Robert Manne’s open letter to Andrew Bolt [Dead link: Crikey, June 29, 2006]
Yesterday [28 June] News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt wrote an article [dead link] challenging academic Robert Manne to name ten Aboriginal children who had been removed from their parents as part of the stolen generation. In response Manne wrote this open letter:
Date: 29 June 2006
I am writing formally to renew my invitation to a debate with you on the issue of the stolen generations.
As you are aware, I agreed to debate you on this issue in early 2001 at Readers’ Feast bookshop. At first, you agreed. Shortly afterwards, you pulled out. In one of the encounters we had on radio (in Adelaide) I renewed the offer. On October 30 2002 I renewed it again in a letter to the editor of the Herald Sun. “The one group who would not join in the debate [on In Denial] were the people whose ignorance of Aboriginal history it analysed. Bolt was invited to debate In Denial. At first he accepted the invitation and then pulled out. From my point of view the offer is still open.”
You have provided different explanations for your failure to debate me on this issue. In the Herald Sun on April 2 2001 you quoted an email you sent to me: “I did not want to help you sell your (appalling) books by being a drawcard for your bookselling event. I will, however, debate you in fora which I judge will not assist you financially or in propaganda.” In an email you sent to me on June 26 2006 your story had changed: “We both know the facts of that—that I’d accepted the challenge to debate you over your new book attacking me on the reasonable proviso that I was allowed to read it first, and that I pulled out only because I was never sent the copy I’d asked for. Debates I like. Ambushes I don’t.”
This is complete nonsense. I asked the man who organised the debate, Russ Radcliffe (at the time the manager of Reader’s Feast), to provide an account of what happened. This is what he emailed to me: “After establishing Robert Manne’s willingness to participate [in the debate on the stolen generations], I telephoned Andrew Bolt—he was affable, amused by the prospect, and keen to participate. I subsequently called Bolt on several occasions leaving several messages to confirm the date. He did not reply. When I eventually reached him his tone had changed drastically from the first call. He became irate, saying that he had no intention of helping Manne ‘flog’ his book and he accused me of setting him up in front of an antagonistic audience of lefties. There was absolutely no truth to that accusation.”
My proposal for the debate is this. If the Melbourne Writers’ Festival is willing, I propose a debate similar to the one I had with Keith Windschuttle some two years ago. The format was that we each spoke for 30-40 minutes following which we asked each other questions. After that the audience joined in. The chair was Dr John Hirst, a chair agreeable to both Windschuttle and me. I propose we ask him again. If you are willing to participate in the debate, I would suggest that your publisher approach the Festival on your behalf and that I ask Black Inc. to approach them on mine. As you have recently published a collection of your columns, the Festival might be willing to host the debate. If the Festival is uninterested or if you are unhappy with the Writers’ Festival as the venue, I would be perfectly happy to appear at a forum where you might feel more comfortable, like the Institute of Public Affairs. Naturally I would be happy to debate you at La Trobe University or indeed at some other mutually agreeable venue. As you have referred to the question of the stolen generations in the Herald Sun on at least seventy occasions, and as you have referred to me in defamatory terms in very many of these articles, and as you have caused real pain to many Aboriginal people by your writings on this issue, I believe that you are under a moral obligation to agree to this proposal.
Yesterday I promised to send you some of the names of the “half caste” children who were removed to Yarrabah and to Mapoon by Walter Roth, the Queensland Protector. As I pointed out to you the children were generally given only “Christian” names by the colonial authorities. Here’s a sample: 1901: “Ivy” (8), “Willie” (11), “Walter” (7), “Arthur” (4), “Maria” (13), “Norman Carr” (quadroon, between 2 and 3), “Edie” (10), “Carrie” (6), “Nora Mackenzie” (4), “Annie” (10), “Minnie Cooma” (12), “several children of various ages, dependents of Underwood “, “Annie Noble” (14), “Nellie” (10), “Mary”, “Mabel” and “Daisy”, “Lucy” (10), “Rosie” (8).
1902: “A little Aboriginal girl” (4); “Harry Brown” (12); “Dolly” (about 13); “Dora” (about 10); “Lily” (5); “Flora” ( about 8 ); “Lucy” (11); “Lucy” (12); “Rosie Murray” (about 10); “Lena” (age not stated); “Paddy” (about 7); “Lily” (5); “Jessie” (6); “Sammy Mathers (about 5); “Harry” (12); “Ida” (about 7); “Rosie” (6).
1903: “Billie”, “Norman”, “Topsy” and “Nancy” “four little half-caste children in the blacks’ camp”; “Topsy” ( about 8 ); “Archie” (13); “Maud” (5 or 6); “Maudie” (10); “Jessie” (half-caste little girl”); “Charlie Coates”; “Jock” (4 or 5); “Ada Lyall” (11 or 12) ; “Maggie” (8 or 10); “Walter” (about 14—he’s the case I wrote about in the Quarterly Essay); “Martin” (4); “Minnie” (about 9); “Topsy” (about 6); “Daisy (about 13); “Lucy”, “Georgie” and “Lucy” from Tate; “Rosie” (about 10) and a boy “Davey” from Rifle Creek.
The list goes on and on for later years. I’ll stop at this point. If you want to find more of the same, all you have to do is to find the printed parliamentary papers for Queensland, available at the Borchardt Library at La Trobe University and in the Victorian State Library, I would think.
You say in the Herald Sun that these are names I’ve “now found”. Another untruth. I’ve had the names of many of the children sent to the mission stations of Queensland and to the “half caste” homes in the Northern Territory and Western Australian for several years. Indeed I offered to send a sample of these names to Peter Blunden in an email on November 1 2004 after one of your many attacks (where you said that I could name only 2 stolen children!). He didn’t respond.
Peter Read has seen the files of 5000 stolen children in New South Wales, many of whom were despatched to the Kinchela and Colebrook homes. (See his Rape of the Soul So Profound.) These files have been closed to researchers in recent years. As you are aware, more than 500 removed Aboriginal children gave evidence to the HREOC inquiry. They gave evidence on condition that their names were withheld. In his book, The Lost Children, Peter Read interviewed thirteen removed indigenous children. You can find their names if you bother to read that book. Similarly about half of the indigenous men who committed suicide in prison whose cases were investigated by the Deaths in Custody Royal Commission had been removed from their parents. Their names are available to someone who wants to know. So are the names of some of the removed children who gave testimony to the federal government-funded Oral History project, which led to the book, Many Voices. There are now quite a number of books written by stolen Aboriginal children, like Margaret Tucker’s If Everyone Cared, Rosalie Fraser’s Shadow Lives and John Moriarty’s Saltwater Fella.
By the way, if you’re interested in the question of the number of removals, the ABS study I mentioned on radio is called the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (1994). On the basis of this survey Ron Brunton acknowledged that 12,500 removals had taken place. His figure did not take into account Aboriginal children removed since 1900 who had died before the 1994 survey.
On one small point. You say in your Herald Sun column that Lorna Cubillo was “taken in by missionaries, aged eight, after being abandoned in the bush with no adult looking after her”. This seems so far from what happened and where the evidence led that I’d be obliged if you could point me to your source.
I look forward to your response to the invitation to debate.
Yours sincerely, Robert Manne
cc. Peter Blunden, Editor in Chief, Herald Sun
Peter Coster, Opinion Editor, Herald Sun