Spreading the evidence around

The Internet has only made more obvious what is a common hazard of secondary research. This is the natural and often quite reasonable tendency to quote another authority. Historians do it all the time and this sites webpages have many such references.

So what is the problem? The problem of course is that once you use a secondary source you are at that sources’ mercy. Worse occurs when some then uses a source based on the original secondary source and pretty soon a whole myth can be built up on very shaky foundations.

Such a house of cards usually gets built up when the evidence is thin on the ground but the need or desire to say something about the topic is high. For the Williams River and more a great deal of Australian history the two prime areas where this occurs is Aboriginal and Convict history. For the later field much research into a great deal of primary evidence has gradually reduced the number of myths to handful of still cherished tales about floggings and convict bricks. But the relative lack of such primary evidence for Aboriginal history leaves this field, at least at the local level, wide open to the constant repetition of assumptions, half-truths and of course myths.

For the history of the Gringai people of the Williams River and nearby valleys much myth making is due to a few writings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that have been given far too much credibility. Here it is proposed to look at these writings and to show how they have been woven into later secondary accounts that have in turn been quoted and referenced until the weakest of assumptions and stories has attained the credibility of established historical fact. Fair game in other words.

To be continued ….

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