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?