Dark Emu

I’ve just read Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (Magabala Books, Broome, WA, 2014). I cannot recommend it too highly. It deserves to be read not only by all non-indigenous Australians, but also by the non-indigenous peoples of other countries (such as the USA and Canada) which were colonised by Europeans full of the confidence of their “superior” culture, religion, and understanding of the way things ought to be. I speak as a descendant of English and Irish people who came to settle in Australia some four or five generations ago.


I was taught at school that aboriginal people were hunter-gathers, naked nomads who were most of the time on “walkabout”, who didn’t build “proper” houses, etc. And I’m sure the words “primitive” and “uncivilised” came into it somewhere. It suited my British forebears to regard the country as “terra nullius” – “nobody’s land” – and thus legitimise their claiming of the country as a British possession, just waiting to be occupied and put to some worthwhile use by civilised people.

Pascoe provides copious well-documented evidence of just how wrong this view is. Here are some quotes from this excellent book:

If we look at the evidence …. and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love our land all the more.

In Aboriginal life, the spirit and the corporeal world are wedded, but in European society the economy operates independently of the spirit and, as modern examples illustrate, almost in defiance of the religious moral code.

Francisco Pizzaro gained Peru from the Incas by massacring five thousand Indians in cold blood. Today he would be considered a war criminal.

Of course, it is no small matter to seek to right even some of the wrongs of yesteryear, but one could argue that a logical starting point is to become acquainted with the facts behind the myths. I urge you to read this book.


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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7 Responses to Dark Emu

  1. Susan A Emeleus says:

    Thanks, Rob. That’s a very powerful review. I will read it. Sue

  2. Kb says:

    Hi BD …id like to read as well. What we, white fellas, generally don’t know about Aboriginal culture is staggering…and as a result what has Been hidden from the rest of the world too.

  3. Bob Chalmers says:

    Well said. It shows how history can be mis represented . I have also read the book and also put it up on our website ….as I did yours.

  4. Lavinia Ross says:

    Thanks for the reference, Rob. Great review, and I will put it on my book list.

  5. Ros Bradley says:

    I agree it’s a fantastic book. Thanks for the review. My favourite part is about the ancient fish traps in Brewarrina!

  6. qldcoachjmac says:

    The book is persuasive rather than informative, and at times inaccurate. For example Bruce puts a photo of a Meriam Island House (Torres Strait) in his section on Arnhem Land ‘dome houses’. He also quotes from Mitchell, Sturt, and Dawson very selectively, leaving out all the parts that contradict his argument. Read these primary sources and you get a different picture to the one Bruce paints. His mention of stone houses is exaggerated, because the location he discusses (lake Condah) while certainly containing Aboriginal structure, also has the remains of European structures according to some archaeologists (eg. Sharon Lane). He says fish traps are aquaculture which is just silly. It’s good that Bruce draws attention to the fact that Aboriginal people managed the land (not farmed) in a sustainable manner, and cared for the environment as opposed to the capitalist system which destroys the environment. This book will be accepted by most of the public who normally just believe nice stories rather than true stories. My advice if you are genuinely interested in the truth on this subject is to read the primary sources Bruce uses, but also to read the multitude of other sources on Aboriginal culture, bush food & land management practices; many written by Aboriginal people living traditionally today.

  7. Jiim McKay says:

    Bruce’s book has been spoken of by scholars as highly exaggerated, and not a reflection of the primary sources he uses

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