From time to time, historical controversies occur in the public realm that demand the attention of academic historians and dictate that we set aside other writing. Late in 2003, I returned to Australia after spending much of the year travelling in Europe and working in New Zealand, France and England on a couple of research projects. I had a book to write. I had also agreed, though, to write an article on the so-called war over Aboriginal history, which had been fought throughout most of the previous year. I sat down to fulfil this obligation first. But I soon decided that the nature of the ongoing public conflict over Australia's Aboriginal past warranted my writing more than just an academic essay. It deserved an entire book. The other book would have to wait.
I had come to believe that the 'Aboriginal history war' could have serious consequences for both historical understanding and public life. I had also become convinced that it was the responsibility of an academic historian to respond when severe public criticisms are made of the scholarship done in their field of expertise. At the same time, it became more evident to me that the controversy discussed in this book reflects broader cultural changes of considerable significance for the nature of historical knowledge in the public sphere. This, too, is worthy of a professional historian's attention.
At stake in the most recent round of controversy over the truth about Aboriginal history—or rather historiography—in Australia have been matters of long-standing interest to me. I have worked in the field known as Aboriginal history for over twenty years as a researcher, writer, editor and teacher. I have also read, taught or written extensively about history