I have been thinking that Quadrant readers, writers and many others have been treating that great Australian and Aboriginal superhero, uncle and elder, Professor Bruce Pascoe, with a certain amount of irreverence and undeserved disrespect. The time has come for us to admit an uncomfortable truth. It will be difficult. It will hurt. But it is this: Bruce Pascoe is amazing! Now is the moment for you guys to take a knee, wave some of Ernie Dingo’s sacred smoke around and acknowledge that Bruce is more than amazing. He is bloody brilliant.
René Descartes, the seventeenth-century philosopher, foretold the coming of Brilliant Bruce when he stated, “I think therefore I am.” If Brilliant Bruce thinks something, it becomes the truth. QED.
Here we have a man who has bravely taken on the big names in journalism and politics, such as Andrew Bolt and Mark Latham, and come out on the winning side. I ask you, dear readers, could you bring even one of these famous gentlemen to his knees? Josephine Cashman, a well-known Aboriginal lawyer, lost her job after having a disagreement with Professor Pascoe. Even the Australian Federal Police were no real match for him and skittered off at a tangent when they saw him coming. People hurl all sorts of nasty accusations at Uncle Bruce but nothing sticks and the great man remains squeaky clean. Not for nothing is he known admiringly as Uncle Teflon!
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He was and probably still is a professor at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research. I’d reckon most of you ignorant lot haven’t even heard of Jumbunna! He has more recently become an Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture at Melbourne University. All this is truly impressive, considering that many still believe he is not in any convincing way Aboriginal, and that there was no such thing as Aboriginal agriculture until he invented it a couple of years back. Ordinary folk, such as yours truly, wouldn’t get past first base if we tried a lurk like that. We really need to observe this man closely and see how it’s done. What does he have that we everyday mortals lack? Chutzpah? Charisma? Friends in high places? All of the above?
Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, has absolute trust in his good mate Professor Pascoe, saying, “If Bruce tells me he’s indigenous, then I know he’s indigenous.” A thoughtful person might wonder if this is an accolade of consequence or a joke, coming as it does from a big chappie who occasionally sports a few dead kangaroos around his neck. However, despite his strange furry wardrobe, Wyatt is a man with some gravitas and is not alone in donning dress-ups for special occasions. Just across the ditch, for example, we have the adorable Ms Ardern, a leader and mother who wears a hijab, a Maori cloak or a pretty frock, depending on the situation.
Brilliant Bruce has written many books and his fame and income from his creativity are the envy of other writers. He has won more literary awards than you can poke a stick at. The thing is, once you become an Aborigine, many doors are open to you. The professor learnt the truth of awards (particularly those for Aborigines) very early on in the game. Each award adds to the veracity of earlier awards and increases the likelihood of receiving more in the future. It’s like compound interest. Get one foot on the awards ladder and the self-perpetuating nature of the business carries you ever upwards to riches and fame. Awards are given out by opinionated people who are not accountable, who are handling somebody else’s money, and who never, ever admit that they are wrong to losers like you and me. If they did, the whole love-in would collapse. Many people go through their whole lives without understanding this concept—but not our Bruce. He is so smart! (Cue here to loud applause.) His success has inspired a raft of other players but he remains the gold standard of the popular white bad, black good genre. Eat your hearts out Tara, Larissa, Anita …
Pascoe’s books are beautiful creations. Check out his Young Dark Emu. It is gorgeous, a work of art. Hold it, sniff it, praise it. Don’t go on about the words being crap, you philistines, you nitpickers, just admire the quality of the book. The trick is, of course, to get someone else to pay for the publishing, such as the gullible taxpayer, and then reap all the benefits. That Magabala mob up in Broome that published Young Dark Emu is a non-profit indigenous corporation funded by external sources. They only publish indigenous authors, which seems to me to be somewhat racist. Try to imagine the kerfuffle if I set up a publishing house with public money and only produced works by people who claimed to be say, white. It’s not a good look, you’d have to agree. Besides, the suggestion that Aboriginal writers can’t make it in the real world and should be forever locked into some separate universe, like a special sheltered workshop, is insulting, I would have thought, but I am not an expert. The result is that as a taxpayer, I’m generously helping famous Bruce become even more famous. This is the best game in the country and Bruce is playing it like a champ.
Bruce won the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Eve Pownall Award in 2020 for Young Dark Emu. This was a truly miraculous event, requiring Brilliant Bruce to convince the four judges that the book was eligible for consideration when any little kiddy could see that it wasn’t. Yes, dear readers, his book was not even eligible and yet it won! Beat that, you plodding pen-pushers and would-be authors! Stop gnashing your teeth, you bunch of pathetic failures and give another big round of applause for a great man, a real high achiever who never lets facts get in the way of a good story.
Bruce has a new, co-authored book out titled Loving Country, published by Black Inc. I suspect that the Broome lot were a little alarmed by the persistent and horribly unkind rumour that Bruce is not Aboriginal at all. I’m not the first to wonder if they could sense another embarrassing Wanda Koolmatrie drama unfolding and my goodness, what an emperor’s-bare-bum moment that was for them! Magabala had published in good faith Wanda’s heart-rending autobiography describing her life as a member of the stolen generations. Her book was a best-seller and teachers successfully clamoured to have it used as a high school text. The literary world was incensed when Wanda was exposed as a person without any colour at all—not a drop—and with male appendages! He had won the Dobbie Literary Award too, which is restricted to the penis-free (or those who identify as such). The whole concept that only those with Aboriginal blood can write Aboriginal stuff and only those with two X chromosomes can write girlie stuff was threatened and it’s taken years for Magabala to recover. It’s such a good thing that they’re sucking on the public teat or they would have been in financial trouble.
Bruce is a board member of First Languages Australia and is described as an indigenous language researcher in the blurb promoting Loving Country. That was a new one to me and I do wonder if there is any limit to his talents. Those of you who aren’t the least bit famous or clever need to man up, accept your inadequacies and chill because you’re way out of your league here.
Brilliant Bruce became, without much effort, greatly admired and promoted by the ABC and, of course, SBS and its offshoot NITV. He often pops up in the media whether you want him to or not, commenting about any issue you may care to imagine in his dulcet tones. Some cynics have suggested our Uncle Bruce deliberately fashioned his persona to appeal to these particular left-leaning outlets but that is obviously ridiculous and mean-spirited because he’s so natural, so convincing and just so darn lovable.
This brings me to that attribute of Uncle Bruce that I most admire, which is his wonderful self-effacing demeanour. He clearly has more to brag about than most other Australians, but does he brag? Never! He says there’s no ego in his culture, that fame and celebrity are anti-Aboriginal. Uncle Bruce just quietly gets on with life, baking his tasty bread, feeding his black ducks, dancing happily about in his little red nappy and cute red headband. He never gets cranky and never says mean things about others even when they’re being unkind to him. Uncle Bruce just twinkles his little twinkly eyes, scratches his beard thoughtfully and speaks gently, kindly about his fellow humans. Bruce Pascoe is an object lesson for us all. He reminds us that his is the only civilisation “where history wasn’t predicated by war”. That’s so beautiful, isn’t it? Those so-called Aboriginal weapons (such as nulla nullas and shields) that we see in museums are obviously mis-classified and Prince Philip was poorly advised when he made that crass comment about “throwing spears at each other”. Thanks to Uncle Bruce’s unique knowledge of history, we know now that the writings of early settlers describing constant violence between tribes were just another racist beat-up. It’s way too easy to make assumptions and we should have learnt by now that Uncle Bruce is always right because he has the weight of Aboriginality on his side.
Bruce the Educator has influence in many schools across this country. Do you? Do I? No, we jolly well do not. His fine words and incredible discoveries are being taught to many of our littlies, starting, of course, in Victoria. This state is not afraid to embrace new ideas, and the more unusual they are the more quickly they’re embraced. Nowadays, because teachers are not overly smart, special work programs and simple teaching guides have been written by Pascoe acolytes to help spread the Word of Bruce. Educators will have noticed that the recent proposed improvements to the Australian School Curriculum will follow Professor Pascoe’s lead in focusing on indigenous matters. All that boring, irrelevant, Western, white-man claptrap about Egyptians, Romans, Christianity, Galileo, the Enlightenment and Newton will get the boot. Not before time, I hear you saying. Clearly this is a huge uptick for Professor Pascoe’s reputation.
You may have read the excellent interview on climate change that Professor Bruce gave for GQ Magazine. I must confess that I was shamefully ignorant of the fact that he is an expert on this subject. I see now that he is a true polymath. For those of you who were educated in Victoria, a polymath is like that Leonardo da Vinci chap—brilliant in many disparate areas. Last year both the ANU Climate Change Institute and the Green Left invited Bruce to speak on climate change. Then the Socialist Alliance advertised a conversation with Bruce on “the Climate Emergency and Indigenous Land Practice” because the “expertise of First Nation [sic] communities could hold solutions to adapting to climate catastrophe”. Bet you didn’t know that! The future of this planet depends on the ancient knowledge of Bruce Pascoe and his ilk. We are lucky to have him, so just be grateful. It is churlish to point out that Professor Pascoe has no scientific qualifications to back up his opinions on climate change, agriculture, astronomy, health and wellbeing, botany and so on, because his knowledge comes via his Aboriginal blood, connection to Country and the Elders.
And there’s more! Bruce knows stuff about seeds. Special ancient seeds. The ones that will feed the starving millions and bring world peace. As well, Bruce’s magical seeds will return Australia to sustainability, the way it used to be when Aborigines farmed it, before the white invasion wrecked all their crops and destroyed their beautiful stone McMansions. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
Pascoe is an adviser to the National Museum and the Western Australian Museum. His name pops up everywhere! There’s really no stopping him. One day he’s up at Kosciusko taking part in a sacred ceremony to save the sphagnum moss from brumbies, then he’s off to Mallacoota to play cricket or to Melbourne to chat with the city kiddies at the Collingwood Children’s Farm. You might catch him launching a book just about anywhere, lecturing at the National Library, the Wheeler Centre or at festivals from Garma to Giiyong. He received a standing ovation in Darwin for his talk at the International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference, where he told the audience that his people “did not just invent bread. We invented society.” That’s a hard one to beat! My people only invented haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Meaningful podcasts and YouTube videos are his specialty. He churns them out almost daily and they’re awfully good and very thought-provoking.
Ubiquitous Bruce reminds me of that Eveready battery bunny that just keeps on bipping and bopping about when all around him have gone to lunch. This guy is a septuagenarian and he’s still amazing us all with his energy and creativity. It seems rather uncivilised to be disrespectful of an elderly man who works really hard and has achieved so much, which is why I’m asking all you Pascoe-detractors to back off. Stop this Bruce-bashing! Take your opprobrium somewhere else!
Bruce has such an outstanding Father Christmas beard that the apologetic groveller Kevin Rudd has been trying to emulate him, but with limited success. I’m waiting for Kev to prance around in a little red nappy but sincerely hope this never occurs as I doubt the Australian public is ready.
Professor Marcia Langton, that outspoken person of colour, and a good buddy of Bruce, said that Dark Emu is “the most important book on Australia and should be read by all Australians”. Wow! Now that’s a compliment and a half! I suspect Marcia Langton would grow a beard like Bruce too, if only she could, imitation being the greatest form of flattery.
Fireman Bruce advises the Country Fire Authority, Environment Victoria and many others on how to benefit from “120,000 years of indigenous fire and land management”. (Strangely, the number of years seems to increase every time I blink.) I’m not sure how this works but I do not pretend to be an expert on bushfires like Bruce. We should open our minds to the possibility that fire authorities are taking advice from Aborigines for other than political reasons. That would be kind. As well, while Captain Cook didn’t actually see the natives putting out any of the fires they were forever lighting, it didn’t mean that they couldn’t do so, if they could be bothered.
Some of us who’ve read a bit (obviously the wrong books) thought that in traditional Aboriginal societies, the fair sex came in for a bit of a bashing. Well, actually, quite a lot of bashing. I’d even go so far as to say that traditional Aboriginal societies were believed to have invented domestic violence (just before they invented bread, democracy, the knapsack spray and possibly fire trucks). However, this may well have been an unkind and incorrect story put about by amateur historians and ignorant racist white men.
Sadly, there are some who still believe that the last sort of Australian you’d want to be is a young female in an Aboriginal community. Professor Bruce has sorted out that little bit of nonsense though because, as always, Bruce knows better! How good is that? Pascoe tells us in his book Salt that the men of his culture must always begin a conversation by using certain respectful phrases acknowledging the primacy of women. This is a fine idea but I struggle with the practicalities of it. My husband becomes unusually cranky when I encourage him to say these respectful Aboriginal words whenever he wishes to speak to me, particularly when he’s hungry and wants his dinner or has lost his glasses.
Read Pascoe’s Salt if you want to know the truth about this gentle matriarchal culture. Or rather, read the review of Salt by Melissa Lucashenko, who has won a Miles Franklin Award so she must know something. She says the Aboriginal worship of the female described by Professor Bruce is “slow, deliberate, reverential”. Remember this, readers, and put right out of your mind all those disturbing reports of little Aboriginal girls committing suicide because they’ve been sexually abused almost since they could walk. Forget too, all those images of Aboriginal women covered in scars and with missing teeth, and naturally you’d also want to forget all about that annoying, troublesome woman, Jacinta Price, who just will not shut up.
Bruce is a Proud Yuin man. And a Proud Bunurong Man. Oh, and a Proud Tasmanian Aboriginal Man and a Proud Wathaurong Man. He claims connection with Aborigines from Moonta (South Australia) and from Lockhart River (Queensland). What a plethora of rellies! What an unbelievably wide gene pool and how humble he is for a man with so much to be proud about!
Brilliant Bruce cleverly used his Aboriginal connection to obtain assistance from a group called First Australians Capital, a charity providing capital to indigenous businesses. No flies on our Bruce! His business, Black Duck Foods, which is a registered charity for reasons not clear to me, has recently branched out into the production of alcoholic beverages. Maybe this is a good thing because after reading about all his achievements, some of us probably feel very much in need of a small tot of something to boost our low self-esteem. Bruce’s beer is called, not surprisingly, Dark Emu, and it’s made from the roasted seeds of Bruce’s special ancient grasses. These seeds are the ones Bruce the Baker also uses in his “First Nations” bread which is extremely expensive. People of colour from Docker River or Aurukun won’t be buying any. It’s cleverly aimed more at the colourless Vaucluse/Toorak market.
The world-famous Bangarra Dance Company was so impressed with Pascoe’s innovative correction of our history in Dark Emu that it produced a dance about it, first performed at the Sydney Opera House no less! While one might struggle with the concept of humans portraying grass seeds, the audience was easily able to comprehend the message behind the sweet little native fly being threatened by the big, horrid, introduced blowfly. I cannot ascertain if Twinkle Toes Bruce was part of the performance but he may well have been as he’s a dancer par excellence and not coy about exposing his surprisingly pale body to the world.
We must never forget that Bruce Pascoe began life as a white child in inner-city working-class Melbourne, and spent most of his early years in the ’burbs. His transformation from a white city man to a black country bloke, travelling about in a battered ute with his swag tossed in the back, spinning yarns around the campfire in Country using outback bushie vernacular, is nothing short of miraculous. Let us admire the ever-evolving nature of this man, and see his ability to reinvent himself as a skill. It’s a lesson to those of us whose lives are going nowhere. Up my way, this ability to change and move forward is now known as “Doing a Pascoe” and it’s a top compliment.
I reckon all of you people who are slinging off at Bruce are just jealous! Green with envy. Admit it. He’s making bucketfuls of money, is really famous and is the darling of the almost-thinking public. He’s out there wandering thoughtfully about in his paddocks of softly waving dancing grass. Or maybe he’s sharing a glass of his jolly fine Dark Emu beer with his Mob, or thrilling little kiddies with tales of birdies and fungus while you grumpy lot are sitting in your dingy mingy offices where “the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city … spreads its foulness over all”. (Thanks, Banjo.)
So, cut out the tall-poppy-chopping, the whingeing and mud-slinging and get with the program. I’m not going to name names, but you know who you are. Give this great Australian the respect he deserves. Stop tap-tapping out your nasty bile-filled words on your grubby little detritus-filled keyboards. Come and worship at the altar of Australia’s most creative individual and give credit where it’s due. We live in a beautiful and wealthy country. Let’s be more generous and less miserly towards those who successfully reap its benefits.
Now that Oprah has squeezed her money’s worth out of the has-been royals, she is putting out feelers for an equally popular Australian to bring in the crowds, and it may well be our most famous Aborigine, Bruce Pascoe. Don’t forget that you heard it first in Quadrant!
Joanna Hackett wrote “The Night the Leaves Fell from the Bullshit Trees” in the October 2020 issue