Keith Windschuttle : The History Wars

Historians in the News

The last thing I expected Keith Windschuttle to say was that he regretted ever writing about Aboriginal history. But the man who ignited the so-called “history wars”, the most bitter Australian academic row in years, talks wistfully of what might have been if his 2002 book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History had not turned him into a national figure.

It is not the friends he has lost or the hatred he has aroused that seem to bother him most. It is that he has been sucked into what he says is a relatively parochial, Australian issue when he would much rather be writing about the history of western civilisation and the Enlightenment.

Before Fabrication appeared, Windschuttle was a little-known publisher and historian who planned to write books for the American market from Sydney."The trouble is this damned Aboriginal issue came up," he says."I thought, 'I'll write a couple of articles on this,' but it's taken control of my life. The last thing I wanted to do was spend what's going to be six to 10 years writing four huge volumes." ...

"Academia didn't live up to my expectations," he says, eating the first of his oysters."I got tired of leftwing theories and very tired of leftwing people, quite frankly, and, at the same time, the universities filled up with leftwing people. By the 1980s, to teach humanities you had to be on the leftwing or no one would even consider you. People say the politics of academia are the worst in the world apart from the church. People literally hate each other. I thought, why am I wasting my time?"

So, in the early 1990s, he left and set up a printing house, Macleay Press, to publish his own work and those of fellow conservatives. The American market was an obvious target:"Conservatism is much more institutionalised and a lot richer in the US than in Australia," he says.

"I knew (Fabrication) would be unpopular in Australia. The issue has been a big one because it has been the issue of the moral foundation of the colony of Australia. Are we a legitimate society or not? The people who argue that we need to do something about the Aboriginals argue that this won't be a legitimate society until we have reconciliation. I don't believe that. Nonetheless, that's been the accepted view, so coming out with an argument that there isn't all that much to apologise for is bound to be unpopular.

"The problem with Australian history for Australian historians," he continues,"is that it has really been a pretty dull society - we've had no foreign invasions, no civil wars, no revolutions. The worst constitutional crisis we had was when the governor-general (in 1975) dismissed the prime minister and called an election. I mean 'shock horror'.

"So, to make their story interesting, historians have had to invent some drama, and the great drama in Australia has become relations between blacks and whites."

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