Bennelong Papers

Black Like Bruce? The AFP Takes up the Case

In news breaking today (January 11), our ‘most influential indigenous historian’, Professor Uncle Bruce Pascoe has been referred to the AFP for investigation into possible fraudulent behaviour, the accusation being that he benefitted from falsely claiming to be indigenous. I’m guessing the complaint won’t include any suggestion that he benefitted financially by deliberately falsifying history in his purportedly factual book, Dark Emu.

Serendipitously, the news coincides with a glowing review by Melissa Lucashenko, also in The Australian, of Pascoe’s latest book, Salt, a collection of essays. It’s title is apposite since it describes the essential seasoning with which Pascoe’s magnum opus needs to be consumed.

The Aboriginal establishment has, hitherto, been content to accept the false narrative he has peddled because it plays into the myth, now widely accepted among the Indigenous population, that Aboriginal sovereignty over the continent existed prior to 1788 and has never been ceded. It attempts to overthrow the conventional wisdom that Britain occupied Australia as a settled colony.  It instead claims that Australia was “invaded”, hence the practice of Aboriginal activists to refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day. This distinction is of more than academic interest as Keith Windschuttle explains in his  comprehensive work, The BreakUp of AustraliaI also address this issue, to a lesser extent, in Bitter Harvest, my equally readable, I hope, critique of Dark Emu.

Pascoe was referred to the AFP, courtesy of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, by Aboriginal academic and lawyer, Josephine Cashman.  This intervention came about because Andrew Bolt asked her if Pascoe’s claim to be of Yuin descent was true.  Cashman has familial connections with the Yuin clan.  Bolt’s query was predicated on the work of amateur genealogist Jan Holland, who has provided near-watertight evidence from birth records that Pascoe is not Aboriginal.

Keith Windschuttle: The Epicentre of Our History

Cashman stated that she ‘knew quite a long time ago that Bruce was a fraud’.  And Michael Mansell told Bolt that Pascoe was not a Tasmanian Aborigine.  Mansell is well known for his fierce opposition to false claims of Aboriginality, having said for years that ‘there are more phony than real Aborigines in Tasmania’.

But Pascoe wasn’t actually flying under the radar.  He has long claimed to be of mixed Yuin, Burnurong and Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage.  He has been welcomed, as a member of the clan, by Yuin communities as recently as June 2019.  He has been feted and awarded throughout the Aboriginal establishment for years.

So, it seems to me that this concern about Pascoe’s aboriginality is somewhat belated and only surfaced when it became apparent that his claims were unsustainable under any scrutiny more stringent than the ABC and its fellow travellers in the left-wing media have ever been likely to inflict. In fact, this whole question of Pascoe benefitting financially by claiming to be Aboriginal pretty much justifies Andrew Bolt’s position in his infamous 18C case.  Cashman is effectively stating that had Pascoe not claimed to be Aboriginal, his work would not have enjoyed anything like the success it has. 

Why did it take so long for the Aboriginal community (at least some of them) to speak out? Could it be that fake history is acceptable, but only if written by an “Aborigine”?

18 comments
  • deric davidson

    Australia’s Elizabeth Warren. Time for a DNA check and get rid of the doubt about this guy’s ancestry. It’s that simple. If he renegs then the proof of his dishonesty is established.

  • Doubting Thomas

    More like Ward Churchill, I think. Either way, a thoroughly dubious individual.

  • john.singer

    I am less concerned whether Pascoe has or has not Aboriginal ancestry than I am with his book “Young Dark Emu” being used as a textbook in our schools. It contains many untruths and should be removed from all schools NOW.

  • DG

    Gee, I’ve not heard Ward Churchill mentioned for years (Doubting Thomas, above)! Good some remember him.
    On the question of aboriginality, I hope this case leads to a clear definition of that status. To be able to ‘identify’ as aboriginal without being of (substantial?) aboriginal descent is both an insult to aboriginal Australians and to the taxpayers who then provide funds for such people illegitimately.

  • Stephen Due

    Many of his readers will not care whether he is Aboriginal or not as long as he ‘identifies’ as Aboriginal. Furthermore they will not care whether what he writes is true or not, as long as it appeals to them emotionally. After all, a population that can cheerfully accept that a male can become female by ‘identifying’ as such, will believe anything. The corollary to this observation is that a country whose citizens will believe anything is already a long way down the road to totalitarianism.

  • PT

    If I’m mistaken in the following I hope someone can correct me.
    .
    From what I know, this “sovereignty” stuff comes from “Nugget” Coombs and his cronies in the ‘70’s. Coombs promoted the idea of a “treaty” (I suspect the idea was at least in part due to the belief that the Maori had higher social status in NZ than the aboriginals here, and the Treaty of Waitangi was the reason why). Coombs’s “Treaty” was to guarantee aboriginals collectively 9 – 10% of Australian GNP – through lease payments on land. This would, he said, transform them from the poorest group in Australia to the richest. I wonder if it occurred to the semi-socialist that he was promoting a caste of landowners in Australia? But what’s in such a “Treaty” for everyone else? To sell this to the wider community, he claimed we needed a “Treaty of cessation”: claiming that without it a foreign power with designs on Australia could hold us as illegitimate. Not very persuasive IMHO as there is no country on earth that does not recognise Australia. But this clearly is a ploy to claim that there’s some sort of mutual benefit to such a Treaty, rather than everyone else agreeing to hand over enormous amounts of money every year for the rest of time and being poorer without anything in it for them! Treaties have to have a mutual benefit unless they’re imposed on the losing side in a War (where it’s sign or else). Waitangi was negotiated because the Chiefs concerned could see that outsiders (missionaries, whalers, sealers, various settlers) were streaming in without one, and undermining their hold on the country. The Treaty was supposed preserve at least some of Maori society (and status) by getting the British Government to impose control (and law) over the incomers. Without the idea that we need the aboriginals (generations after settlement) to agree to surrender sovereignty to the Commonwealth Government, Coombs’s Treaty is a heavy imposition on general society without any benefit.
    .
    So I view this idea as a ploy, to convince us we get something out of it, and Coombs played on the Australian fear of being overrun. But the idea of “sovereignty” is no longer a political ploy. It is now an article of faith for aboriginal activists (and many others), not to mention myriads of virtue signalling white “progressives”. Any attempt to surrender this “sovereignty” in a Treaty will be ferociously opposed. If you doubt this, look at the settlement to extinguish the Noongar claim in WA. Much of the complaints are really about who has the right to approve such an agreement and who should have control over the cash. It there is at least a sizeable group objecting to the very idea that there is any idea of surrendering the claim of control over the portion of the country not awarded to the Noongar in this agreement. Reading the complaints, at least some clearly see it as being surrendering all land in the south west – including freehold, including the much vaunted “backyards”! These guys have now engaged a suite of lawyers and are sueing the state for $250 billion. If successful, it would bankrupt the State Government.
    .
    Why would a national Treaty work any better?

  • PT

    Now regarding Pascoe’s claims.
    .
    In the past, we’ve had many people think they were Napoleon. In the 19th Century there was an eccentric in the US (San Francisco from memory) who declared himself Emperor of the United States. The city’s newspapers viewed him a source of amusement: giving faux reverential quotations etc. I suspect along the lines of the treatment the Perth media long gave to “Prince” Leonard – as some sort of year round April fool joke! But let’s say we’re told that we have to indulge the self appointed US Emperor’s fantasy – it’s apparently “dehumanising” and “oppressive” to deny his self identification! What then? This is how I see the transgender claims and the likes of Pascoe.
    .
    Transsexuals used to claim to be “women trapped in a man’s body” (or vice versa). So “trans women” have a man’s body. Enough to deny them the right to participate in women’s divisions in sport, when the separation is due to purely physical differences surely!!! Oh but it may mean they’re not felt truly accepted as women!!!

    Then there’s the fauxborinal. There are very large numbers of people out there who, not so long ago, would have denied being aboriginal, and gotten very aggressive with anyone who suggested they were, now claiming aboriginal identity. Why the switch? Clearly it’s now seen as a positive, whereas it was previously seen by them as a negative. It’s equivalent to the switch in viewing having a convict ancestor (the latter ignores the truth that many of them were not sympathetic characters – they weren’t all Jean Valjeans!). But if you get no benefit other than participating in some community event, or bragging at the pub (or to your kids) who cares? And this is where this “Treaty/Sovereignty” stuff comes in. If the fact of being an aboriginal conveys rights and privileges not given to others, then what it means to BE an aboriginal is of importance to everyone. Who is entitled to receive these rights? Who is obligated to convey them?
    .
    If we get the situation of a separate legal process and income (which seems to be the least requirements of a “Treaty”), who is entitled or nor to this is something of vital interest to everyone!
    .
    And that’s my take. Apart from opposition to excessive claims for aboriginals who, despite fantasies, didn’t develop the resources of this continent rather than live off what was simply there to be taken, the big issue is that people who claim rights denied to others have to be able to demonstrate that their claims are valid in terms of those rights. The Queen is the eldest child of the late King, and descended from William the Conqueror, and Alfred the Great, and the ancient kings in Scotland (and many in Ireland), and certainly the legal inheritor of George I. I can demonstrate that I was born in Australia as were my parents to show I have the right to live and work here and vote in our elections. People inheriting an estate can prove they’re the person mentioned in the will, or are the next of kin of the deceased. If we declare that aboriginals have special status, it has to be a general community agreement upon who can claim such status.
    .
    If the Coombs model is followed, and it is not required to demonstrate aboriginal ancestry, then everyone would claim such, and no one would pay into his 10% scheme. Moreover the “aboriginals” would earn way over 10% of GNP and no redistribution would occur. The very real groups of poor and marginalised fringe dwellers he thought he was helping would get zilch from this arrangement, as would remote communities. And why? Because by identifying “feeling aboriginal” in a form when there’s no negative to this exempts you from paying additional money and may give you a cash payout? Only a “progressive” could fail to see how this will go. And even then it’s only so they can blame someone else for problems in society!
    .
    If Pascoe gets benefits from society for claiming to be aboriginal (such as awards supposedly only open to aboriginals), he should show why he’s entitled to do so. Simply identifying as such isn’t enough if he expects benefits for such an identification and others to validate it and pay for it!

  • Alistair

    What we see in the Australian article is a case of how the Indigenous “Voice” to Parliament can be expected work. Any genuine Indigenous person (in this case Ms Cashman) who strays from the ABC approved narrative will be labelled a puppet who is “allowing herself to be used by the professional right-wing cultural warriors” and their voice marginalized and discredited. In this way the “Voice” will be restricted to only those who keep within the narrative, and any Aborigines who care to raise a different point of view will be silenced. And even “false” Aborigines will be granted a bigger “voice” in the Aboriginal Parliament and win Indigenous arts prizes as long as they stay on message.

  • john.singer

    Alister, the proposed “Voice” is already so compromised that it must be dropped already.
    Pascoe’s suspect ancestry already defended by the Minister and his work endorsed by the Chairperson of the Committee.
    Besides, four Aboriginal people in Parliament equals a “Voice to Parliament” already existing. AND the Minister changing it to a “Voice to Government” is also existing unless he never opens his mouth in Cabinet meetings.

  • Lawrie Ayres

    I have never been convinced that aborigines have suffered greater disadvantage than many others. The persons displaced by WWII lost everything and came here with nothing yet mostly prospered. Many subsequent refugees did extremely well and neither group received taxpayer funds above and beyond what was available to everyone else. Then we have this truly pampered group that seem to be suffering from that pampering much like spoilt children. Their children refuse to go to school and then complain because they are unemployable. Their aboriginality is given as an excuse for every failing but my question really is this. What exactly do aborigines want that they currently do not have? It seems many would simply like to live in the past but with all the mod cons.

  • Max Rawnsley

    Apart from the racist abuse conducted against any non alleged indigenous person who speaks out, isn’t their a DNA test available? I suspect its not in use, may reveal a few truths or is that particular science not acceptable?

  • Doubting Thomas

    The Fauxcahontas scandal has persisted because the various Native American peoples have a policy, for reasons good enough for them, not to cooperate with DNA tests to establish individuals’ attempt to authenticate their claim to “Indian” ethnicity. Thus, when she finally took a DNA test, her negligible drop of native DNA turned out to be from South America, and consistent with similarly negligible fractions present in most Americans with several generations of American ancestry.

  • lhackett01

    Pascoe can claim to be whatever he wishes, but nobody needs to believe him unless he can prove it. To receive government money, aborigines must meet three conditions, namely, they must be of aboriginal descent, must self-identify as aboriginal, and must be accepted as such by other aborigines. This discriminates against everybody else born in Australia, who have no right to be defined as Italian, Greek, Chinese, or anything else merely because they are near or distant descendants from people in those countries. I do feel that the investigation into Pascoe’s claim will disappear. The government and others will not want to be seen as involving themselves in definitions of aboriginality.

    I have no wish to “offend, insult, humiliate, and intimidate” anyone (beware 18C that limits free speech in Australia). However, I feel it in the public interest to disagree with people like Noel Pearson and to state my views on the matter of aboriginal expectations as expressed by him. Noel Pearson misses the point with his treatise on what he sees as aboriginal disadvantage. His arguments manipulate the discussion towards eventual aboriginal sovereignty within this great nation of Australia. This is wrong-headed and divisive. He fails to recognize the simple truth that aborigines need to move beyond clutching at the past and hoping to stay separate from the rest of the Australian community. Aborigines need to move forward to join Australian society in the same way as do all other immigrants to this country. Being one of the earliest immigrants implies no special place when later immigrants have created a society that provides so many benefits for all.

    The present appalling situation at Aurukun is instructive. Infighting between aboriginal family groups is being carried forward from the earliest times to day. This aspect of aboriginal culture must be stopped. Imagine what would be the response of most Australians if such were to happen in a non-aboriginal country town. No surprises as to whom is paying for the extra police recalled from their Christmas holidays to quell the violence, for the repair of the damage to homes, and for the medical bills resulting; the Australian taxpayer.

    Aborigines want a voice and to manage their own affairs. Aurukun is an example of how well this could play out.

  • PT

    Lhackett01, I agree. Pascoe can call himself anything he wants until he starts demanding others treat him differently because of it. Once he does, then he has to be able to show he is what he says he is at the very least! The excuse that it’s all “murky” for the Pascoe’s of this world doesn’t wash given he claims to be descended from 3 very distinct aboriginal groups – he’d have to have some pretty specific evidence for such claims surely! His claims are pretty spurious from what I can see, and I wonder if he wouldn’t have been dismissed as a crank or a fantasist if he didn’t also claim to be aboriginal and hence claim his critics were “racists” “telling aboriginal people their own story”?

  • Henry Rainger

    It should be obvious to blind Freddy that it is those Aboriginals who have been fully assimilated in mainstream Australian life who are, ‘doing very well thank you.’

    All others want to be fully assimilated but many do not know how to go about it, ie, those living in remote communities in the centre and north of Australia.

    Of course there is another group of assimilated ones who pretend they are not and never will be. These are the ones we constantly see in the media.

  • L Louis

    I have been coerced into abandoning the Aboriginal cause that I have been associated with for over 70 years. Activists and ignorant do-gooders have rendered rational, evidence- based argument impossible by fabricating the false category of “indigenous”, which indiscriminately lumps together Aborigines and people of aboriginal descent however tenuous. Living in totally different worlds, Aborigines in remote Australia have little, if anything, in common with self identified “indigenous” urban professionals with distant Aboriginal forebears. And it is intolerable to be labelled a racist if I object that depicting traditional aboriginal society as an Eden is not in accord with the evidence of violence and infanticide.
    If Pascoe is a charlatan, he should be prosecuted; but possibly more important his claims, almost universally accepted now, that Aborigines were not hunter /gatherers but farmers prospering in large permanent villages should be exposed as bunkum.
    This is not a semantic issue. Pascoe is providing the evidence for racists who denigrate Aborigines as “primitive” as they could not invent the wheel and pottery; which could be a fair conclusion, if they were farmers who had to store grain or meat from farmed animals. But they were hunter gathers who had no use for them ; on the contrary, women on the move had to dispense with any encumbrances, with dilly bags and coolamons quite adequate for their purpose. Similarly, the violence (often over women) and the marriage of pre-pubescent girls to old men, while abhorrent today, are understandable in tribes confined to certain territory whose existence depended on safeguarding resources, and women were indispensable economic units.
    The gratuitous insults levelled by a veteran yarn spinner that there has been a conspiracy by professional historians to hide the truth about Aboriginal society which he (Pascoe) has now uncovered are outrageous, particularly when one recalls how John Mulvaney dedicated his life to literally digging up the past to establish the 60,000 years of occupation, and on another plane the significance of the use of ochre.

    Recently, I have been made aware of the opinions of retired surveyors who many decades ago worked for long periods in remote areas in close contact with Aborigines. They are of the opinion, “a lot of this book[ Dark Emu ] is complete bullshit”, which is in contrast to academics who keep their heads down, or praise our “most influential indigenous historian”, Professor Bruce Pascoe. Rejecting previously accepted paradigms, many now blur differences between farming, agriculture and hunter gathering; whereas, I hold that these distinctions are fundamental to an understanding of Aboriginal pre history. Aborigines were not simple nomads, but over tens of thousands of years developed skilled techniques ( like the use of fire) to enhance resources for survival when there were no cereals available for cultivation or animals for domestication. But however extreme the notion of “farming” is stretched it does not constitute agriculture. Animals were not domesticated ( imagine trying to herd emus and kangaroos into pens), and however sophisticated the fish and eel traps, it was not aquaculture- and was a local practice anyway.
    Some scholars with extensive first hand experience, while conceding that Aboriginal society was no Eden, and that Pascoe engages in some exaggeration, refuse to be a party to criticising Dark Emu . This reluctance seems to stem from a belief that he is “doing a good job” promoting a positive perception of indigenous people who have endured such extreme suffering and discrimination after invasion and dispossession. But however worthy the cause it cannot be constructed on shonky foundations; and its inevitable collapse will be detrimental to the cause. L J Louis

  • L Louis

    The pre history of Australia dismissed by Pascoe was written after decades of rigorous field work and scholarship by archaeologists and anthropologists of international stature, including John Mulvaney, Isabelle Mc Bride and Rhys Jones.
    Today, universities see a proliferation of professors and lecturers of “Indigenous Studies”. Bruce Pascoe a writer of literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays and children’s literature is Professor, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, University of Technology Sydney. And with Dark Emu, he has supplied/sold a text book for “Indigenous Studies”. L J Louis

  • PT

    Indeed LJ Louis. If the central “message” of Pascoe’s work is that aboriginal dispossession was wrong because they were farmers who built towns and invented bread and the rest of his overblown claims, where does that leave aboriginals when his claims ultimately collapse? That they had no claim and “native title” is bunkum because they were just hunter-gatherers who had no permanent dwellings or physically worked the land? I think they should seriously rethink staking their claims on a rather doubtful reimagining which seems to have the idea that aboriginal society has to be a settled, west European style set up to be worthy of any respect.

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