Dark emu

Submitted: Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:31
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I spent much of yesterday reading a book by Bruce Pascoe called "Dark Emu". It is one of several books I have ordered so that I can start to educate myself on Aboriginal history. Dark Emu is a best seller and many here have probably already read it. But those who have not may be interested in what Pascoe has written.

After Terra Nullius was widely declared to be rubbish and Aborigines were recognised to have occupied virtually all of Australia, they were dismissed as being rather worthless itinerant hunter gatherers of no fixed address and with no tenable right to the land. Bruce Pascoe went back to the original contemporaneous notes made by a large number of explorers who came into contact with Aborigines during their inland explorations as they sought out grazing land for cattle and sheep. Pascoe then drew on other sources to paint a credible picture of Aboriginal society and Aboriginal economy during the 1800's.

Far from being nomadic hunter gatherers, Australian Aborigines lived in fixed communities and were expert in landscape and soil management. They grew crops of native grasses, rices and yams and stored their excess produce, which was frequently plundered by the explorers. They were perhaps the first people in the world to bake bread and knew how to smoke fish and meat as well as preserving a large range of other foods. They managed native livestock. They were expert in aquaculture and one of their remaining fish traps is thought to be the oldest man made structure on the planet.

They made very large fish and bird nets which were observed to be the equal of anything seen in Europe and their women were capable of the most exquisite needlework.

They built houses in a range of materials from bark, turf and other materials over complex timber frames, to a form a wattle and daub, to full rock structures. These houses were clustered into permanent villages which were often home to between 1,000 and 3,000 people. They also built larger structures for community purposes. They built wells by using fire to excavate rock, improving and deepening these wells over generations.

The evidence is that they were not naturally warlike, but respected the territory and customs of other clans and tribes. They usually carried tools, rather than weapons. Their society, Pascoe concludes, was highly structured and the concept of land ownership was not known to them. They were custodians. They met for gatherings of hundreds of people who were fed over a period of several weeks and they traded far and wide.

All of this was observed by many early explorers and described it in their diaries, usually in the most demeaning terms imaginable. These explorers were funded by folks who were after suitable grazing land and news that the land was already occupied by a thriving and well ordered society was kept from their masters and certainly from the press.

As Aboriginal lands were occupied by sheep and cattle, the yam beds were eaten out and the carefully maintained fields of kangaroo Grass and other native grains were gobbled up by livestock. The previously cultivated soil was trampled down and became relatively unproductive. Aboriginal villages were burned.

This is a fascinating read. I found myself feeling ashamed of my own ignorance and felt a new appreciation of the need for reconciliation for what Europeans have visited on the world's oldest continuing society and culture.

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Reply By: lizard - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:49

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:49
In the next edition he explains how they discovered cure for common cold and invented the wheel
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Follow Up By: qldcamper - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:59

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:59
April 1st already, feels like it was only just Christmas.
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Reply By: Bushranger1 - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:53

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 17:53
Hi Keith,
While I don't doubt the aboriginals were treated badly (as were many races then & now) Bruce Pascoe's credibility is questionable to say the least.
Cheers Stu.
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Follow Up By: Neihoh - Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:46

Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:46
Why? Irrespective if it is, the likes of Major Mitchell's and other explorers' isn't..., well it is, but in the opposite way that you accuse of Pasoe. And despite this they still recorded in no uncertain terms the depth of Aboriginal societies and industry.

I have only read a couple of responses to this post but already, not only do I share the shame of our ancestors, I am ashamed to be a member of a group that contains racists.
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Reply By: Member - Dublediff - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:04

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:04
Don't be fooled by this pretender Keith. It should be in the fictional section. Largely condemned by other sources, including the aboriginal clans that he claims to hail from.
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Follow Up By: Neihoh - Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:47

Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:47
That is racist bullshit. The restating of what is in the diaries of early explorers is not questioned. The Federal Police threw out the accusations levelled against PAcoe brought on by Dutton himself.
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Follow Up By: Member - Dublediff - Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 18:52

Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 18:52
How dare you call me racist. I will call you uninformed or ignorant. That will float. Firstly the complaints investigated by Police were not addressing Pascoes origins! Seems that this is still only verified by Pascoes own words - of which there are many - if you say it often enough then it must be true - not. There is not one tribe of the many he has quoted that accept his origins. The police were looking into his profiteering from such claims. Dutton did not bring the accusations, a Ms Cashman, herself a proud aboriginal woman, brought the allegations, Dutton merely passed them on to the Police to investigate and has made no claims as to which way he sees the issues. If you plan on bringing an arguement, or opposing view to the table, then get your facts right, and don't play the race card.
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Follow Up By: Member - PhilD_NT - Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 21:18

Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 21:18
If this is the actual answer from The Federal Police then it doesn't look like a blanket clearance of all issues surrounding Bruce Pascoe, just matters relating to Federal Laws. This also does nothing to address statements made by a number of respected aboriginals and/or their organisation's rejecting his claims of aboriginality.

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Reply By: George_M - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:05

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:05
An interesting and controversial book, by an interesting and controversial author.

An alternate view

Come any closer and I'll rip your throat out!

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Reply By: Member - rocco2010 - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:29

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 18:29
Your are a braver man than me Keith, raising this.

Good luck with your reading.
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 20:19

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 20:19
Gullible springs to mind.
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Reply By: RMD - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 20:53

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 20:53
Keith B2
Are you actually admitting you believe this impostor of total European heritage, ie, NO Aboriginality at all. He has warped the truth to suit the sales of his book and also claims aboriginal heritage for obvious benefit and believability in some circles. It has been investigated and the fraud he presents is done so quite shamelessly. Anyone who reads the book will now have a guilt feeling and think they have discovered reality. The book does a very large disservice to the aboriginal people of this land. Many in places of authority have sanctioned the book for some reason and students in school will be brainwashed as it is presented as “truth” to our impressionable young students. That is shameful to the extreme. Any teacher who endorses it is mind bending the ones they claim to be educating. If Emus realised what he is doing in their name they would kick and peck him into oblivion.
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Follow Up By: Neihoh - Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:50

Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 19:50
Are you questioning the truth of the quotes from the diaries of the early explorers as well as Pascoe's heritage, which after being investigated by the Federal Police they found he did not have a case to answer?

How dare you besmerch the word and honour of our early settler heroes!
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Reply By: Rangiephil - Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 22:15

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 22:15
If you want a more accurate though embellished account of the life "enjoyed" by aboriginals before white settlement read Buckleys Chance which was a biography of William Buckley who escaped from the Sirius in Port Phillip Bay, and lived with the aboriginals for 20 years before rejoining society in Tasmania..
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Follow Up By: Keith B2 - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 08:00

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 08:00
I looked up the book, "Buckleys Chance", which certainly looks like a fascinating story. According the the Culture Victoria website: "Buckley’s story has been reinterpreted many times over the years. He was a private and cautious man, and gave only 2 accounts of his life."

Buckleys Chance by Garry Linnell was first published in October 2019 and is said to be well researched. But can it be relied on as an accurate account of Aboriginal life almost 200 years earlier?

Distilling the substance of Pascoe's Dark Emu into a question of Pascoe's racial background I think is playing the man rather than the ball. But I am very curious about this and will try to keep an open mind.

I read "The Lizard Eaters" by Douglas Lockwood where he describes the last nomadic tribespeople to come in to the the settlements from the western deserts in the late 1950s. They were true nomads, who had never seen a white face, and a world away from the Aboriginal culture that Pascoe describes in Dark Emu.

I have just ordered "Bitter Harvest: The illusion of Aboriginal agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu" by
Peter O'Brien, to see what he has to say.


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Follow Up By: Mick O - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 10:49

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 10:49
Keith, if you want an interesting read around the Pintubi in the Western Deserts in the 50's, have a look here;

Report on Patrol to Lake Mackay Area June / July 1957

This report of the welfare expedition led by Mr EC Evans gives a good account of the expedition into the eastern edge of Lake's McKay and Hazlett. The party set a beacon at Labbi Labbi Rockhole, effectively a stone cairn on the heights above the rock hole to draw the local people in. The party was accompanied by the anthropologist Dr. Donald Thomson of Melbourne university who remained at Labbi Labbi for an extended period after the welfare expedition returned.

Having been to the site in 2014 while tracing a bit of Michael Terry's expedition, I'd done a bit of research on the area and Dr Thomson. In a cautionary tale that may have some relevance here, as I researched and came across independent accounts of the expedition, it became more than apparent that Dr Thomson was indeed a strange and self serving individual.

A lot more can be gleaned about the Thomson expedition in the early chapters of "More Curious Than Cautious, Book 2" By Peter Fraser. It provides an eye witness account of the 1956 expedition and many of the situations that Dr Thomson reported quite differently in various magazines of the time.

Again, like Dark Emu, a selective view of history can often be presented by an author to support their world view. Pascoe provides an interesting point of view though and it has been interesting to see the narrative from all sides of the debate.



''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903

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Follow Up By: Keith B2 - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 12:14

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 12:14
Thanks Mick. That Report was an interesting read.
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Reply By: Mikee5 - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 14:55

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 14:55
The tribes Bruce Pascoe claim kinship to have denied any connection to him. He has misquoted extracts from early explorers' diaries to prove non existent facts. Generally a beat-up largely discredited.
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Follow Up By: Keith B2 - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:02

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:02
Mike said "He has misquoted extracts from early explorers' diaries to prove non existent facts. Generally a beat-up largely discredited."

Mike is there anywhere where these misquotations are documented, other than in Peter O'Brien's book: "Bitter Harvest: The illusion of Aboriginal agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu"? I am waiting for that book to arrive. But I'd be interested in any other sources.

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Follow Up By: RMD - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:03

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:03
"Trying" to prove non existent facts may be a better description. Pascoe relies on the fact that if you tell an untruth often enough the people will begin to believe it as true. Hitler did the same con job on his youth and set his community against each other.
Pascoe might be related to Peter Foster our homebred international con man. Not the same but definitely for personal gain at the expense of others. This book is going to divide some people and has already brought Aboriginal and White people together, all say he and the book is a fraud.
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Follow Up By: Member - Rowdy6032 (WA) - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:25

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 16:25
Keith See Georges reply above. Alternate View for examples of misquotations. Also google Dark Emu Exposed. Also Project Gutenburg Three Expeditions into the Interior Eastern Australia by Thomas Mitchell, a good opportunity to practise your speed reading but interesting.
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Follow Up By: Keith B2 - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 17:36

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 17:36
I just spent the last hour running through part of one the I think three volumes. It's a great read.
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Reply By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 17:44

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020 at 17:44
Hullo Keith
Thanks for taking the plunge and starting this thread.
Another well documented and researched book you might be interested in is "Looking for Blackfella's Point" by Mark McKenna. While primarily focused on SE NSW, it draws some interesting and insightful conclusions with respect to Aboriginal and white settlers interactions and attitudes across the spectrum.
Then there is the seminal work by Inga Clendinnen "Dancing with Strangers" focused on the interactions between the Aborigines and members of the First Fleet in Sydney.
Finally "Deep Time Dreaming - Uncovering Ancient Australia" by Billy Griffiths, an archaeologist.
I hope you find these as interesting, challenging and enlightning as I did
Reading the comments, I am reminded of what Carl Rogers said many years ago - "What blocks understanding is that, were we really to understand, it could change us for ever". That's pretty scary stuff!
Cheers Andrew
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Reply By: Neihoh - Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 20:00

Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 20:00
Hands up who has read the Book.
Attempts to discredit Pascoe's claims of aboriginality have been discredited and thrown out by the Federal Police no less. Hardly an organisation likely to Blackwash anything. Pascoe's main accuser has even more recently become a laughing stock feeding false info to Anfre Bolt who acknowledges same.

Pascoe merely quotes from early explorer diaries. Have seen no one claiming he is misquoting these. Why would he? They are easily verified in the National Library in Canberra.
Forget his conclusions and speculations drawn from them. Make your own.

Of course latter day aboriginal people could easily be seen as nomads and hunter gatherers, not the same people who could have created the industry observed by explorers. They were forced off their lands, away from their agriculture and "protein harvesting" industry, and herded into "missions". What choice did they have if not willing to be treated in that manner?
That's my take on the what might have happened 200 years ago, not Pascoe's.

Fire at will.
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 22:30

Saturday, Feb 01, 2020 at 22:30
"Fire at will."
Wouldn't waste my time.!
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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 00:00

Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 00:00
To assume someone is racist because they disagree with your point of view is actually very wrong and stifles debate on the facts of the matter. I wouldn't bother arguing with you if that's your counter argument and you played the race card straight away, which is a bad indication. All minority groups are becoming untouchable, yet they're people who have good points and bad points just like the majority of us. With regard to the Dark Emu matter, I have no opinion because I don't know the facts. There's nothing I can do help people who died 200 years ago, they're all dead. Australia today is doing its best to provide equal opportunity to all Australians. Singling out groups for special attention just divides the place up again. We aren't going to hand Sydney Cove back to the original owners, so let's just get on with it?
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Reply By: Neihoh - Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 16:48

Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 16:48
Peter FitzSimmons, whose great historic novels most would be familiar with has this to say today;
" The attacks on him have two prongs: that his book is all fantasy, and that he has no Indigenous blood himself as he has claimed.

On the latter issue, I have no clue, though am happy to accept him at his word. And either way it makes zero difference as to the worth of his book.


On the matter of the book I say this strongly: NO ONE who has actually READ the book, can say he is a fantasist. For when you actually read it, the penny drops. There is a minimum of Pascoe, and a maximum of first person accounts from explorers and first settlers on what they saw at first contact with the First Nations people and, all put together, his case is unanswerable – as inconvenient as that might be for those who seek to downplay just how precious a culture was destroyed by white settlement.

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Follow Up By: Bushranger1 - Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 21:41

Sunday, Feb 02, 2020 at 21:41
"Precious culture".
Amuses me that comment. How naive people like to focus on ONLY the positives making it sound like utopia in some cultures.
Like most cultures they still had infidelity, underage marriage, murder & all the similar social problems that are all still embeded in society today.
Have a great day. :-)
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