Mea Minima Culpa

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:

  1. "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."
  2. "… 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 … "
  3. "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."
  4. "And I still think there is an issue to be clarified about Mosquito
  5.  "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.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Spelling in the early 19th century was an uncertain if not idiosyncratic art and certainly much less standardised than it would become 50 years later with rapid advances in mass literacy, education etc. Both spellings would have been used interchangably at the time in question. Neither one is “right” or “wrong” in context.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Thanks Ken. I don’t disagree with you on Lyndall Ryan, where I too am happy to await her reply.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

A mis-spelled word?

Right, count me outta here.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

There were two aspects to the issue of Musquito [as I’d found his name written well before Windschuttle was even born]
1]Whether chris attempted to use the alleged incorrect spelling as a weapon to “undermine” Keith’s credibility: —Those who followed the thread at the time can judge that for themselves.
2]More importantly, Chris claimed Keith had made a serious error when he said Lyndall’s most important “local” indigenous leader, Musquito, was actually an urbanised Sydney aborigine, who’d even travelled internationally. This was the HISTORICALLY important issue re Musquito: Chris’s claim that Keith would be exposed over this, was a gaffe he then obscured by concentrating on the far less important issue of spelling. If the new book, “Whitewash”, [which, as someone interested in the HISTORY, I obviously will need to read] shows what I read as a kid was wrong, I’ll be surprised; but I shan’t ignore it, simply because it requires me to amend a long held view.
That, after all, is surely what History should be all about?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Re:

More importantly, Chris claimed Keith had made a serious error when he said Lyndall’s most important “local” indigenous leader, Musquito, was actually an urbanised Sydney aborigine, who’d even travelled internationally. This was the HISTORICALLY important issue re Musquito: Chris’s claim that Keith would be exposed over this, was a gaffe he then obscured by concentrating on the far less important issue of spelling.

What Chris really said:

… a colleague who specialises in Aboriginal history (which I don’t) jumped to her feet and offered to punch Keith’s lights out, footnote by footnote, over his account of a Tasmanian Aboriginal patriot (named Mosquito) on the SMH’s op ed page.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Correct Chris, you DID say that; but it’s not ALL you said. You and I know what you said, and anyone who reads the posts can confirm whether or not I misrepresented you.
If you were more careful about what you claim initially, Chris, you wouldn’t need to rely so frequently on a disingenuous defence.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Evidence?

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Evidence is irrelevant to some. I’ve presented evidence of Ryan’s suggestion that it was genocide in Tasmania. It’s ignored. I present evidence of Musquito’s urbanised non Tasmanian origins. It’s ignored. That’s why I repeatedly suggest that the most appropriate way for others to evaluate either MY statements or anyone else’s statements, is to go back and check what we said.
Only then are they likely to be in a position to see the extent to which I [or anyone else] can be reasonably accused of using a flood of non sequiturs to cover up our intellectual lapses. I always encouraged students to not accept my word, but instead to check out any relevant material they could find. It used to be deemed not such a bad path for anyone interested in an issue to follow?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Evidence?

mark
2022 years ago

Norman, far as I can tell, you’ve repeatedly quoted Ryan as saying “a conscious policy of genocide”. You’ve said it’s buried somewhere within “The Aboriginal Tasmanians”, 2nd ed., without providing any deeper references for those of us who read enough legal/historical textbooks as it is without going through TAT with a fine-toothed comb. That means we’ve just got to trust on your quote which, while fine with me, may not sit quite so well with all of your opponents, especially given your past behaviour.

For Musquito’s urbanised, mainland origins, I don’t remember you providing any evidence. ‘Course, by that stage I wasn’t following the debate all that closely (“you’re evil!” “no, you are!”), but a cursory look-through those comments-threads the links to which have not disappeared from the front page was fruitless.

Perhaps, to combat Chris’ waning memory, parallel’s apparent waning attention span (or whatever explanation you’ve cooked up for his not having listened to you, either) and everyone else’s waning interest in the non-sequiturs and ad hominems you and Chris have been launching at one another, you might like to post quotations or links to occasions in which you have argued what you say you’ve argued, and why, precisely, this constitutes convincing evidence of your cause?

And while we’re at it, drop the Cassandra act. I know she’s your namesake, but c’mon, if the Greek gods ever find out, they’re gonna kick your arse.