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Letters to the Editor

by Rod Moran, et al.
June 2023, no. 454

Letters to the Editor

by Rod Moran, et al.
June 2023, no. 454

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Forrest River massacres

Dear Editor,

May I respond to a comment by Professor Ann Curthoys concerning my work on the alleged Forrest River massacres contained in her review of Professor Kate Auty’s recent study of the case (ABR, May 2023)?

Curthoys says that Professor Geoffrey Bolton, ‘the doyen of Western Australian history’, disputed the conclusions of my research on the matter as published in my book Massacre Myth (1999). She was referring to the debate between Bolton and myself contained in Ethics and the Practice of History, Volume 26 in the Studies in Western Australian History series (2010).

In fact, Bolton was most even-handed in his analysis, conceding that my scepticism on a particular matter in the case was justified. Further, far from dismissing entirely my study of the murder allegations, Bolton generously launched Massacre Myth. The closing comment of his launch speech was, ‘Let healthy debate continue.’ Of course, such an intellectual credo would find no support in a contemporary university’s humanities department.

Further, Bolton wrote the preface to my follow-up study of the Forrest River affair, Sex, Maiming and Murder (2001). The book examined the credibility of the chief accuser in the Forrest River case, Ernest Gribble, as a witness to the truth. I documented the falsity of a series of very serious accusations he made against pastoralists and police between 1915 and 1926.

In his preface, Bolton said he was ‘enlightened’ by the book’s analysis. Given that he was indeed the doyen of Western Australian history, it was a most gratifying and generous endorsement.

Rod Moran

Ann Curthoys replies:

Rod Moran objects to my statement that Geoffrey Bolton, in an essay in 2010, disputed his general conclusion that no massacre occurred at Forrest River in 1926. My comment arose in the context of outlining, very briefly, a history of debate prior to the publication of Kate Auty’s O’Leary of the Underworld: The untold story of the Forrest River Massacre.

Geoffrey Bolton gave in 2010 an open-minded account of the disputed set of events at Forrest River in 1926, considering the work of Neville Green, Rod Moran, Kate Auty, and Christine Halse, re-examining the documentary sources, and drawing on his own historical knowledge of that region at that time.

Far from supporting Moran’s argument that there was no massacre, he concluded that a massacre likely did occur, but with fewer deaths than some historians have suggested. I quote: ‘Personally I consider it likely that Aborigines were shot at Gotegotemerrie and Mowerie, though not at Dala, but this is a historian’s judgment and not one that could be sustained in a court of law.’ And later, in the context of discussing the number of deaths, he commented, ‘It was bad enough that seven Aborigines, or eleven Aborigines, may have been killed by members of a police party in 1926. It is not necessary to inflate the numbers so as to inflate our revulsion to the deed.’ Bolton also hoped that additional research would throw new light on the matter. 

Further research has indeed been done since then, most notably by Kate Auty, whose book indicates a prodigious amount of research into the killings, the surrounding events, the perpetrators, and the victims. I think Geoffrey Bolton would be pleased that research and debate do indeed continue, and I trust that Rod Moran is too.


A cruel joke

Dear Editor,

The state of Israeli democracy is indeed dire, as was eloquently explained by David N. Myers in his article in the May 2023 edition.

It is worth stressing that the Jewish state has never been a democracy for all its citizens but a self-described democracy for Jews alone. Ever since Israel’s birth in 1948, non-Jews within Israel have never been treated with equal rights. For those Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza, now suffering under the longest occupation in modern times, the concept of Israeli democracy is a cruel joke. 

A key question remains. The world knows that Israel is accelerating its path towards a fundamentalist Jewish ethno-state. Mass protests within Israel are unlikely to seriously challenge this trajectory. It is therefore up to the international community and civil society to respond accordingly. Just as the world finally turned against apartheid South Africa (Israel, notably, was a key defence and ideological ally of this nation until its end in 1994), it is time for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to be applied against Israel. It would be a non-violent and wholly legitimate response to the unsustainable status quo. 

Antony Loewenstein


Patrick Mullins replies to John Carmody

Dear Editor,

Tanya Plibersek’s biographer, Margaret Simons, has anticipated John Carmody’s question: ‘Why does Patrick Mullins consider an appointment as minister for the environment a demotion in his review?’ (Letters, May 2023). I concur with her answer, on page 88 of Tanya Plibersek: ‘Environment and water are both important jobs, but the fact that it was a demotion in terms of cabinet ranking is indisputable.’

Patrick Mullins


Chrissie Foster

Dear Editor,

Barney Zwartz’s review of Chrissie Foster’s book Still Standing (ABR, May 2023) reminds us once again of the egregious behaviour – and, indeed, crimes – of some of the most senior clerics in the Catholic church. I only hope that Chrissie Foster has received at least some solace from airing the immeasurable pain she has suffered. What a courageous woman! Kudos, too, to the press for its role in exposing those elements of the Catholic Church that have caused, or enabled, so much pain and suffering.

Bob Howe (online comment)

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