Friend of Quadrant Les Louis was doing some online slumming and stopped by to inspect the latest pearls at The Conversation, where he found the deep thoughts of Robyn Moore, of the University of Tasmania’s School of Social Sciences, whose research “focuses on examining the enduring nature of race and gender based inequalities” plus “examining constructions of Australianness in Australian history textbooks, the experiences of women of colour in STEMM and girls in action sports.”
That trove of interests would be enough, you might think, to keep an academic beavering happily away at explorations of eurocentrism in education. Redirecting her academic attention from topics such as “Exploring Methodological Challenges of Using Participant-Produced Digital Video Diaries in Antarctica“, Ms Moore somehow found time to gush over the, er, scholarship of fauxboriginal Bruce Pascoe.
Her essay appears beneath the headline “Secondary school textbooks teach our kids the myth that Aboriginal Australians were nomadic hunter-gatherers“.
This was too much for Les, whose attempts to comment were thrice thwarted by The Conversation‘s censors, prompting a note to Quadrant‘s Peter O’Brien, who exposes Pascoe’s misrepresentations in Bitter Harvest (order your copy here), and Tony Thomas, who boasts a sharp eye for cant and nonsense. Les writes:
Would you (as journalists) be interested in joining with me (as a retired associate professor) in a joint approach to all university vice-chancellors to inquire whether they intend to continue contributing to the funding of The Conversation when they will be imposing substantial reductions in expenditure, given that The Conversation imposes censorship that stymies scholarly debate which is the antithesis of the raison d’etre of universities
The rejected comments on Ms Moore’s reverence for Pascoe are below:
A main secondary source for Pascoe is Bill Gammage’s major study, The Biggest Estate on Earth. On how Aborigines made Australia; and the usage is revealing. Pascoe (p.14) reproduces a central theme as formulated by Gammage (p.281):
“People farmed in 1788, but were not farmers. These are not the same…people never depended on farming. Mobility was more important…”
and mobility is repeatedly stressed (eg p. 304) … Pascoe simply employs the material as evidence of agriculture to rewrite a travesty of pre-history. Agriculture is not an entry in Gammage’s comprehensive index”.
His second rejected comment focused on “other ignorant assertions” in The Conversation piece:
The standard text books on the pre-history of Australia were the culmination of many decades of rigorous field work and scholarship by archaeologists and anthropologists of international stature, including John Mulvaney, Isabelle Mc Bryde and Rhys Jones. And in his “The Prehistory of Australia”, Mulvaney is unequivocal,
“They[ Aborigines] practiced neither agriculture nor simpler horticulture as it is conventionally defined and never domesticated any indigenous animals”.
But Pascoe desperately needs some semblance of credibility, so he surreptitiously drops in references to an authority. For example, on pp. 22, 23, he refers to Professor David Frankel, but in his comprehensive study, “Between the Murray and the Sea: Aboriginal Archaeology in South-eastern Australia”, there is no question that Aborigines were other than hunter-gatherers.”
His final attempt at having a conversation with The Conversation:
It is Pascoe who denigrates hunter-gatherers, and this hinders an appreciation of the achievements of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers over such a long time in an old dry continent with limited natural resources. As Geoffrey Blainey in The Triumph of the Nomads (p.225) concludes: a comparison of standards of living in relation to food, health, shelter and warmth, would show that “the average Aboriginal was probably as well off as the average European in 1800”. They certainly had more leisure time. And Stanner reports:
“Their [the Aborigine’s] tools and crafts, meagre — pitiably meagre — though they are, have nonetheless been good enough to let them win the battle for survival, and to win it comfortably at that. With no pottery, no knowledge of metals, no wheel, no domestication of animals, no agriculture, they have still been able to people the entire continent…” (The Dreaming and Other Essays, pp. 234-235).
With the stream of foreign students to our universities all but dried up and unlikely to resume any time soon, those vice-chancellors will have to make some decisions about what and who is to be jettisoned from the ivory tower.
Non-academics might well see some easy choices.