Insights from Quadrant

Bitter Harvest gets
the silent treatment

One of the most interesting things about the Dark Emu affair is the fact that a story of genuine public interest — a book of fractured scholarship lionised by the ABC and whose gross misrepresentations are being foisted on schoolchildren — has incited so little curiosity on the part of the mainstream press. You can understand, perhaps, why the national broadcaster would have its attention drawn to a disgrace and yet prefer to look the other way. It has made a substantial investment of faith and money in Emu author Bruce Pascoe and his book’s purported bona fides, and who likes to admit having been played for a sucker?

But from the Age and SMH, not a shred of interest. Likewise the TV free-to-air networks and radio stations. Peter O’Brien, whose page-by-page nailing in Bitter Harvest of Pascoe’s misrepresentations, misquoting and misbegotten notions of Aboriginal “civilisation”, would seem to have a story to tell.

Yet not once has a journalist made contact to discuss his book.

To the extent that any mainstream media attention has been directed at Peter’s prosecutorial brief against Dark Emu, it has been to give the fauxboriginal author a chance to deny he plays fast and loose with primary sources or, when the spirit is upon him, simply makes stuff up. Just such a story appeared on January 19 in the former Fairfax comics, now owned by Nine. Written by the chain’s Melbourne editrix, Jewel Topsfield, as PR release it reads just fine. As journalism, which is supposed to be animated by the obligation to lay all relevant information before readers, it doesn’t even make it into the starting gate.

Order Bitter Harvest here

Still, Ms Topsfield might have been too busy, too distracted to present the full picture. These things happen in modern newsrooms, which are both short-staffed and over-supplied with cheap-to-hire recently graduated J-school alumni. As the Nine papers’ Melbourne chief there must be many moments when she feels less editor than babysitter. So I dashed off a quick note, reproduced below, offering Ms Topsfield the opportunity to chat with Peter O’Brien and get a good yarn out of the encounter:

Dear Ms Topsfield,
I enjoyed your piece this morning on Pascoe, but feel compelled to note that there was a glaring omission: any reference to Peter O’Brien, whose book “Bitter Harvest” systematically and page by page exposes Dark Emu’s shoddy scholarship and outright lies.

Peter is one of my authors at Quadrant Online. I can put you in touch at a moment’s notice and, I assure you, there is an interesting story to be had.

That is, of course, if you actually want such a story.

If the object is to focus on the tertiary issue of Pascoe’s “aboriginality”, thereby avoiding the key issue — lying for fun and profit — then you’ll no doubt ignore this.

For my part, speaking as a journalist, a story is a story — and this is a ripper.


Roger Franklin
Editor, Quadrant Online

So far, not a peep by way of response from Ms Topsfield. Silence, as they say, speaks volumes.

Nine years ago in Quadrant, Shelley Gare explored how writers not in accord  with prevailing newsroom sentiments, which is to say green-left ones, are simply ignored. For those at a loss to understand how a monumental fantasy of a book can continue to receive fawning treatment while ill-deserved royalty cheques flow to its author, Death by Silence in the Authors’ Combat Zone will explain a lot.

One thought on “Bitter Harvest gets
the silent treatment

  • John Cook says:

    Roger, I have just finished reading both Pascoe’s and O’Brien’s books. Like you, I am disappointed MSM has not made much fuss about this. More surprisingly, neither have any Aboriginal groups, to my knowledge.

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