In response to Exposing an Expose: Fact versus Fiction in the resurrection of Captain Thunderbolt (Journal of Australian Studies, March 2012), Greg Hamilton, co-author of Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges, wrote:
Your correspondent Pat Lightfoot isn’t the only one bemused by Dr David Roberts and Carol Baxter’s pseudo-historical articles about my 2009 book Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges. Because crucial official records were put off limits to public scrutiny, Scourge was written as an historical novel to dramatise a story based on real events to say what no one else so far has dared to say in public about the travesty at Uralla. Sinclair and I filled in the gaps in the Thunderbolt story to make a coherent and credible account of events, in contrast to the inept official version embraced by Roberts and Baxter. Parliament’s order to reveal the records forced a State Government reaction that showed that the good name of the Crown was to be protected at any cost. MPs were reminded that their Oath of Office forbids jeopardising the good name of the Crown, under threat of dismissal and jail.
Most Australians will see what’s what in this instance. The mantle of academic respectability that has been hung over the recycled official version of events is an embarrassment. Historians of the 1870s were mainly journos treated by officialdom as chooks to be fed. Historians today at UNE maintain, it seems, that chook feeding tradition. I wrote Scourge (i) to get at the truth by embarrassing an autocratic state government and (ii) to get people thinking about what this latter-day autocracy means; an insidious form of neo-serfdom. It’s more than time we out-grew that. A genuine historian doesn’t subvert the quest for truth, or abuse influence. The UNE has done itself irreparable damage backing their dumbed-down, self-serving form of history recording.
Of no apparent interest to Roberts or Baxter is the claim of the Upper House MPs who supported me: that I provoked a Constitutional crisis nobody knows what to do about. I do, and continue my patient efforts, noting that they’ve been of no interest whatsoever to our “truth-crusading historians” at UNE in their attempt to validate the Thunderbolt travesty cover-up.
Constitutional crisis? Seriously? David Roberts responded:
In response to Greg Hamilton’s letter (March 14, 2012), I wish to assure readers that Ms Baxter and I well understand the duties and ethics of professional historical research, including the obligation to tell the truth and to stand by it in the face of delusion and dishonesty.
Our recent investigations into the claims made in Hamilton and Sinclair’s 2009 book easily determined that their alternative account of the fatal capture of Thunderbolt at Uralla in 1870 was based on wild and unfounded speculation, and on an extraordinarily poor grasp of history and historical research. The claim that ‘crucial official records were put off limits’ is a self-serving fantasy, and far from provoking any sort of Constitutional crisis, we suggest that the authors’ allegations have been finally recognised as errant and mischievous nonsense.
I would also like to assure the public that we are not party to any government conspiracy to return Australian citizens to an ‘insidious form of neo-serfdom’, whatever that is.
Copies of our report on the Thunderbolt conspiracy are available on request to the School of Humanities at UNE.
David Andrew Roberts
History, University of New England
To which, Hamilton replied:
I’m yet further bemused—that is, stupefied, not amused—at the pronouncements of David Roberts of UNE. His casual ‘whatever that means’ dismissal of my statement of clear substance—‘insidious form of neo-serfdom’—indicates subscription to the pseudo-faith of language obscurity known as Postmodernism. PM was a 1980s boutique theory by underemployed French intellectuals—now discredited outside academe—that enabled anyone to claim that a statement can mean anything you want to make out it means, even—and especially—nothing.
It kills debate, the intellect and civilisation, yet it found immediate and passionate take-up in universities. My phrase on neo-serfdom refers to officialdom’s habit of hiding embarrassing truths from citizens, as medieval lords did. Our reputable historians certainly don’t deny its existence in our society.
My decision to publish (and be damned) the claim that our 1870 government committed judicial murder came after I received an informal (verbal) assurance from the Police Minister that they knew what I was saying is true but, because of the Constitutional ramifications, it was doomed to be parked in limbo.
The only move I had left was to flush the truth out, by making the government take me to task for publishing lies. The farce went into Act 2 when Parliament’s vote got smothered by the intervention of our clearly politicised Governor’s office. I risked going to jail, as a measure of my commitment to the truth.
Dr Richard Scully of UNE was so irritated by Hamilton's grandiosity and ignorance that he responded:
It seems odd that Greg Hamilton is not a fan of Postmodernism – a sophisticated intellectual movement that, at root, seeks to expose the unspoken mechanisms of power that impede the free expression of ideas and has done more to foster, rather than stifle, debate. Odd also that the postmodern blurring of the line between history and fiction would be unattractive to an author such as Hamilton, who seeks to enter into debate with legitimate scholars via the genre of the sensational novel, and willingly accepts hearsay (‘verbal assurance’) as unproblematic evidence.
It would seem that postmodernism is not ‘discredited’ outside the academy, but rather, is not understood. Before seeking to enter into sophisticated historical debate, perhaps Mr Hamilton should avail himself of the publicly-funded, freely available resource at which any and all Australians of ability and commitment can study what they love, in a supportive collegial environment: the university.
Dr Richard Scully
Wisely, Greg Hamilton refrained from responding.
Unwisely, Ms Lightfoot could not stop herself from picking up her pen and, as usual, using it to shoot herself in the foot:
Well Dr Scully of UNE might be right in his views on post modernism. To me it usually refers to philosophy, literature, art, religion etc., I didn’t think it applied to non-fiction history or scholarly papers that pretend to include historical facts and then the authors’ interpretation of the issues contested. Particularly when others can present primary sources that can offer a more scholarly alternative argument ‘if’ allowed to be heard.
A fictional book is a fictional book period! Be it inspired by a true story or interpretation of known facts. Greg Hamilton’s book was not privy to some of the primary sources available when he wrote it, yet he was promoting a justifiable fictional argument. These became available only after the Standing Order 53 was rejected and the ALP Minister ordered the compilation of a file on Thunderbolt be made available to the public. Two years after his book was published. So studying that file and others there is a prima facie case the wrong man was killed as Thunderbolt taking into consideration those primary sources and the political, social and natural landscape and time frames at the time.
But when the basis of the UNE’s academic argument is to discredit a fiction book and family researcher publicly, stating the authors and those that disagree with their research are compared with conspiracy theorists it goes too far. (The Sydney Institute, 27/3).
There is a DVD regarding Thunderbolt about to be released and the producers are rubbing their hands in glee about what they believe they are uncovering and it will be controversial.
Clearly Ms Lightfoot is ignorant of:
1. Postmodernism. Perhaps Lightfoot and Hamilton should read History: What and Why? Ancient, Modern and Postmodern Perspectives by Beverley Southgate (Routledge, 2001), an easy-to-read text used by Macquarie University's History department for undergraduate students. It would help them understand why Thunderbolt: Scourge of the Ranges is, in some ways, the epitome of postmodernism.
2. State record-keeping. Ms Lightfoot writes that "Greg Hamilton's book was not privy to some of the primary sources when he wrote it". As starters, a book cannot be "privy" to information; it is the author who is privy, or otherwise, to that information. And Hamilton was not privy to that information because he admits on camera that he didn't do any Thunderbolt research himself, that he simply accepted the research of Ward family history Barry Sinclair holus-bolus without evaluating its accuracy. Any reputable historian would know that this is an astounding breach of one of the most fundamental tenets of historical research: NEVER trust anyone else's research.
By extension, the reason Sinclair was not privy to this information was because he hadn't done his own research. If Sinclair had actually undertaken exhaustive Thunderbolt research via the original records held at State Records of NSW, Kingswood (rather than magpie the research collections of others), he would have found the Colonial Secretary Correspondence Files and Police Gazette notices that now form part of the "Thunderbolt file". Bob Cummins found this material decades ago. I found it long before their Parliamentary demand. In the past, it was not hard to find for anyone used to undertaking historical research at State Records. Recently, it has been particularly easy to find because of Joan Reese's handy indexes to the surviving correspondence files. These were published years before Hamilton began working on the Scourge book as shown in the following notice dated August 2009 regarding an award for Joan's efforts. So, by saying that this information only became available two years after the book was published, Ms Lightfoot is either showing her ignorance of the availability of historical records as well as the embarrassingly flawed efforts of her fellow Thunderbolt conspiracists, or is attempting to mislead the public.
3. The background to the Thunderbolt file. This file was not put together because "the ALP Minister ordered the compilation of a file on Thunderbolt be made available to the public". I actually asked the manager responsible for its production, Christine Yeats of State Records, why exactly the file was produced when the Parliamentary demand was rejected. She explained to me that they had already ordered the archivists to begin gathering the material after the Parliamentary motion was passed. A few weeks later, the NSW Lieutenant-Governor rejected the demand because, as he stated in his rejection letter, the material was already available on open access at State Records (as everyone else knew) and because the Thunderbolt conspiracists had no right to use Parliamentary powers (and therefore taxpayers' money) to find the material for them. This is all explained in Exposing an Expose! Ms Yeats said that, despite the rejection, State Records decided to continue gathering the material because Thunderbolt was an important historical figure and, also, to prove that there had been no conspiracy to hide the records. She and the SRNSW director were delighted to receive a copy of Exposing an Expose.
4. The contents of the Thunderbolt file Far from presenting a "prima facie" case showing that the wrong man was killed as Thunderbolt, the file provides irrefutable evidence showing that the dead bushranger was indeed Fred Ward. No legitimate historian could read that file and conclude otherwise. For Ms Lightfoot to conclude and publicly claim otherwise raises important questions not about the evidence but about Ms Lightfoot's agenda.
Did anyone see ABC's Q&A special last week about climate change, which included the documentary I can change your opinion about climate change. The type of advocates produced by the climate change sceptics were generally those propagating pseudo-science. One of the interviewees commented that because of the type of actions used by the sceptics – the twisting of meaning, the used of flawed or refuted research, and so on – the sceptics could win any debate (Nick Minchin seemed to think that was a compliment!) and those relying upon the evidence were "buggered" because of the difficulty of fighting mis-truths. One of the climate-change sceptics interviewed had previously allied himself with the tobacco companies in arguing that cigarettes were not dangerous! This reflects an interesting pattern of evidence-denial behaviour. How this relates to the Thunderbolt debate is that Ms Lightfoot, according to what I have been told, was a regular letter writer arguing a position of climate-change-denial prior to becoming a regular letter writer making claims of Thunderbolt-denial. In her Thunderbolt denial arguments, she uses the same strategies mentioned in the climate change documentary. Why does she maintain this pattern of denial in the face of overwhelming evidence in both the fields of science and history? Those who accept the evidence are lost among the many. Those who stand against the evidence, strangely enough, are granted their "fifteen minutes of fame". Is that the driving force in this pattern of evidence-denial?
Furthermore, Ms Lightfoot seems to think that this website should be a medium for her views to be presented, the "other side of the Thunderbolt debate", but there is no "other side". There is evidence or ignorance. It's as simple as that. This website is not a medium for ignorance, although unfortunately I've had to waste many man hours dealing with the most astonishing degree of ignorance I have ever encountered.
5. Literary meaning. In addition to the "privy" error, Ms Lightfoot says that "But when the basis of the UNE’s academic argument is to discredit a fiction book and family researcher publicly, stating the authors and those that disagree with their research are compared with conspiracy theorists it goes too far." Again, the UNE is an institution; it cannot have an academic argument. Presumably she means "UNE academics' argument". Also, when she says "those that disagree with their research" she is intending to refer to the UNE academics' research but her phraseology suggests she is referring to the Scourge authors' own research. What she is attempting to say here is that those who disagree with Baxter and Roberts' research are compared with conspiracy theorists and that this goes too far. Ms Lightfoot, it is you and your collaborators who are claiming that there is a conspiracy – hence the description of you and your collaborators as Thunderbolt conspiracists. Moreover, the phrase "Thunderbolt conspiracists" came from Barry Sinclair's own words published in his Focus article. He wrote: "I have supporters, including Patricia Lightfoot, who I am conspiring with ..." We had a good laugh at that badly-phrased sentenced (I think he meant "collaborating with") and, accordingly, adopted the phrase into our Thunderbolt lexicon.
6. Literacy skills. After reading the copious output of Ms Lightfoot and Barry Sinclair over the past nine months, it has come to the point when I have to comment on their shocking literacy skills. English sentences are constructed on the basis of subject-verb-object, as primary school students are taught – a construction that Ms Lightfoot regularly struggles with. In fact, all of the output of the Thunderbolt conspiracists, except for Greg Hamilton, shows serious flaws in grammar, spelling, punctuation, construction and meaning. Their literacy skills are so appalling that they regularly prove my point about their abilities (or otherwise). For example, in the aftermath of David Roberts and my Sydney Institute talk about the Thunderbolt conspiracists and their pseudohistory, Barry Sinclair bombarded the Sydney Institute itself and every important person associated with the University of New England with emails. The first email to the Sydney Institute began: "For your institute to maintain its respectibility (sic – should be respectability) I would suggest you need to be very careful of the research of Carol Baxter especially on Captain Thunderbolt. Her research is heavily floored (sic – should be flawed) especially as she did not even have the curtesy (sic – should be courtesy) ..." I won't bother pointing out all the other literary errors. Needless to say there were many more.
But in their actions lay a breathtaking irony. In his speech, David referred to their "bombardment" of the peer-reviewed journal who published our work and of anyone "they apparently believe has the authority to promote their case or to denigrate ours", and their "bullying and badgering of critics". The above email sent to the Sydney Institute was forwarded to me with an amusing comment (which I had better not repeat), the gist of which indicated that the email's author had just proven in the most deliciously ironic way possible what we had said in our seminar about these Thunderbolt conspiracists and their actions.
When asking myself how the Thunderbolt conspiracists could expect to be taken seriously when they produce such poor literary output, I am reminded of the computer phrase "Garbage In, Garbage Out". If their literary output reflects the legacy of their intellectual efforts, it is not surprising that their Thunderbolt output is so flawed.
But this is all a waste of time, really. We thought my book and the exhaustive myth-debunking pieces on my back-up website would show the Thunderbolt conspiracists how deeply flawed their "research" was. We thought our article Exposing an Expose would show them how deeply flawed their conspiracy claims were. We thought our Sydney Institute talk would show them how their behaviour reflects pseudohistory not history. Nothing penetrates. Sad, really. The brick walls of their ignorance are, quite simply, impenetrable.