In a hopefully minor aftermath to the Chris versus Norman flamewar of a week or so ago, Christopher Sheil is still upset that I accused him of being “wrong” about the spelling of the Aboriginal man “Mosquito”. His name is spelled that way in the Oxford Companion to Australian History, but “Musquito” in various official Tasmania records of the time and by RWDB historian Keith Windschuttle.
Chris makes the valid point that he never positively claimed that Windschuttle was wrong in using the latter spelling, and believes that I was therefore being unfair to label him as having made a factual error. I’m happy to acknowledge that Chris never made such a positive claim, but the issue isn’t that simple IMO. Chris says he merely “opened up the question” of whether Windschuttle had made such an error, whereas in my view he did clearly imply error on Windschuttle’s part albeit with an escape route if he turned out to be mistaken. I guess the best way of resolving the issue is simply to allow readers to judge for themselves (at least those who can be bothered continuing to follow this tiresome saga). Here are all Chris’s references to Mosquito/Musquito:
- "Incidentally, I notice that, unlike the Oxford Companion to
Australian History, Keith spells Mosquito as ‘Musquito’. I assume an
officious fellow like Keith would be correct … wouldn’t he …. this
couldn’t be yet another error .. could it … nah, I’m sure Keith would be
- "… I see you use ‘Musquito’ instead of the Australian Dictionary
of Biography’s [this was a mistitle: I meant to refer again to the Oxford Companion] ‘Mosquito’. Do you know which one is correct? If Keith’s wrong, I’m of a mind to make a federal case of this … using Keith’s idiotic standards to put it up as a clear attempt to fabricate – or refabricate – the guy’s history, and formally seek to have it listed as the third of The Fabrication’s empirical errors so far … "
- "Finally, so what is the correct spelling of Mosquito? Don’t think
I’m just gunna let you slip that one into Tim’s archives."
- "And I still think there is an issue to be clarified about Mosquito
- "As for the other, the issue was not raised as a major one,
but as a jest that I conceded to Keith. The original full quote being:
“Incidentally, I notice that, unlike the Oxford Companion to Australian
History, Keith spells Mosquito as ‘Musquito’. I assume an officious fellow
like Keith would be correct … wouldn’t he …. this couldn’t be yet
another error .. could it … nah, I’m sure Keith would be right.” I
notice that Norman has not supplied any sources for his claim."
Judge for yourself. The other concern I have is this. Even accepting (as I do) that Chris didn’t positively claim that either Windschuttle or Norman were “wrong” (so that it was wrong for me to baldly claim that Chris was “wrong”, if you follow me), Chris was fairly clearly using the Mosquito example to make the point that the errors Windschuttle had identified in Reynolds’ and Ryan’s works on Tasmania were just as inconsequential and therefore not deserving either of the public attention thay had received or the label “fabrication”. I accept unhesitatingly that this is true of Reynolds’ errors, but I don’t think the same is necessarily true of Lyndall Ryan. The most we can say of her (at least until I’ve had the chance to read Whitewash, to which she apparently contributes a chapter, is that the jury is still out. To the extent that Chris is of a different view, all I can say is that I strongly disagree.