Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Publisher: Magabala Books

Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Australian History, Aboriginal History, Archaeology

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This is a hidden book about hidden Australian history.

Written by esteemed and respected Aboriginal elder, historian and author Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu tells an alternative version of how pre-European Australia looked according to the original and rightful owners and custodians of the land.

Large populations of Aboriginal people were manipulating the Australian environment and husbanding plants to produce surplus food of such great quantity that populations could lead a more or less sedentary lives in close proximity to their growing crops.

This is a stark contrast to the historical narrative perpetuated by white Europeans about Australia’s true and original custodians of the land. That Aboriginal people were nomadic hunter gatherers who lived a basic subsistence lifestyle and were driven to keep moving and hunting to survive.

The ignorance began with the first Europeans to visit the country. Even men as enlightened as Sturt and Mitchell, despite having seen Aboriginal villages of over 1000 people and grain fields reaching to the horizon, lapse into imperial euphemism, by referring to those people as ‘children of the soil’, ‘sable friends’ and ‘knights of the desert’. On seeing houses built to accommodate forty people, both explorers resort to words such as ‘huts’ or ‘hovels’ to describe buildings that in rural Ireland would have been called croft houses.

Dark Emu

The determination of the colonial governments, surveyors and explorers to discount Aboriginal achievement has persisted into contemporary Australian society.

Dark Emu

Any country can have naysayers among its citizenry, be it regarding climate change,birth control, taxation, gun control or speed limits. However if the general population persists in hiding from the obvious facts of history, we are destined to repeat the selective opinions of the colonialists.

Dark Emu

Racial bias can cloud observation and reasoning when looking at history

This is a revelatory and shocking book, almost painful to read in terms of understanding the bias and academic short-sightedness and racist ideas that excluded Aboriginal culture in Pre-European times from the full recognition that it deserved. As Pascoe explains:

It would seem that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civilisation was on a trajectory towards greater and more sophisticated use of pottery, but many of the societies claimed by anthropologists to have left the era of hunter gathering and joined the march towards agriculture never used any form of pottery. We have to be careful that we are not deciding on markers of civilisation simply because of the historical path followed by Western Civilisations. As Gavin Menzies, author of 1421 has pointed out, if you proceed on the assumption that only Western European nations had reached the stage of civilisation, you have to behave as if the Chinese were not the first to invent gunpowder, pottery and celestial navigation techniques.

China was probably the most advanced nation on earth until the 18th century, but arrived there without following all of the steps that Westerners consider the true path of civilisation. Racial bias can cloud observation.

Dark Emu

Right wing Christians and Conservatives in Australia call out Dark Emu as a lie – but why?

A vicious attack after the publication of Dark Emu in 2014 came from right wing journalists such as Andrew Bolt along with conservative media outlets: Sky News and The Herald Sun. Why? They claimed he wasn’t black enough and was too pale skinned to be Aboriginal. How pathetic!

Aside from the breathtaking racism of such a statement (denying someone’s race on the basis of skin colour). The reason many Aboriginal Australians are white is because their parents and grandparents were forcibly and illegally taken as children by white Australians under the ‘White Australia’ policy and forced to integrate into white society. This was so that the ‘black would literally be bred out of them.’

The dark past that ‘mainstream Australia’ wishes to ignore and forget

So this is a disgusting cheap shot against Pascoe. The investigative journalist in me wondered why the right wing media would even bother to do such a savage character assassination of Bruce Pascoe. The answer – it seems would be is because of LAND RIGHTS.

Always was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land

The longstanding image of pre-colonisation Aboriginal people as primarily hunter-gatherers has an expressly political purpose: it reinforces the legal fiction of terra nullius, skull-measuring race science and notions of ‘advancement’ used to justify British invasion. The framing of Aboriginal societies as solely nomadic, with lives that were based around finding and following food wherever it is available, ties into the flawed idea that because Aboriginal societies did not build huge Western-style cities, or transform the land to suit their needs in a way that European cultures recognised, their connection to and sovereignty over their land was somehow different, somehow lesser. Or worse, non existent.

The Adelaide Review

If this is the case, that Aboriginal people stayed in place on the land in settlements, the original invalidation of their rights to the land could theoretically be overturned.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening look at an alternative version of Australian history that adds to the tapestry of richness of pre-European life on the red continent. The different version of Australian history should usher in a cultural renaissance, passion and interest from young people who are keen to know and understand their culture from the perspective of their forebears. I really hope so. I love this book. If you want to know about the REAL history of Australia this is it!

This is powerful essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history from a different point of view than the white Australian version taught in school curriculums that either white-washes the colonial history or denigrates the technologies and culture of the pre-European world completely. If you have read this, please let me know what you thought below..


Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: