- Van Diemen’s Land: A History by James Boyce
Black, 388 pp, £20.75, February 2008, ISBN 978 1 86395 413 6
I first came across James Boyce five years ago, when he wrote the lead essay in a collection called Whitewash, intended to argue against the ruthlessly revisionist ‘frontier history’ of Keith Windschuttle. In The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), Windschuttle had argued that, contrary to the claims of various ideologically driven left-leaning historians, very few Tasmanian Aborigines had died in conflict with whites. True, they had been reduced within thirty years of contact to a stricken handful, but that was because of their own vicious and destructive behaviour. Many readers were impressed by Windschuttle’s apparent mastery of the sources and his declared devotion to empirical detail. Boyce’s essay demolished those claims in a beautifully systematic discussion of the real range of evidence, and a judicious assessment of what we can know, what we might yet find out and what we cannot know about the first fifty years of white settlement in this most southerly settlement of Australia.