The Aboriginal establishment has clearly demonstrated that a visceral antipathy towards Andrew Bolt far outweighs any moral or ethical considerations regarding the fraud Bruce Pascoe, accepted as one of their own, has visited upon them. Perhaps we can now concentrate on the more important aspect of the Bruce Pascoe Affair – the utter academic vandalism of his putatively historic, and extraordinarily successful, opus, Dark Emu, which even now is making its way into our schools.
Pascoe’s cheer squad claim that he has sourced his evidence from the journals of colonial explorers, particularly Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt. Professor Marcia Langton has said that ‘all Bruce Pascoe’s references are correct’. Writing in the Saturday Paper on Nov 30, 2019, Rick Morton claims to have spent two days exhaustively checking Pascoe’s references and found that in all cases he quoted his sources verbatim. I will provide two examples that disprove those claims.
On page 15 of Dark Emu:
Mitchell also recorded his astonishment at the size of the villages. He noticed:
… some of their huts … being large, circular; and made of straight rods meeting at an upright pole at the centre; the outside had first been covered with bark and grass, and the entirety coated over with clay; the fire appeared to have been made nearly in the centre; and a hole at the top had been left as a chimney.
He counts the houses and estimates a population of over one thousand.
The quote from Mitchell’s journal is almost verbatim. The missing words indicated by the red ellipses in the above quote are
which were of a very different construction from those of the aborigines in general.
Rather a significant omission, since Pascoe attempts throughout Dark Emu to portray Aboriginal housing as uniformly sophisticated. The observations that Mitchell ‘recorded his astonishment’ and that he counted houses ‘and estimated a population of over one thousand’ are outright fabrications. Mitchell merely noted that ‘we had this day noticed some of their huts’. My claim can be verified on page 194 of Mitchell’s Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia.
Contrary to Pascoe’s claims, neither Sturt nor Mitchell, during the course of five expeditions, ever describe a village of over one thousand people, as I prove in my book Bitter Harvest.
On page 20 of Dark Emu there is this
When Mitchell arrived at the Victorian Grampians in 1836, he saw ‘a vast extent of open downs … quite yellow with Murnong’, and ‘natives spread over the field digging for roots’.
This extract comprises two quotes that give the impression of a multitude of natives industriously working a huge “field”. In fact, these quotes cover two distinct incidents, the first ejournal entry from September 14 which merely noted the ‘vast extent of downs’. The second occurred on September 23 in a completely different location. It records (emphasis added):
as we proceeded we saw two gins and their children at work separately on a swampy meadow; and, quick as the sight of these natives is, we had travelled long within view before they observed us. They were spread over the field much in the manner in which emus and kangaroos feed on plains, and we observed them digging in the ground for roots.
Pascoe has conflated two separate incidents to convey a totally false impression. This can be verified on pages 259 and 273 of Mitchell’s Three Expeditions. I don’t know what Morton’s definition of ‘verbatim’ is but I doubt many serious journalists would accept it.
There is one final Pascoe example worth mentioning. It is quite trivial in the context of the theme of Dark Emu but an egregious example of Pascoe’s general untrustworthiness in quoting sources. Page 98 of Dark Emu describes Charles Sturt’s encounter with a large number of natives who showed him some hospitality. The section of interest is a footnote to the description of that incident:
Peter Gebhardt, poet, and Michael Perry, engineer, volunteered to read the journals with a view to examining the roast duck and cake story. Part of the test was to sort out Sturt’s longitudes and latitudes because he didn’t record them every day. We are confident, however, that the incident described above occurred on 3-4 November 1845 just north-east of today’s Innamincka at a latitude of 127 degrees 47 minutes south and a longitude of 141 degrees 51 minutes east.
The analytical skills of Pascoe’s recruits must be quite exceptional to pinpoint Sturt’s location to within a minute of latitude and longitude. Unfortunately, their confidence regarding the location of this incident is quite misplaced, since a latitude of 127 degrees south would put Sturt considerably south of the South Pole, were that possible. A typo? I think not; a mis-transcription being far more likely in my view. Sturt notes in his November 2 journal entry
Our latitude here, by an altitude of Jupiter, was 27 degrees 47 minutes S.; our longitude by account 141 degrees 51 minutes E.
These details can be verified on pages 70 and 71 of Sturt’s Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia. (editor’s note: Online readers can find the relevant passages at the above links via CNTL + F key word search.)
Why Pascoe would include this saga of cartographic forensics eludes me since it adds nothing to his essential premise. Perhaps he just wanted to present an impression of exceptional research.
History, of its very nature, is subjective to some extent. Different historians will put different interpretations on events. But my quarrel with Dark Emu is not a disagreement with Pascoe’s interpretation of history. It is with his shameless distortion of facts and sources. The above examples are just the tip of a very large iceberg. The book is littered with such deceptions. They are the glue that holds it all together.
If Aborigines were essentially sedentary agriculturalists, as Pascoe claims, Dark Emu provides scant evidence of this. The four main elements of agriculture would be tilling or preparing the soil, planting or sowing seeds, tending the crop and harvesting it. Pascoe provides ample evidence of Aborigines harvesting various foodstuffs– which is, of course, a facet of hunter-gatherer societies. He provides no reliable examples of explorers – from whose journals he claims to have gathered his evidence – observing the activities of tilling of soil, sowing of seed or tending crops.
Dark Emu is propaganda. It is not history and it should never be permitted to enter our educational institutions under that or any other guise.