Heads up on the Dark Emu story of Aboriginal agriculture

Bruce Pascoe invented an Aboriginal heritage and a  history of alleged Indigenous agriculture and published a book in 2014 that won numerous literary awards and is now on the reading list for school students.  Peter Obrien has released a Quadrant Book book based on a forensic study of the historical and personal claims of the author.

Pascoe postulates that, rather than being a nomadic hunter-gatherer society, Australian Aborigines were actually sedentary agriculturalists with ‘skills superior to those of the white colonisers who took their land and despoiled it’. Dark Emu has enjoyed extraordinary public and critical acclaim, winning Premier’s literary awards in New South Wales and named Book of the Year. Professor Marcia Langton called it ‘the most important book on Australia’. Its ideas have already been taken up in school texts and the ABC is producing a documentary series about it.

But nothing in Dark Emu justifies its success. Bitter Harvest is a forensic but highly readable examination which reveals that Bruce Pascoe omits, distorts or mischaracterises important information to such an extent that, as purported history, Dark Emu is worthless. Even worse, it promotes a divisive, victim-based agenda that pits one Australian against another.

There is also a website Dark Emu Exposed.

BONUS. Articles published by Jo Nova.

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41 Responses to Heads up on the Dark Emu story of Aboriginal agriculture

  1. Whalehunt Fun

    I am happy to see Australians pitted against one another. We need a true blue Aussie who will deal as effectively and sensitively with the inner urban elitists as Saloth Sâr did with those in his country. He will make housing more affordable for young working couples too. Take a million or two out of the housing market without decreasing stock, the bid prices will be sure to decrease. Win win. Yes a pitting is an excellent thing and I am looking forward to watching.

  2. Jim Hutchison

    There is no doubt that Bruce Pascoe is a complete dud as a historian. His ‘research’ findings as published in ‘Dark Emu’ follow closely a book published by the late Rupert Gerritson entitled –
    ‘Australia and the Origins of Agriculture’ British Archaeological Reports International Series S1874, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2008, iii+205pp, ISBN 9781407303543.

    Gerritson brought together every scrap of published Australian research that he could find. His study was a contribution to the ‘intensification’ debate waged by historians and archeologists. My impression after reading Gerritson’s book is that he stretched scant evidence to fit his pre-conceived conclusion. In any event he detected pre-1788 Aboriginal farming at only two locations – near Geraldton between the Hutt and Irwin rivers and in the Corners country where the States of Qld, NSW and South Australia meet. This region incorporates Cooper’s Creek, the Thompson, Diamantina, Georgina and Mulligan Rivers and also Warburton Creek. This would seem to be an unlikely area in which to develop any form of agriculture either prior to 1788 or subsequently.

    The standard histories of world agriculture tell us that farming first developed in the Fertile Crescent in about 9,000 BC. The Fertile Crescent is located between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers comprising a region in the Middle East including modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, south eastern Turkey and western Iran. Modern DNA research has confirmed this role of the Fertile Crescent. See this link:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/07/15/485722228/where-did-agriculture-begin-oh-boy-its-complicated

    There is nothing in the work of Gerritson nor the fantasies of Bruce Pascoe which should persuade us that Aboriginal Australians developed farming skills independently of the practices which spread across the world from the Fertile Crescent.

    Regrettably the ‘Dark Emu’ fantasy has taken hold in both the school system and the universities where Pascoe’s distorted views are treated as fact. Pascoe is a member of the academic staff of the University of Technology, Sydney. UTS describes him as:

    Professor, Jumbunna Inst for Indigenous Education & Research

    Core Member, SIC – Strengthening Indigenous Communities

    QUALIFICATIONS
    Bachelor of Education

    Pascoe stretched the scant evidence of Gerritson even further and generalised Gerritson’s limited scope of Aboriginal farming to most of Australia. And now he is a Professor!

  3. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    near Geraldton between the Hutt and Irwin rivers

    Right about where the survivors of the Dutch ships, of the Netherlands East India Company, were wrecked off the West Australian coast in the 1600’s came ashore? Sailors and soldiers, well used to fending for themselves in adverse conditions, built huts, grew what they could in the way of food, and made what arrangements they could with the local tribes?

  4. BorisG

    Professor, Jumbunna Inst for Indigenous Education & Research

    Core Member, SIC – Strengthening Indigenous Communities

    QUALIFICATIONS
    Bachelor of Education

    Professor with no doctoral degree? Or even masters ?

  5. Fisky

    OK, so if their farming practices were superior to the Europeans, presumably they had a higher carrying capacity, a higher population, development of permanent settlements, property rights, roads, writing and organised government….all of which accompanied every other agricultural civilisation everywhere.

  6. Petros

    I heard Bruce Pascoe on the radio and realized he was an activist and not a historian. Is the Bill Gammage book about the Aboriginal practice of clearing grasslands so that it looked like manicured lawn true?

  7. Herodotus

    Once again the ABC is not just on the wrong side of history but purveying arrant nonsense and poisoning the waterhole of knowledge for young students and old useful idiots alike.

  8. I understand that the Aborigines invented air travel, were consultants on the building of the Pyramids, constructed the Torres Strait and Tasmanian canals, foretold climate change and established nudist colonies, amongst other things.

  9. Mundi

    What’s amazing is that there is first hand journal accounts of the first fleet and there interactions, and it describes exactly what you expect of any stone age culture:

    fires burned continuously because they had no idea how to start them

    women treated like cattle and herded around in groups and branded by cutting marks into them

    aborting fetus if mother has a child already who is not yet off the milk

    Some groups ate only fish, refused to eat any other cooked meat, and has no idea what to do with native animals even when given them dead

  10. Mundi

    One of the accounts of the first fleet has a man who was first declared person to be not dependent on the government store. His family with two labor hires, produced 1/3rd of the colonies agri output. The government with 12 service man and over 200 convicts on farm duty were only able to produce barely double that one family.

    Needless to say, no aboriginal farm anywhere was ever seen apart from some vague claims that a few plants were sown randomly at water edges, maybe.

  11. Kae

    The corruption of history continues apace.

    As for the author’s aboriginality, that’s how you stop the process of debunking in its tracks.

    The author of Dark Emu was asked whether he was aboriginal at some stage because his book would have so much more impact coming from an aborigine.

    With him claiming aboriginality discussion/criticism, honest debate, has been shut down. Criticising someone who is aboriginal is now racism so no-one can touch the subject critically because that would prove their racism.

    Academia and science are officially buggered*.

    *I was going to use another word, but that would be impolite.

  12. Bunyip Bill

    Funny that no farming impliments have ever been found in middens, along with pottery which would have to be used to store / carry/ cook/ said produce . The poor buggers did not have the means to boil water for smoko, and they expect us to believe this shite.

  13. Boambee John

    There is no doubt that Bruce Pascoe is a complete dud as a historian.

    He shares that in common with most wakademics pushing the PC line on indigenous history. Read Keith Windschuttle!

  14. Boambee John

    Right about where the survivors of the Dutch ships, of the Netherlands East India Company, were wrecked off the West Australian coast in the 1600’s came ashore? Sailors and soldiers, well used to fending for themselves in adverse conditions, built huts, grew what they could in the way of food, and made what arrangements they could with the local tribes?

    Good point Zulu.

    Did you ever see Les Hiddins’ work on a possible Dutch influence on indigenous communities in central Australia, based on shipwreck survivors?

  15. Boambee John

    Professor with no doctoral degree? Or even masters ?

    It’s OK, Boris, wisdom of the elders and all that!

  16. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Did you ever see Les Hiddins’ work on a possible Dutch influence on indigenous communities in central Australia, based on shipwreck survivors?

    I did, actually. Interesting doco.

  17. thefrollickingmole

    Right about where the survivors of the Dutch ships, of the Netherlands East India Company, were wrecked off the West Australian coast in the 1600’s came ashore?

    Which shows just how hard it was to come up with “agriculture”.
    People treat it like “of course it was discovered” but the fact of the matter was without the original farmers 6000BC every race/culture was living only off the land making all other advances near impossible.

    And it would be a great addition to the Aboriginal story if the Dutch connection was correct, it would show how once exposed to the concepts they grabbed them just as hard as any other group and were probably held back by pretty poor grains/yields. (no wheat/barley etc)

  18. Vicki

    I recently attended a function in the NSW central tablelands which was begun with the obligatory distant descendant of local clans giving “welcome to country”. As the assembled group consisted largely of local farmers he proceeded to claim that they were the original “farmers” of the region.

    If he had intended the claim to be a vague reference to some husbandry practices all would be well – but no, he was clearly inferring that they “farmed” in the European sense. Predictably, the participants were too polite to argue. It is maddening that this nonsense is perpetuated.

    That these hunter & gatherers survived in a hostile environment for tens of thousands of years, is achievement enough. But distortion of evidence is very sad & very damaging to all.

  19. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    That these hunter & gatherers survived in a hostile environment for tens of thousands of years, is achievement enough. But distortion of evidence is very sad & very damaging to all.

    That’s a good summary of the whole situation, Vicki.

  20. Vicki

    BTW I am persuaded that in certain areas they developed the practice of trapping fish & eels by building very basic weirs with narrow passages for exiting water which facilitated fish traps (& easy spearing). There is evidence on my own property of such a practice – & also the remains of a “eel/fish oven” in the base of a very old Casuarina.

  21. candy

    It is an astounding claim, that Aboriginal peoples had an economy, villages and flourishing agriculture, but the white colonialists trampled and destroyed the careful management and land fertility, and basically devastated it all, is what Pascoe seems to be saying.

    The book seems like some kind of precursor to a law suit for damages?

  22. Whalehunt Fun

    And no evidence they were developed by the layabouts present in 1770. There have been people here for a long time. There is no evidence the people we see are descended from original inhabitants. The most probable link with the originals is that they speared and ate them. So they are just as likely to have merel6 maintained something pre-existing as to have built it themselves.

  23. Whalehunt Fun

    law suit for damages?

    The HRC clowns need to be sacked and prosecuted for receiving taxes under the false pretences unless they immediately prosecute this guy making completely false racist slurs against Europeans.

    Better still deport the clowns. Syria needs gunfodder for their army.

  24. Whalehunt Fun

    That these hunter & gatherers survived in a hostile environment

    Unlikely. The more likely is that the hostile environment kept on killing them and a few survived through random good luck through no fault of theirs; and subsequent losers merely copied what seemed to work, most of them carking it. The child death rates made Pickwickian England look wonderful.

    The noble savage skilled in survival is nonsense. Pour enough layabouts into a deathtrap and a few will fail to die. This is not evidence of some mental or cultural superiority.

  25. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    The book seems like some kind of precursor to a law suit for damages?

    There are about three other titles – one with a special edition for use in schools – explaining what a gentle, nurturing culture, living in harmony with the land, Aboriginal culture was, before the evil whiteman arrived – this all looks like the precursor to massive reparations and a treaty.

  26. Gowest

    Pascoe’s thesis is probably right, but I think he is out by 40,000 years at least. My thesis…Global warming is responsible!
    The Aborigines at the time of their saving by the European colonisers had obviously gone through a period of plenty way back when Australia was much more lush and wet. Over time they had been reduced to roving bands; killing and stealing from each other to live in the limited survivable locations available. If you want proof of this go and check any Aboriginal land claim – they claim huge areas of land.
    Aborigines remember the good times and the white -man was a way to get the good stuff, without the young bucks stealing it. At that time there was lots of inter-racial integration and farms became the “community”. Once Canberra got enough tax the public servants decided they could have a lifetime job and do it better. In the process they stuffed the aborigine communities. Now heaps more public servants and aborigines have the job of supporting these proud people – no wonder they are pissed – they are probably the ones who stole their good stuff before!
    Everyone seems to forget about going walk-about. The word explains the activities of teenage males in their pre-European society very well.
    Their use of fire was probably their primary weapons to disrupt the settled aborigines and make it easy to steal their goods and women – ultimately making that way of life impossible.

  27. old bloke

    40,000 years, 60,000 years, whatever years, yet never saw boiling water.

  28. Roger

    The book seems like some kind of precursor to a law suit for damages?

    Noongar people seeking $300bn compensation from WA government/tax payer presently.

    Native title already granted.

    Goal posts keep shifting.

    Humbugging on a grand scale.

  29. Mother Lode

    were consultants on the building of the Pyramids,

    The version I heard is that an Aboriginal company was contracted to create a giant sculpture of a lion for the Egyptians. Any way the Egyptians were delinquent in their payments so the Aborigines pulled out.

    The Egyptians tried to complete the sculpture themselves but without the Aborigines design and coordination skills they ended up putting a human head on the lion.

    Silly Egyptians thought their culture was as advanced as the Aborigines.

    So much hubris.

  30. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Noongar people seeking $300bn compensation from WA government/tax payer presently.

    The Barnett Government offered the Noongars a billion dollar package in “final settlement” of all Native title claims. Six or seven of “the usual suspects” scuppered the whole process, claiming that nobody had the authority to sign on their behalf. From the media coverage here, this looks like the original six or seven.

  31. A Lurker

    Noongar people seeking $300bn compensation from WA government/tax payer presently.

    Aboriginals didn’t have or use money.
    Pay them out in witchetty grubs and kangaroo tails.

  32. Roger

    Btw, I identify as a Noongar man.

  33. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Noongars’ $290 billion compo claim will transform Indigenous Australia: lawyer
    Emma Young

    By Emma Young
    Updated November 30, 2019 — 12.27pmfirst published at 12.25pm

    The Noongar people’s $290 billion compensation claim against the West Australian government for loss of its land will be transformative both for them and all Indigenous Australia, says the lawyer leading the action.

    The action lodged in the Federal Court last week will be, if successful, the largest compensation litigation in the world, and the Brisbane-based legal firm involved is preparing other cases in WA, New South Wales and Queensland.
    The South West Native Title Settlement was the most comprehensive Native Title agreement negotiated in Australian history and the government called it “the full and final resolution of all native title claims in the South West.”

    “This is only the first cab off the rank,” said David Stevenson, legal director of Ethical Social Justice Law.

    “The largest [comparable] case I am aware of is the settlement with US tobacco of around 200 billion in the late 1990s.”

    The claim is for economic, cultural and spiritual loss caused by loss of traditional land, and has been in the making at ESJ Law since the decision on the Northern Territory’s ‘Timber Creek’ was handed down by the High Court on March 13, awarding $2.5 million compensation for 127 hectares of land.

    In this case, Mr Stevenson said, the High Court decided any Aboriginal nation with a Native Title determination was entitled to compensation on two grounds: first economic loss, second cultural and spiritual loss.

    The economic loss applied to any Native Title land ‘extinguished’ from October 31, 1975 to present day, with holders entitled to 50 per cent of the value of that land at the time; multiplied by the number of years, multiplied by 4.5 per cent.

    The cultural and spiritual loss was calculated at an even higher rate, and in the Timber Creek decision worked out at $10,000 per hectare for cultural loss, compared to $5000 per hectare for economic loss.

    The court set out a clear methodology to bring any future claim and over more than three months a team of four ESJ lawyers, plus legal experts in the fields of town planning, spatial mapping and anthropology have worked behind the scenes to prepare a claim on behalf of a group of Noongar people of the South West.

    “Lead Claimant Naomi Smith is an exceptional person and when we met we had a very clear map forward. She certainly read the Timber Creek decision as often as I have, which is a fair bit,” Mr Stevenson said.

    Ms Smith told the ABC her people had been struggling since European settlement, when they lost access to their traditional land.

    “It’s going to be huge in regard to what Noongar people could do for our Noongar kids,” she said.

    WAtoday reached out to Ms Smith, but she preferred Mr Stevenson to speak on behalf of the group.

  34. Snoopy

    I await with barely controlled anticipation one of TheirABC’s famously curious reporters asking Mr David Stevenson, legal director of Ethical Social Justice Law how much his ethical and social justicey law firm stands to trouser if the $290 billion claim is awarded.

  35. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Ethical Social Justice Law

    A truly “ethical, social justice” law firm would be working on a “pro bono” basis, surely?

  36. Snoopy

    As the foundations of social justice are envy and theft the use of the word ‘ethical’ is simply an attempt to put lipstick on a pig.

  37. Shy Ted

    In one of Les Hiddins’ books he provided a compelling argument that Aboriginal tribes in the arid desert of the Gascoyne, WA had grown from individuals banished or decamped from tribes in more lush areas on the basis of physical inferiority or to avoid tribal punishments and death. They were smaller in stature and considered less intelligent, surviving on a sparse diet. One of my favourite books is The Lizard Eaters with pictures of the natives wearing belts of dead lizards and eaten whole as their main source of protein. A tribe member, Stumpy, had one leg, hobbling around with the aid of a stick, having been speared in a fight over a girl and left to his own devices. In due course the infection took hold and his leg simply “fell off” (his words, corroborated) some time later. Having received his punishment he was accepted back as a tribe member, albeit with inferior status.
    The author details a number of instances where he practiced first aid on serious, painful injuries which the natives tolerated without a murmur. Driving through the Gascoyne I used to think, “how the f did anybody ever survive out here?”

  38. DD

    And the GDP of Western Australia is?

  39. Pascoe is a swindler.

    This story is nearly a parody of itself.

    A white guy pretends to be a black native and invents an alternative fan-fiction universe like a professional “historian” writing a (fictitious) novel, using very tortured “science!”.

    The most educated white people then are the most susceptible group to fall for this.

  40. struth

    No.
    Bruce Pascoe is a white fraudster who realised there is money to be made in telling left wing racists what they wanted to hear.
    He expected no scrutiny.
    He tells left wing racists that aborigines were actually civilised European farmers and left wing racists eat it up.
    It was never meant to be examined by anyone and he’d ride high on the culture wars and never get exposed to examination..
    So ignorant to aboriginal activism and culture he thinks doctors wives and communist education bureaucrats will keep it away from the masses and in their safety and protection he’ll ride the insulated flying pig to segregated fame and wealth.
    He’s a dumb white fuck wit who went too far.

  41. grumpy

    I have no problem returning aborigines to their traditional lands as long as they return all the non-traditional Toyota Landcruisers, rifles, clothes, money, smokes, booze etc as a part of the deal..

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