Bennelong Papers

The Further Fictions of ‘Dark Emu’

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.

Order Bitter Harvest here

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.

10 thoughts on “The Further Fictions of ‘Dark Emu’

  • Alistair says:

    From Roger Sandall – The Culture Cult –
    “Philosophers sometimes describe knowledge in modern society as rationally justified truth belief. But in the definition of knowledge used by anthropologists, rational justification is irrelevant. Belief of any kind is culturally justified. All that is needed is for enough people to believe that X is true, and X is true – even if X asserts that a cow jumped over the moon. What is called tribal ‘knowledge’ usually reflects the needs of group solidarity more than anything else: as such it often represents culturally justified false belief. …
    “Dr Ian Keen tells us that inconsistency and contradiction is exactly what we should expect:

    ‘I think that there is more tolerance in aboriginal interaction to what white Australians regard as inconsistencies or contradictory statements. Concepts akin to “belief” in the languages of Aboriginal people … most closely imply loyalty to a group as much as holding a proposition in one’s heart as true … or commitment to “objective” truth.’

    “Indeed they do. … Solidarity, or what Keen calls ‘loyalty to the group’, outweighs truth. As for the obligatory lying that results from rating loyalty higher than truth, and presents irreconcilable conflicts at law, Keen appears to find no problem for our courts in this. ”

    In Aboriginal society, as in post-modern society, “loyalty to group” makes “truth” whatever you want, or need, it to be.

  • deric davidson says:

    Pure Fiction:
    1. Bruce Pascoe is an aboriginal and Dark Emu is ‘history’.
    2. Bushfires are caused by climate change.
    3. Scott Morrison caused the bushfires.
    4. George Pell sexually assaulted two boys in St. Pats.
    5. Man can control the climate.
    All fiction parading as fact.

  • Stephen Due says:

    (1) There is presumably contemporary written material that Pascoe does not refer to. That material no doubt presents overwhelming evidence that the Australian natives were a Stone Age people, since that is what has been believed by observers and historians for the past two centuries.
    (2) The Australian natives had an oral culture in which food lore was passed on from generation to generation. Is there any evidence that this oral culture included farming lore? If not it would presumably be very damaging to Pascoe’s case.
    (3) The broader agenda of Pascoe and others is evidently to persuade the public that the Australian native was a noble being, of lofty brow and manly bearing, who lived in peace and harmony with all living creatures including his own kind. This can only be achieved by leaving out the abundant evidence to the contrary.
    Conclusion: What Pascoe omits is probably far more important than what he includes and most likely is sufficient to completely destroy his argument. What he is doing is amateurish revisionist history driven by political motives and supported by vested interests.

  • jimriddell says:

    Pascoe states his case more by omission than by inclusion. Most explorer’s journals, and contemporary observations have more overwhelming evidence that the natives were, in fact, hunter/gatherer nomads. Pascoe just ignores these.
    EM Curr, “The Australian Race” 1888, (freely available online,) contains observations from all over Australia by people who were settled in those areas for many years, and understood much of the language. Absolutely no mention of agriculture, (except the Dutch influence in WA), some mention of fish traps, huts and windbreaks only, no pottery, no leather (just dried skins.) Easy reading …… it is tribal area after tribal area. Open at any page. Pick your local! Basically a stone-age people, with some very barbaric practice. Which is why their culture collapsed so quickly when whites arrive. Young men wanted young wives, (and not to be castrated,) young women did not want forced marriages to old men, women no longer wanted to be beaten, and treated as chattel,
    The arrival of whites offered overwhelming relief to those oppressed by “the tribal elders”. Basically they offered an escape from a Hobbesian nightmare, of sorcery, fear, superstition, tribal warfare, etc, etc.
    Another good document, is “The Miserabelst People in the World”. from the
    THE AUSTRALIA JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGY 2007, (This was just sneaked in before the current sanitation regime took over,)
    Peter O’Brien, and most of those opposed to Dark Emu, have been extremely kind to what was really going on in Australia prior to 1788.

  • L Louis says:

    L.Louis 19 February 2020

    I’m afraid it is too late to insist that Dark Emu “should never be permitted to enter our educational institutions …”There are now very few anthropologists or archaeologists in universities, but all have extensively staffed Indigenous Studies courses.

  • L Louis says:

    L. Louis-19th February 2020
    As a retired academic, I have been so outraged by the devastation of intellectual standards that I have emailed my critique of Dark Emu directly to over 100 relevant university staff. Not one of the huge number of professors and lecturers teaching the Indigenous Studies courses has responded.

  • PT says:

    This whole thing is filled with double standards and slippery “post modern” “logic”. When cornered, they claim its “racist” and “Eurocentric” to use “European definitions of agriculture” (and presumably towns, houses etc.). Never mind these are “European terms”, and agriculture is generally agreed to have begun in the Middle East and not Europe in any case. The self serving duplicity galls me!
    But do any of these promoters consider this? Trumpeting the dubious claims that aboriginals were settled agriculturalists (living in “towns” of “1000 or more”) and its this that makes there dispossession bad, wrong etc., depends upon saying it’s fine to “dispossess them” if they were mere “hunter gatherers”! So when Pascoe’s faux history falls through, where does that leave aboriginal claims? Have any of these pompous idiots ever considered this?

  • lhackett01 says:

    Professor Marcia Langton will say anything, apparently, to advance the Aboriginal cause. While her motives may be admired by some, her manipulation of the truth is not admirable when she fallaciously says Pascoe’s references are correct .

  • tim1 says:

    No serious historian, archaeologist or anthropologist would accept Pascoe’s work. As has been established , he has invented quotations and misused original sources. He has also – and amazingly – totally failed to discuss the massive body of academic work and more popular histories or reports over 200 years – as well as the overwhelming oral evidence from Aboriginal communities themselves – showing the hunter-gatherer or nomadic reality of indigenous Australia from time immemorial. It is surely that deep and wide corpus of historical understanding backed up by decades and decades of on the ground engagement with peoples who brought some of the remaining legacy of Aboriginal culture and economy into the modern world which erupted around them – all that – that led to the proud statement being credibly made that this was indeed the oldest surviving culture on the planet. On no evidence of any worth, Pascoe in effect trashes that claim to say ‘actually Aborigines were really the same as everyone else but the racists have lied about this and destroyed the evidence – and Aboriginal leaders have been complicit in this both because they have never contradicted these White Australian lies about their people and because – he must be saying this – their own oral tradition is a lie or is debased by the ‘dominant ideology’ of White Australia’ . Looked at properly, Pascoe’s whole fiction detracts from the actual achievement of Aboriginals as successful nomads and says that he – as we know a non- Aboriginal – knows better not just than historians but also Aboriginal people themselves. He also offers no theory as to how Aboriginals acquired agriculture. The two usual theories are osmosis – influence from agricultural societies spreading to hunter gatherers – and conquest, with the materially superior agricultural society invading the less resourced culture. Australia having been cut off by rising waters from PNG and Indonesia between 15,000 and 8000 BC, missed out on both influence of context. Hence Aboriginal continuity. I am disgusted this posturing phoney is being lionised when he should be kicked out of town. And yes it does matter that he has no Aboriginal ancestry given he has claimed this and indeed won prizes because of it. One would normally doubt the entire work of someone writing about the history of a people as a representative of that people who turned out not to be one. Am I missing something?

  • John Walker says:

    I submitted a review of Dark Emu to Amazon which provided links to all the sources critical of it and virtually no opinion of my own, certainly nothing which has not been thoroughly documented. I received an email rejecting the review “after careful consideration”. This is the type of institutional censorship we’re dealing with.

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