Hornet Bank massacre:
The events at Hornet Bank are fairly well known. The Frasers were managing the property and had close, if not always amicable, relations with the neighbouring Aboriginal clans camped on or near the station. An apparently well planned and unexpected attack was made late at night and all but one member of the household were killed. It appears that the women were raped before death an unusual accompanyment (sic) of Aboriginal attack. Various attempts were made at the time to explain Aboriginal motivation but none could compete with the insistent references to the savagery and treachery. However there are scattered pieces of evidence which enable the historian to advance beyond the folk-wisdom of the frontier. The Honourable M.C. O’Connell told the 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police that the killings were a consequence of the young men ‘having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins’ in neighbouring camps. Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls. This story was confirmed by W. Robertson who claimed to have discussed the events of 1857 with old Aborigines who as youths had been present at the time. They reported that after the women were raped the local clans attempted to use sorcery against the offending Europeans. When that appeared to have no effect they sent an old woman to the Fraser’s to explain the circumstances and seek redress. When no action was taken by the whites the clans determined on revenge. So the evidence concurs on the importance of sexual attacks on Aboriginal girls but attributes blame variously to black and white employees of the family. But one account directly implicates the young Fraser men. J.D. Wood explained in a memo to the Colonial Secretary that when arriving in Queensland he made enquiries about Hornet Bank. He was told by a Mr Nicol who had been in the Native Police in 1857 that Mrs Fraser had repeatedly asked him to reprove her sons ‘for forcibly taking the young maidens’ and that in consequence she ‘expected harm would come of it, that they were in the habit of doing so, notwithstanding her entreaties to the contrary’. Several other informants told Wood that the Frasers were ‘famous for the young Gins’ and all agreed ‘that those acts were the cause of the atrocity’.52
52 W. Robertson: Cooee Talks, pp.129-131.; J.D. Wood: Remarks on the Aborigines; Magistrates, Upper Dawson to Col. Sec., 3 December 1857, Qld. Col. Sec. 4995 of 1857; W. Wiseman to Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, 16 November 1857, Qld. Col. Sec., 4319 of 1857; M.C. O’Connell evidence to Select Committee on Native Police, p.87: A.L. Meston, Courier Mail cutting in Oxley Library Scrap Book Queensland Towns, Districts, Stations, pp.81-82.
Reynolds then sums up as follows:
At Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe Aboriginal action was carefully planned and thoroughly considered and followed months of provocation – harassment by the Native Police on the one hand, sexual molestation by some, if not all, the young men on the station on the other. Even the raping of the Fraser women appears in retrospect to have been a deliberate, political act.
In the introduction to the 2006 edition, The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds’ said inter alia:
The intellectual criticism of the book has long been overshadowed by attacks that are political in motivation. In fact many of them come from people who give the impression of not having actually read the text, yet don’t like the idea of it. Some of the antagonism stems from my open avowal that the book could not escape the fate that awaits a political document. In the opening paragraph of both editions I nailed my colours to the mast observing that it was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship.
Perhaps the question that faces anyone who dares to offer a critique of Mr Reynolds’ work is, will they be zapped by the force field that he says protects his body of work from scrutiny. He has, if you consider his above statements regarding his methodology in writing the ‘other side of the frontier’, issued many warnings, disclaimers, clauses of limited liability and even exclusion clauses regarding his work. Mr Reynolds, however, was a professional academic at the time he authored The Other Side of the Frontier in 1981 and appears to have enjoyed governments grants to carry out his research. The book was published by James Cook University and bears the university’s imprimatur. The consumer, therefore, could expect the book to conform to best practice standards regarding academic research methodology, and professional integrity in the ethical and honest presentation of that research data in his academic papers, articles and publications.
Although the Fraser family were murdered by Aborigines, no person either, white or black, ever stood trial for their murder. Therefore, no official record exists which authoritatively states what happened and why it may have happened. The consensus is that the perpetrators were from the Iman tribe but no contemporaneous statements were taken from them for obvious reasons and, indeed, there were no claims of responsibility for the attack made by the Iman or indeed, any black group. The Blacks simply made off with sheep and loot from the station after killing and raping the whites. What I am trying to suggest is that freedom fighters or resistance movements normally claim responsibility for their military acts of violent resistance against their tormentor. In the case of the first terrorist attack in modern times, the King David Hotel bombing, 1946, the Zionist paramilitary organization, Irgun, claimed responsibility for the bombing shortly after the event. Be that as it may, many statements were made about the Hornet Bank massacre by all sorts of people with varying degrees of direct and relevant knowledge of the incident. The reader will recall from Chapter One that TR Boulton had given a lengthy description of events leading up to the massacre. However, Reynolds doesn’t rely on TR Boulton as a witness, presumably, because Reynolds considered Boulton ‘to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased’ rather than telling the truth. Reynolds relied on the following: MC O’Connell, I Downes Wood, W Robertson, and A Meston. None of these people were involved in the Hornet Bank incident as Boulton was. Reynolds called them ‘scattered pieces of evidence‘. They cannot be described as witnesses because the only information they have is hearsay, what someone told them. In the 1930s, there was a popular song that went like this:
I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales. He said “Topping band” and she said “Delightful, Sir”.
That is about the strength of Reynolds’ sources for his conclusions about the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. The striking dimension to Reynolds’ assessment is the rather casual construction he put on the rape of the Fraser women, calling it a legitimate weapon of war by the Aborigines.
This was MC O’Connell’s evidence before the Queensland 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police Force:
102. I know nothing of the circumstances of the Hornet Bank murders, (Emphasis added) having been at Port Curtis at the time, but I have heard something from an officer of the Native Police—Lieutenant Sweet—who told me himself that he had been informed by a trooper then in the Native Police, that the murder of the unfortunate women at Hornet Bank was in consequence of the young men who owned the station having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins on the camps of the aborigines in the neighbourhood.
Take I Downes Wood who is the authority for Reynolds defaming the Fraser men as cads, gin jockeys, criminals, and white trash by alleging they systematically raped the local female Aborigines. There is no greater insult than to accuse the dominate white race of hypocrisy, double standards, with allegations of sexual exploitation of black women. On 12 March 1862, over 6 years after the event, I Downes Wood wrote an epistle to the Chief Secretary of Queensland on the conflict between the Native Police and the Aboriginals of Australia. He was not present at the Hornet Bank killings. His submission is a long rambling piece of cracker-barrel thinking on Aborigines by an uneducated rustic. Now Downes Wood probably was unaware that Mr Nichol aka Nicoll was a disgraced officer of the Native Police and had a motive to lie about the Fraser brothers. But Henry Reynolds should have known the facts and he should have warned the reader that Nicoll was not a credible source for defaming the Fraser men in the first place, nor a reliable source on which to base a considered academic conclusion about the causes and effect of the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. Wood’s statement has been effectively dealt with in Chapter One.
Reynolds next witness is Willian Robertson who again was not present at Hornet Bank. He arrived in Australia circa 1870 as a child. Robertson was a homespun expert on Aborigines having been brought up on Caithness Park cattle station at Boulia amongst station blacks and seems to have been initiated into the Myall Murri tribe and given the tribal name, Brin-ga. Robertson was a radio journalist with 2BL, who differentiated his market by giving talks about Aborigines, known as Coo-ee Talks. In 1928, he published a book called Coo-ee Talks, in which he gives a version of the events that led up to the massacre at Hornet Bank and the cause of the massacre. He said he heard it from the offending tribesmen himself. The version bears no similarity to the original version and it can only be treated as apocrypha or an urban myth. Robertson is said to been au fait with Aboriginal culture but he says the following:
It was perpetrated by a number of young warriors of the Coongarrie tribe in central Queensland, at Hornet station, on the Dawson River, one of the tributaries of the Fitzroy. The story was told me by some of the natives who were present at the massacre. … Twenty years afterwards I myself met some of them among the Fitzroy tribe.
Robertson appears to be suggesting he spoke with the Coongarrie tribesmen some time in 1877 which is highly unlikely having only recently arrived in Australia as a child in 1870. Moreover, calling the perpetrators, the Coongarie tribe, rather than the Iman and further alleging that the majority escaped to the Fitzroy tribe, which is presumably the Fitzroy River mob (Rockhampton), when the official view is that white reprisal parties completely exterminated the Iman from the face of the earth, appears to suggest that Robertson had no idea of the actual events at Hornet Bank station in 1857. Robertson cannot be regarded as an accurate, reliable and credible source for the Hornet Bank incident. He can only be regarded as a doubtful source, bordering on invention.
Reynolds’ final witness is:
Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls.
I am afraid the material cited in the footnote does not support this statement. Meston kept a scrapbook of press clippings. The cited pages of the scrapbook contain press clipping on the Hornet Bank massacre but were not authored by Meston. They are a rehash of the incident for the 1938 anniversary of the Hornet Bank massacre, journalistic hype. Reynolds appears to have lost concentration and misunderstood the material. A Meston is not a credible source because he was not a party to the material cited. The material is set out at Appendix B.
So much for the grand principle of letting the Aborigines give their version of the events. Reynolds’ selection of white sources is superficial. It lacks a rigorous and critical appraisal of the material and his narrative and summation is, therefore, a tawdry little piece of cherry-picking worthy of a place in Pravda as a feature article.
Shorten and his crocodile tears over his mother. Who incidentally, was a university academic and lawyer who completed a doctorate at Monash University and ended her career there as a senior lecturer in education. She completed a law degree later in life and practised as a barrister for six years. So much for the sob story that his mother was a member of the poor and oppressed classes. Shorten is a member of the elitist gang who run the ALP, another Nicolae Ceaușescu. Shorten and Albanese are mummy’s boys always hanging onto Mum’s apron, schoolyard crybabies.
Howdy Doody Folks, Albanese called Clive Palmer a ‘tosser’. Albanese is the greatest wanker of all time. His right arm is bigger than his left arm. Albanese is Mr Jock Strap, himself’. Give it up Albanese before ya go blind ole mate.
Hi Folks, keep an eye out for my forthcoming book:
The Murder of John Francis Dowling and the Massacre of 300 Aborigines. By Paul Dillon
Chapter Two ― Academic Treatment
Writing in 1888, Charles F Maxwell observed that Vincent Dowling:
Although exposed to frequent attacks from the blacks, he escaped without hurt, but not without some close shaves, as on one occasion he had a spear driven through his hat; and on another a boomerang thrown by a wild man cut open the ribs of the mare he was riding. Yet he did not retaliate, and not until 1865, when his brother John was murdered by the blacks, did he ever shed a drop of blackfellow’s blood.
It is regrettable that Mr Maxwell, who no doubt was an honourable gentleman, should be responsible for putting bad thoughts and mis-information into the minds of the digital knights-errant of today, who tilt at the windmills of Australian colonial history with the deluded belief they are righting the wrongs of yesteryear. The above statement by Maxwell is wrong and without foundation of any kind. I quote from Vincent James Dowling’s diary:
22 June 1863. While off my horse examining fresh black tracks to ascertain their age while stooping was rather surprised at getting a spear through my hat from the opposite side of the creek carried off and pinned it to the ground, no time for reflection before I was saluted with four boomerangs, none of which took effect but the last which struck the saddle and horse, tearing off flap of the saddle cut it almost like a knife. Picked up the boomerangs 3 and spear with my hat on the top of it cantered out of shot. I had a narrow escape four inches lower and the spear a fine barbed one would have pierced my left temple. I shall always wear long American hats. The Blacks must have taken me to be long headed which I am not by the bye and thus my hat saved me. Must never leave camp without arms again. After recovering from my surprise went out back and up the creek a little struck in and found good water holes. Returned down the creek keeping away from the banks. I stopped for an hour 3 miles up from where I struck the creek, fed my horse, bridle in hand, too close to the darkies. Rounded up three blacks on returning home and found the name of the creek to be the Coocara. Had some difficulty in stopping these gentlemen. They would not stop until I touched up one with the point of my spear. … Got back to camp at Sundown and found old Tom all right, poor fellow. I am glad I escaped for his sake, he would have been in a terrific fix. I need not say how thankful I feel to Providence for my escape. Death is often closer to us than we think.
29 June … Drove on down the creek (Cutha Paroo) met an old blackfellow and his gin in about 7 miles, they invited me to spend the evening with them. I accepted their invitation, they made me a fire and picked some grass for my bed, were exceedingly attentive and polite, on the whole spent rather an agreeable evening. How little satisfies one, if one could only believe in it. Ingenuas dedicisse fidelibus notes et cet. [I think Vincent means: The note of love is gentle and ardent; that of anger, loud and turbulent.]
30 June. Started my hostess Kitty, I find is her name, for the horses at daybreak. She brought them up and acknowledged her reward in the shape of half a fig of tobacco. Ascertained in the course of conversations these are Cooinoo last night (and) that there is a spring near Birrewarra right bank and that there are several between the Paroo and Cutha Paroo. Bid adieu to my hosts very early having given them a pressing invitation to visit the sheep station on the Irara which they have excepted (sic).
In late December 1922, EO Hobkirk handed to William Gall, Under Secretary in the Home Secretary’s Department, Brisbane two manuscripts seeking to sell them for 10/-. Gall described Hobkirk to the anonymous buyer as “an old identity of South West of Queensland.” The relevant manuscript is called, The Murder of Mr John Dowling. Locality, Bulloo River Queensland and is a hand-written document of approximately 1700 words in length written in 1922 about an event that “happened in 1865, 57 years ago.” The full article may be seen at Appendix F. The structure of the document is in the form of a narrative commencing with a statement of principle that Aborigines prefer death before disloyalty. They never betray their own tribesmen. Hobkirk then describes the lead up to the disappearance of John Dowling, the search for him, the finding of his remains and then the investigation of his death culminating in the massacre of the Bulloo Aborigines because of their dumb insolence towards a white man seeking answers to a white man’s problem which effectively proves the point that Aborigines do not give up their tribesmen to white authority. During the course of the telling, Hobkirk confesses to being a party to the killing of the Aborigines but only under the orders of a superior and that he did not actually kill any Aborigines. Being an eye witness to the slaughter of the Aborigines for their principle of steadfastness and staunchness, he effectively kills two birds with the one stone. He proves his observation that loyalty to one’s tribe is paramount to Aborigines and he has also witnessed a leading squatter, a pillar of society, a Magistrate, dirty his hands with criminal acts thus portraying his rank hypocrisy. The second part of the story is how Hobkirk solved the murder of John Dowling, captured the culprit Pimpilly and turned him reluctantly over to Vincent Dowling’s overseer and was never heard of again. The story ends with Hobkirk not receiving any acknowledgment or reward for services rendered to Vincent Dowling. The question is, firstly, is this document a valid historical source and if so, what weight should be given to the version of events set out in the document?
Also attached to the above Gall note was a second hand-written manuscript titled, Impersonating an Aboriginal. This is a story of Hobkirk in 1867, disguising himself as an Aborigine and joining-in a corrobboree:
We blackened with charcoal a thin, white singlet and a pair of underpants and then painted the front of the singlet with red and white stripes. The blacks paint their skin with red and white ochre, also a pair of black stockings, which we had managed to get possession of; my headgear consisted of a wig, made of horsehair, decorated with emu and white cockatoo parrot feathers. This completed the makeup.
This article appeared in the Queenslander of 12 May 1923. The article about the murder of John Dowling did not appear in the press but formed a small part of an article called Aboriginal Characteristics published by the Daily Mail of 6 January 1923 as follows:
Another strange characteristic is that natives seldom will betray their own race. Mr John Dowling was cruelly murdered by his pet black boy in the Bulloo River district when camped, out together, but this was not proved until many months after. Although the whole, or many of the tribe knew all about it, they would not betray the murderer, so in consequence, sacrificed their own lives.
Might an inference be drawn from the fact that since the above articles were written for publication in the popular press and as a consequence were never held out by either the publishers or the author as statements of fact as one might find in affidavits or other document of that nature or in scholarly works of history or science, that the articles were written only for the purposes of leisure, entertainment and recreation?
The next version is given by J St. Pierie who in 1969 complied Some Information on the History of South West Qld:
Vincent Dowling was killed by the natives while mustering stock in sandhill country on what is now Wongatta Station and was buried near the old Thargomindah crossing near Thargomindah homestead. As a reprisal, troopers who found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river about thirty miles downstream (near the present Thyangra homestead), chased them towards the hills shooting them down as they ran. Until ten or twelve years ago it was not unusual to come across aboriginal skulls in that area. Reports are that the whole tribe of nearly 300 was wiped out. In 1911 there was an old aborigine at Norely who claimed to be the sole survivor of the massacre. A piccaninny at the time, his mother had hidden him under bark in a hole in the floor of the gunyah. The troopers had burnt the camp, including the gunyahs, over his head, but he stayed there and crawled out later. (Information from Mr G Gooch who went to Norley as a book-keeper in 1911). Date of the massacre is uncertain but it was probably 1872 or earlier as in 1872 Frederick W Armytage bought Thargomindah and Norely stations paying £170,000 for the former and £110,000 for the latter.
Now this version is even more outrages than Hobkirk’s. It does not even refer to John Dowling but Vincent, who died peacefully in his bed at Rylstone, NSW in 1903 but let us be generous and say it’s a typographical error, and instead of ‘Vincent’ it should read ‘John’. It still makes no sense. When you compare and contrast Hobkirk and Gooch/ St. Pierie with each other and the 1865 press reportages, the inconsistency and disparity are beyond question and reconciliation. Moreover, the 1865 press reports completely destroy the credibility of the Hobkirk and the Gooch/St. Pierie versions making them unreliable and discredited sources.
Incident 1865 Version 1922 Hobkirk 1969 J St. Pierie
Deceased John Dowling John Dowling Vincent Dowling
Departure Point Caiwarroo Paroo Thouringowa Bulloo N/A
Guide Waddy Galo Pimpilly N/A
Reason for travel Cutting a road Exploration Mustering
Destination Mount Murchison Menindee N/A
Duration of travel Four full days Not clear/not stated N/A
Search party Podmore & Hall Sams & stockman N/A
Duration of search Travelled 30 or 40 miles from Paroo 2 days 60 miles from Cheshunt Bulloo N/A
Place of Death Paroo River Queensland Bulloo River Queensland Wongatta Station
Date of Death 13 June 1865 Not clear/not stated 1872
Environment Waterless track of country, lost Good country couldn’t locate water Sandhill country
Manner of death Single blow to head, crushing skull Blow to head, struggle then several blows to skull Not stated
Reason for death unknown To avoid further beatings Not stated
Crime scene Camp site undisturbed Camp site looted Not stated
Perpetrator unknown Pimpilly Tribe of Blacks
Horses Not found Nearby mudfat plenty of water good feed Not stated
Perhaps the first post-November eleven 1975 crusader to deal with John Dowling’s death was Bobbie Hardy in his book Lament of the Barkindji:
When John Dowling’s body was found some weeks after his murder on the Paroo in 1865, nothing in the camp has been touched, neither rations, blankets, saddles, pistols nor the dead man’s clothing. The assailant was thought to be a Wadikali tribesman, far from his home on the Bulloo, who was helping Dowling survey a track from Mount Murchison to the Paroo. Why he felt impelled to crash his waddy down on his skull was a mystery, but not one that Dowling’s friends deemed worthy of much pondering. The fundamental fact was that another white man had been killed by “the niggers”, and it behoved his compatriots to take their revenge.
For this event, Hardy cited the Sydney Mail, 2 September 1865. Hardy’s treatment of the facts seems fair but his comments are emotive and inflammatory. There is no proof that any white man took revenge against the Wadiklai tribe or any other tribe over John Dowling’s death.
The next to deal with the matter was Hazel McKellar, in Matyu-mundu where she recounts the Gooch/St. Pierie version:
As with other groups, the Kullilla suffered at the hands of the whitefella’s rifle. The most notable massacre occurred around 1872. Vincent Dowling, the owner of Thargomindah station, was killed, according to white history, by aborigines while mustering stock in sandhill country. As a reprisal, troopers found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river, chased them towards the hills, shooting them down as they ran. It was reported that nearly 300 people were killed in this incident. Some whites say these people belonged to the “Bitharra” tribe but Peter Hood, a Kullilla descendant, is certain they were his people. He says the site of this massacre was further south towards Bulloo Downs.
However, she does not acknowledge Gooch/St. Pierie as the source; there are no citations. McKellar does not attempt a critical analysis of the source material. She makes no comment about the identity of the deceased. Is it Vincent Dowling or John Dowling, or just another white man? Suggesting, it may be irrelevant since it is white history. She says the white history is wrong as to the tribe massacred, as it was the Kullilla and not the Bitharra and the nominated site of the massacre was further south of Bulloo Downs on the authority of Peter Hood, a Kullilla descendant. Again, no citations or authorities are given for these categorial statements of fact. This perhaps suggests that white history is irrelevant but where it corroborates a tribal story (oral history) then it derives some historical value to koori culture but apart from that it is meaningless white man’s business. The issue for McKellar is that Kullilla tribes’ people were killed without excuse or justification on the Bulloo River south of Bulloo Downs by troopers in 1872 and not by the Dowling family or their agents or servants. Where books in the McKellar genre sit in the world of scholarly research, I cannot say, but I imagine there is a place for them in the social justice library.
Perhaps the next attempt at dealing with the John Francis Dowling incident is by Jonathon Richards who completed a Doctor of Philosophy thesis called, A Question of Necessity: The Native Police in Queensland, Griffith University, March 2005. I quote from Richards’s thesis:
One credible account of a killing perpetrated by squatters and their employees, is found in the reminiscences of Edward Hobkirk, an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River.107 According to Hobkirk, grazier John (‘Jack’) Dowling was killed in 1864 by his ‘pet blackboy’ and Dowling’s brother wrote to the nearest Native Police (probably Bungil Creek near Roma) about the murder. Hobkirk said Dowling was told to ‘take what measures he thought best to revenge the murder,’ so ‘all the men in the neighbourhood’ were assembled and ‘armed with revolvers and rifles’ before the local Aboriginal people were mustered.108 Hobkirk admitted he helped bury the bodies that Dowling and others shot at several camps.
107 EO Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland, NLA, MS 3460, Vol 2. It is unclear when Hobkirk actually wrote this account, but the other records in the file cover the period from 1870 to 1923. Hobkirk gave his manuscript to William Gall at the Home Secretary’s Office in 1922.
108 Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences. The Dowling brothers were the nephews of Sir James Dowling, A New South Wales judge, and related to other leading squatter families. See a family tree of the Dowling family in David Denholm, The Colonial Australians (Melbourne: Penguin, 1979), 177, and a list of their relatives (including James Morisset) in Anthony Dowling (editor), Reminiscences of a Colonial Judge: James Sheen Dowling (Sydney: The Federation Press, 1996), 202. John Dowling’s death was confirmed in the Brisbane Courier (4 June 1864), and the repercussions are mentioned in Bobbie Hardy, Lament for the Barkindji: the vanished tribes of the Darling River region (Adelaide: Rigby, 1976), 116.
109 One source says Vincent Dowling ‘subsequently became a terror to the black’ Charles F Maxwell, Australian men of Mark 1788 – 1888 1 (Sydney: Charles F Maxwell, no date), 385.
Richards relies entirely on Hobkirk for his description of the John Dowling incident. He describes Hobkirk as a credible witness. Richards says “Hobkirk says John D was killed in 1864” and that Hobkirk was “an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River”. Hobkirk in fact says 1865 and clearly states, “… Mr Sams of Cheshunt cattle station, where I was employed.” Richards further quotes Hobkirk, “helped bury the bodies;” Hobkirk in fact said, “I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them.” These errors and omissions are critical and reflect a lack of attention to detail when accuracy is critically required. Where do the examiners of this work stand? In footnote 108, Richards says “John Dowling’s death was confirmed in the Brisbane Courier (4 June 1864).” This statement is blatantly wrong. If Richards had searched the Queensland Register of Deaths, he would have found that John Dowling died on 13 June 1865 on the Paroo River, Queensland. Moreover, if he had checked Bobbie Hardy’s footnote at page 116 of Hardy’s above book, Richards would have been referred to an article at page 2 of the Sydney Mail of 2 September 1865 which, if Richards doctoral thesis is to be treated seriously as a work of scholarship, he would have then found a version totally different to Hobkirk’s drivel. In other words, he would have been duty bound to explore and bring to light what the newspapers of the day had to say. This he failed to do; again, where do the examiners of this work stand? There is no scholarly analysis of the incident just the familiar vapid, insular mould of university historians of the leftist genre who, when they’re on a good thing, stick to it; don’t muddy the water with clarity and honesty or a contrary source that may destroy the leftist plot.
The next text to deal with the death of John Dowling is One Hour More Daylight by Mark Copland, Jonathan Richards and Andrew Walker first published in 2006 but republished in 2010 at page 78:
A chilling account of the killing of Aboriginal people in the far southwest can be found in the reminiscences of E. O. Hobkirk, a man described as “an old identity of South Western Queensland.” In 1861 Vincent Dowling ‘took up’ stations on the Paroo River; an attack in 1863 was supposed to have been averted by his ‘long American hat’, which deflected a spear.228 In 1865 his brother John Dowling, manager of ‘Thouringowa’ station on the Bulloo River, was reported as having been killed by his ‘pet black boy’. Vincent Dowling gathered the white men in the neighbourhood and started on a search for the alleged culprit ‘Pimpilly’. Hobkirk described Dowling’s revenge:
Mr V Dowling, who could talk the blacks’ lingo pretty well asked several of them ‘who killed white fellah? Brother belonging to me’. They one and all answered ‘they knew nothing about the murder’. He also enquired ‘where Pimpilly?’ this they also confessed that they knew nothing whatever about him. Mr Dowling then said, ‘If you do not tell me, I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they all remained silent. Mr Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them, not touching the ‘Gins’ and young fry. This I know is true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! But as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on ‘Cheshunt’ station at the time, I had to do what I was told.229
A similar massacre took place on a neighbouring station later on the same day. Eventually Pimpilly was captured and killed. He had killed Dowling after receiving a vicious beating for not providing his master and horse with water.230
228 Australian Dictionary of Biography (1972), Vol. 4, p. 99.
229 Queensland historical manuscripts – Vol 2 ‘Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland’ by E.O. Hobkirk, NLA, MS 3460.
The authors introduce their scholarly work as follows, “This book represents a condensation of over two years of systematic research of manuscripts, newspapers and government documents. It is based on a selection from a wide range of archival records, … However, this is the most comprehensive effort to date in drawing together historical material relating to dispossession in the region.” Not satisfied with that overdrawn statement, these learned gentlemen go on to make this breathtaking gasconade, “One Hour More Daylight provides far too much evidence to sustain an argument that there has been a ‘fabrication of aboriginal history’.”
The first aspect of this publication to note is that Jonathan Richards is one of the three authors. Turning to the above quote of Hobkirk’s, Copland et al use the word ‘Gins’ the manuscript says ‘lubras’. It is an error; perhaps, it was a typographical error? There is no analysis of the source material or the incident. It appears in their book as a recital might be found in a deed, pleadings, lineage, or a Norse saga. The authors seem to treat it as folklore, thus beyond scrutiny even when it may be a false or unsubstantiated belief by Hobkirk. They say they made a systemic search of newspapers but do not refer to the numerous reportages of the incident that appeared in the newspapers of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Does this raise for the querist the suggestion that one, they did not search the relevant newspapers or two, that they did but repressed the information as it was inconsistent with the leftist genre of writing anti-settler history or three, was it to protect Jonathan Richards’ thesis or four, they were incompetent as researchers?
In 2008, the University of Queensland Press published a book called The Secret War by Jonathon Richards which appears to be based on his above thesis of 2005. The book was reprinted in 2017. The relevant section is quoted as follows:
One credible account of a killing perpetrated by squatters and their employees, is found in the reminiscences of Edward Hobkirk, an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River. It is unclear when Hobkirk actually wrote this account, but the other records in the file cover the period from 1870 to 1923 and he gave his manuscript to William Gall at the Home Secretary’s Office in 1922.47 According to Hobkirk, grazier Vincent Dowling’s reported in writing to the nearest Native Police (probably Bungil Creek near Roma) after his brother John (‘Jack’) Dowling was killed in 1864 by his ‘pet blackboy’. Hobkirk said Dowling was told to ‘take what measures he thought best to revenge the murder,’ so ‘all the men in the neighbourhood’ were assembled and ‘armed with revolvers and rifles’ before the local Aboriginal tribe was mustered at gunpoint. Hobkirk admitted he helped bury the bodies that Dowling and others shot at several camps. One source says Vincent Dowling ‘subsequently became a terror to the blacks’.48
47 E.O. Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland, National Library of Australia, Manuscript MS 3460, Volume 2.
48 Charles F Maxwell, Australian men of Mark 1788 – 1888 1 (Sydney: Charles F Maxwell, no date), 385.
When you compare and contrast his thesis with the above quote from 2017 reprint, you will find that he has rearranged the text slightly. However, he still maintains that John Dowling was killed in 1864 and Hobkirk was an employee of Vincent Dowling notwithstanding, the contradictory statements made by Richards in his 2006 collaborative work on One Hour More Daylight. Authors who collaborate are jointly and severally liable for the integrity of their published work. So, the blatant errors of the thesis and the lack of critical analysis of the source material are transferred into Richards’ published work, The Secret War. So much for authentic, accurate, and honest scholarship and tight professional editorial control alleged by university publishing houses. Richards is primarily writing about the Queensland Native Police and you only need to note this bold statement, ‘… the infamous force created to kill Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in Queensland’. So, a simplistic take on why Richards would include John Dowling’s death is that if the Native Police cannot do the job, then the squatter can make application for a licence to kill and he will be authorised as Vincent Dowling was, to carry out the extermination policy. The sheer preposterousness of the statement is beyond belief and not a shred of evidence is offered to prove that the Queensland Government ever authorised and directed Vincent Dowling to kill Bulloo River Blacks or that the Native Police were a state-run extralegal organisation killing Aborigines. Aborigines were killed and so were settlers and police in the many collisions that occurred on the Queensland frontier. What I said about Richards’s thesis applies equally to his published work by University of Queensland Press.
Raymond Evans in 2010, contributing to Passionate histories: myth, memory and Indigenous Australia at Part One: massacres, with, 1. The country has another past: Queensland and the History Wars also draws upon the Titus Oates of Australian history, EO Hobkirk, who should be called Hobkirk the Liar, with the old familiar refrain:
In 1865, for instance, EO Hobkirk, ‘an old identity of South Western Queensland’ was present at a mass killing of Aborigines on the Bulloo River after an Aboriginal worker, described as a ‘pet black boy’, murdered John Dowling, the manager of Thouringowa Station. His brother, Vincent gathered a white posse to secure the culprit, but when local Aborigines would not provide information – to quote Hobkirk: Mr. Dowling then said, ‘if you do not tell me I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they remained silent. Mr. Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them, not touching the ‘gins’ and young fry. This I know to be true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! But as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on ‘Cheshunt’ station at the time, I had to do what I was told.43 Vincent Dowling had earlier been a pioneering cattleman on the Upper Darling River in 1859. His head stockman, John Edward Kelly later provided graphic descriptions of atrocities visited by white settlers on the local Aboriginal peoples. ‘We feel perfectly certain that we have not exaggerated one single statement we have made’, Kelly concluded his account: ‘We have seen the bones’.44
43 Copland et al 2006: 77–78; Richards 2008: 67.
44 The Stockwhip, 22 April 1876; Maryborough Chronicle, 9 May 1876; Evans, R 2009: 10.
Evans trots out the same old hackneyed source uncritically. Hobkirk is an inappropriate source. No attempt is made to address the other material that is available. He adopts a studious ardour to avoid any material that might question or threaten the leftist view that a white man massacred Aborigines. What is of interest though, is Evans’ novel attempt to baluster Hobkirk’s credibility by the juxtaposition of a totally irrelevant quote from Vincent Dowling’s head stockman, JE Kelly. It is a variation of the guilt by association technique. Kelly says he had heard reports of atrocities against Aborigines and then gives a general description of these activities. I fail to see the relevance of Kelly’s statement, since John Dowling was killed in 1865 long after the period Kelly is describing and he further says that whilst he was in the area working for Vincent Dowling no atrocities were committed by Dowling or his staff. However, if a quote has to be given perhaps the following might be fair and adequate:
We are speaking (says the writer) of the year 1859. The blacks on the Darling had been most barbarously murdered by our early predecessors, hunted like kangaroos or wild dogs, wherever they were known to exist. … driving him home, and there “stretching” and flogging him as already described. This was about the extent of the punishment inflicted upon the blacks when we first took up our abode on the Darling — that is by the sheep-men. … Although we never saw a black shot or “stretched” — for the simple reason that no man living dare do such a thing in our presence — still we feel perfectly certain that we have not exaggerated one single statement that we have made. We have seen ”the bones;”
The next attempt at dealing with the murder of John Dowling may be found in Timothy Bottoms’ book Conspiracy of Silence published in 2013. His portrayal of the incident is as follows:
In 1864, Jones, Sullivan and Molesworth Greene established Bulloo Downs Station (c. 113 kilometres south-west of the future Thargomindah, and 20 kilometres north of the NSW border). The following year, the owner of Fort Bourke Station on the Darling River, Captain John (Jack) Dowling, formed Ardock Station and not long afterwards, his brother, Vincent James Dowling, took up Thargomindah Station.13 Later in 1865, while managing his brother’s station, John Dowling was out on the run mustering, and was beaten to death with a waddy while sleeping beside his campfire. His ‘tame black boy’, ‘Pimpilly’, had sought revenge for a beating he received from Dowling for not promptly bringing water to his ‘master’ and his horse when so ordered. A Kooma descendant, Hazel McKellar, recalled: ’As a reprisal … [they] found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river, chased them towards the hills [Grey Range], shooting them down as they ran.’14 This occurred at Thouringowa Waterhole on the Bulloo River (rough halfway, south-west, between Thargomindah and Bulloo Downs). EO Hobkirk was in Vincent Dowling’s white posse that went in search of the alleged perpetrator. He described how they had corralled a camp of Kullilli, and Dowling had demanded to know who had killed his brother, but the Kullilli confessed that they knew nothing about the murder, to which Dowling responded:
‘If you do not tell me, I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they all remained silent. Mr Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them not touching the lubras and young fry. This I know is true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! but as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on Cheshunt station at the time, I had to do what I was told. Later in the day the party went to another camp of blacks, about 20 miles down the river and there again shot about the same number.15
Dowling continued to terrorise the Aboriginal population to avenge his brother’s murder, while employing Aboriginal labour.16 The bookkeeper at Norley Station (c.30 kilometres north of Thargomindah) recalled that in 1911, there was an old Aboriginal there who: … claimed to be the sole survivor of the massacre. A piccaninny at the time, his mother had hidden him under bark in a hole in the floor of the gunyah. The troopers had burnt the camp there and crawled out later.17
It was reported later that nearly 300 people were killed in this incident. Although the numbers may well have been an exaggeration, it was nevertheless a sizeable killing spree.
13 J St Pierie, ’18. Some Information on the History of South West Qld,’ in Warrego and South West Queensland Historical Society Collection of Papers, Cunnamulla and District, Vol.1, 1969, p.2 (of paper).
14 H McKellar, Matya-mundu: a history of the Aboriginal people of South West Queensland, Cunnamulla Australian Native Welfare Association, 1984, p.57.
15 E O Hobkirk, Queensland historical manuscripts―Vol.2 ‘Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland’, NLA MS3460, (1922) pp. 3-4. Cheshunt Station is located 20 kilometres south-west of Taro, or c.100 kilometres west of Dalby.
16 Hobkirk, NLA MS3460. Hobkirk noted: ‘We found it hard to prevent the few that were employed on the station from … [running away into the ranges] … as they were so scared at what had taken place that we had to lock them up in the Hut―that was used as a store[,] for a short time.’ p.4.
17 G Cooch (bookkeeper at Norley in 1911) cited by St Pierie, History of South West Queensland,’ in Warrego and South West Queensland Historical Society Collection of Papers, Cunnamulla and District, Vol.1, 1969, p.3 (of paper).
Timothy Bottoms holds a degree of Doctor of Philosophy and is a professional historian. As an historian his first step should have been to consult the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) and he would have found an entry for Vincent James Dowling which would have alerted him to the inaccuracy of the St. Pierie’s version because it would have shown that John Dowling was not the owner of Fort Bourke. His failure to acknowledge the ADB, which is a touchstone for any researcher venturing into Australian history, is bordering on professional incompetence or negligence, if not that, then at least it is not a fair and honest investigation. The above extract from Bottoms’ book is a melange of two sources (St. Pierie and Hobkirk) cherry-picked to invent a credible historical event that never occurred. It contains errors and omissions woven in a way to breath a fictional dimension to a past event such as John Dowling’s murder. The first and by far the greatest omission is the failure to identify the press reports of 1865 of John Dowling’s death and to make an appraisal of them. The second is his failure to critically assess the source material he finally acted on. For instance, the Gooch/St. Pierie version, was first written down by J St. Pierie in 1969 who got it from Gooch, a bookkeeper, who only arrived at Norely station, which is near Thargomindah, in 1911, 46 years after the event. Gooch was not an eyewitness. He can only have acquired his version by hearsay, local gossip. Gooch said Vincent Dowling was killed while mustering. Hobkirk said John Dowling was killed while exploring a route to the Darling. Gooch had no qualifications other than bookkeeping skills and appears to have been a collector of tall stories and squatting yarns of doubtful authenticity. Bottoms then adds some pepper and salt by saying that: “A Kooma descendant, Hazel McKellar, recalled: ’As a reprisal … [they] found the tribe …’.’’ Hazel McKellar was not an eye witness. The use of the word ‘recalled’ suggests she brought (a fact, event, or situation) back into her mind; remember it. She wrote a book that quoted Gooch/St. Pierie and failed to give any citation for the quote. Her work can only be viewed as a very poor secondary source of doubtful veracity and honesty. Bottoms further distorts the sources by adding, “Dowling continued to terrorise the Aboriginal population to avenge his brother’s murder, while employing Aboriginal labour.” Hobkirk was an employee of the Messrs Sams on the Cheshunt station. He did not work for Vincent Dowling and therefore, would not know what labour problems Vincent had, if indeed he had any. Furthermore, Bottoms says, “Cheshunt Station is located 20 kilometres south-west of Taro, or c.100 kilometres west of Dalby”. There is no town called Taro; it is Tara Qld 4421. Circa 100 kilometres west of Dalby would equate with the town of Moonie. This makes Bottoms’ version even more absurd. The only integrity that Hobkirk’s version has and it is very little, is that Cheshunt Station was a neighbouring station to VJ Dowling’s Thuringowa Station, not approximately 700 kilometres from Thargomindah as Moonie is. That appears to be the total historical treatment of the murder of John Dowling and the aftermath by professional historians.
I just want to end this chapter with a quick overview of the above analysis of the academic treatment of John Francis Dowling’s murder by one or more Aborigines. As I opined in the Preface to this book, some will see it as just another brick hurled in the History Wars squabble; I do not. The point I am trying to make is that the writing of history is simply a matter of honesty and accuracy on the part of the historian who is further duty bound to discover and bring to notice any and all sources of knowledge relating to the historical event under study. Furthermore, the information or evidence must be initially assessed as to its worthiness or probity by an agreed set of rules for evaluating its admissibility. These sorts of ground rules should be above concepts of conformity to prevailing political or fashionable standards. I have always thought that was the case. But it seems that history somehow or other ends up being the plaything of newly emerging groups in society who seem to demand the right to tell their story in their own way. Well may they say, we have that right and who would deny them their campfire songs and stories. However, a society or a nation is not just a bunch of social media jerks, who have emerged from the chrysalis of social justice, flimflamming on their cell phones. Standards of academic excellence must be preserved and maintained even in the face of the social justice warrior. If you want to write a history from the point of view of a political or social belief then say so.