Bennelong Papers

Bruce Pascoe’s Tribe Dines on Young Brains

Sixteen-year-old Fiona Snodgrass-Greencaper (not her real name) arrives home from Williamstown Terrific College and asks, “Mummy, what’s for tea?” Williamstown, for those blessed not to live in Melbourne, is a gentrified suburb, now very much upper-middle class, across the bay from Melbourne’s CBD.

Mummy: I’ve cooked what your sustainability teacher recommends. We’re starting with kangaroo-tail soup, then roast kangaroo ribs for mains. Dessert will be dough-cake made from native millet and nardoo.

Fiona: That’s so great, Mummy!

Mummy: Now put on your kangaroo-skin slippers, and here’s your kangaroo-skin cloak.

Fiona: It’s so great that my sustainability teacher has shown Australia how to cool the planet with kangaroos because they emit little methane, unlike sheep, cows … and Daddy. And our Dan Andrews-run kangaroo industry, skilfully managed by Aboriginal firestick farming, is restoring the landscape that ignorant farmers were degrading.

This hypothetical teacher-led overhaul of the meat industry originates from self-styled Aboriginal Bruce Pascoe and his faux-history of Aboriginal farmer civilisations. Dark Emu (for credulous adults) has spawned his glossy Young Dark Emu – A Truer History (for brain-washable kids). That in turn has spawned Dark Emu in the Classroom: Teacher Resources for High School Geography. (Pascoe spruiks his Emu Classroom version here.)

One author of Teacher Resources is Simone Barlow (right, in 2009) B.A (Syd), Dip.Ed (Melb), cited as a geography teacher at Williamstown High Senior Campus. The other is Ashlee Horyniak M.Ed (Melb), and BA (Hons) with a history minor in Aboriginality “through an anthropological and historical lens”. Ms Horyniak is cited as Humanities Coordinator at the Williamstown High. They say: “Simply put, Dark Emu should be compulsory reading for every teacher.”

Teacher ignorance is no barrier to foisting potted Pascoe piffle on our kids. The authors:

Whilst we recommend reading Dark Emu for yourself, this teacher resource is designed so that teachers without the book, Dark Emu, and with little prior knowledge, can pick it up and teach.

Bruce Pascoe is the darling of the ABC and all other left-thinkers because he claims that pre-colonial Aborigines included crop-growers in permanent towns of 1000 who kept their livestock (wallabies? wombats?) in pens. This accords with currently fashionable thinking about Aboriginal “nations” and treaties. He’s won a prize awarded to Aboriginal authors but has not rebutted genealogies suggesting his forebears, every single one of them, were from British stock.

The ABC is preparing a two-part tribute to Pascoe scheduled to be broadcast this year and has already put up a 14-chapter Pascoe extravaganza on ABC Education.[1] But even the ABC has quietly added a Prologue update that Pascoe’s thesis is contestable.[2]

In the NSW Parliament last March, the Education Minister affirmed that Dark Emu is not part of the NSW curriculum but is mentioned in two sample texts. Schools work out for themselves how subjects are taught and have “the scope to present topics in ways that support the school ethos and the diversity of student needs,” the minister said. I don’t know the official status of Dark Emu in the Classroom: Teacher Resources in Victoria, but it’s a lavish production suggestive of high sales volume.

The Williamstown teachers’ kangaroo-led plan for agriculture occupies six pages of their 94-page Resource. Students role-play interest groups. For example, animal-rights activists give ‘roo-culls thumbs down, consumers love that ‘roo taste, and rather weirdly, the outback’s hard-bitten ‘roo types say: “European colonisation has greatly changed what was a happy cohabitation between Aboriginals and animals for thousands of years. The commercial harvest is a replacement of Aboriginal hunting and dingo predation…”[3]

I’m not sure how happy your average ‘roo was to get a spear through its ribs.

The luckiest kids get to role-play Bruce Pascoe himself, whom we are told by the two teacher authors is an Aboriginal of Bunurong/Tasmanian heritage. (Somehow his additional claim to Yuin heritage has faded out, although still bruited by the ABC). With the Aboriginal Mr Pascoe as avatar, role-playing kids say, “We need to be consulted on [kangaroos]. We have been here forever, since the Dreaming, and have managed the land very effectively until the arrival of white man.”

Actually the Bunurong are adamant that Pascoe is not one of theirs,[4] and Tasmania’s clan led by Michael Mansell has outed Pascoe even more forcibly as “fake” [5].

The teachers’ kangaroo-futures lessons end with two (and only two) of what are dubbed “Scenario Cards”. The first card seeks kids’ views on a 10 per cent increase in culling. The second is a corker:

Most of Australia’s agricultural areas have been destroyed by erosion and desertification. The price of beef and lamb has risen by ten times as there are very few viable farms. Consumers are frustrated and looking elsewhere. Is kangaroo meat the future of the Australian meat industry? What should be done?

“Points to discuss in your group: How do you feel about this?[6] How does this affect you? What do you think needs to be done? Are there any other possible solutions to the problem?

A wipe-out of Australian agriculture would indeed be “a problem” unless, say, we buy up rice paddies in China. Kids will intuit that “the problem” is climate-related and that the solution is more wind turbines.

The authors deny that British-based agriculture was more productive than the Aborigines’ version.

The colonists ignored Aboriginal methods and brought their own, which were poorly suited to the landscape…We can only assume it was a combination of ignorance and cultural blindness, because it is clear that the land was well managed prior to colonists, and degraded in such a short period of time after their arrival.

Scepticism about Pascoe’s Aboriginal-farmer fantasies is out of bounds. The authors tell kids,

You can link in the ideas of this [Pascoe] truth being inconvenient, that it cancels out the very foundations of colonisation on ‘Terra Nullius’ and the implications of accepting this perspective.

Here’s more guidance for teachers:

# The authors spurn what they call the capitalist view of human evolution – “only the fittest survive … the weakest individuals – and civilisations – eventually die”. They recommend a rival creed of “cooperation with, and care for, other humans and the natural environment … and the preservation of the planet.” They claim this caring non-capitalist community “aligns more closely” with pre-colonial Aboriginality: “Modern economic systems often prioritise profit and progress over the protection of air quality, land or clean water.”

# The authors urge the “more able students” to read a piece by Aboriginal feminist trade unionist Celeste Liddle praising Labor’s Paul Keating and saying that ex-PM John Howard’s “downplaying of Indigenous suffering was so despicable that Indigenous people took to turning their back on him in public forums.” The only other article the authors recommend in this section blasts PM Turnbull’s lack of action on Aboriginal federal representation and says, “Aboriginal leader Sean Gordon will help form a new political party after this week quitting the Liberals in disgust.”

So much for non-politicised classrooms!

# Farming and farmers are disparaged and I assume city kids’ views are shaped accordingly:

Resource use is a current challenge to Australia. Our lands are being degraded by current farming methods. Our cities are struggling to meet our water demands [thanks to greenies’ dam bans]…Our current farming methods are having devastating impacts on the environment. Let’s embrace [Aboriginal knowledge] and change our current degrading ways.

# Pascoe’s exercise goes

some way toward reducing the continuing damage of colonialism. This is not a simple task but we can begin by acknowledging that Aboriginal Australians built houses, cultivated and irrigated crops and sewed clothes. Over many thousands of years Aboriginal Australia learnt how to increase the productivity of the land and this enormous expertise is useful to us today.

Those interested in actual film of some non-Westernised Aboriginals’ foraging and clothing can watch here.

# The book says,

The yam daisy was once a crucial plant in Australia, and, as the population continues to grow and climate change remains a barrier to food security, its current value must be considered.

The past century’s 1degC warming has seen global grain output rising to records for each of the past two years and Australian winter crop production this year forecast to increase to 11 per cent above the 10-year average. While the figures post-date the 2019 book, any glance at crop data shows the long-term rising yields.

# The book also asks

Is firestick farming an effective management tool? Should it be more widespread today? … Should firestick farming be adopted as a method of managing the landscapes of rural Australia?

Fact-check: Firestick farming in Indonesia creates the vast annual smoke hazes across SE Asia and into northern Australia. Firestick farming also blights the Amazon forests.

Despite Pascoe and teacher enthusiasms, native wild rice doesn’t seem the answer. Its productivity and potential is miniscule, according to an ABC article referenced by the authors. It would have to be hand-sorted after milling to get rid of waste, which is why, back in 2014, it was costed at $120 per kilogram. Woollies is selling rice this week for as little as $1.50. But you may be inspired to try Indigenous soughdough dancing-grass-seed damper after hearing Pascoe on the ABC.

# How might Indigenous fish traps become a model for the aquaculture industry?

Aquaculture today is a high-tech biological industry, the opposite of trapping of wild fish.

The authors ask, “What role could ATSI [Aboriginal] strategies[7] play in ensuring food security across Australia?” To inject some anthropology into this stuff, a tribal strategy even into the 1960s to cope with drought and food scarcity was infanticide. These extracts are just from SA:

1865: The issuer of rations at Overland Corner, SA, reports that in his district in the recent years, ‘every living child appears to have been destroyed immediately after birth.’

1874: Point McLeay missionary, Rev. Taplin, writes, “Savage life is most destructive of infant life.” In the same year, Sub-Protector W.R. Thompson reported ‘half-castes’ in camps rarely survive to adulthood.

1924: Protector William Garnett South writes, “It is generally reported and doubtless true, that aborigines in these parts of Australia often kill children not wanted, and especially ‘half-castes’.”

1960s: Infanticide rates around Ernabella Mission are up to a fifth of all births, according to anthropologist Aram A. Yengolen.

West Australian MLA W.L. Grayden caused controversy when he reported in 1956 about alleged starving bands in the Warburton Ranges, with infanticide being common. Others disagreed. Professor Ronald Berndt (my 1960 anthropology lecturer) investigated and reported: “It seems clear that although occasional cases [of infanticide] do occur among traditionally oriented Aborigines, these are becoming even less frequent than they were in the past (p33).

The Teacher Resource book disparages evidence against Aborigines as farmers:

When examining the sources for bias, students should look at the author and their [sic] motivations for producing the source.

But Pascoe’s own claims go unqueried. In Dark Emu they include Walt Disney-style stories like:

When the natives see a whale being chased by kill­er whales one of the old men pretends to be lame and frail … to excite the compassion of the killer whales and the man calls on the killers to bring the whale ashore. When the injured whale drifts in to shore the other men come out of hiding to kill the whale and call on neighbouring tribes to join the feast.

Peter O’Brien in his Bitter Harvest debunks this and countless other Pascoe tales. O’Brien finds documents only about white whalers’ cooperation with killer whales on the south coast of NSW, with the skeleton of the leading killer whale, “Old Tom” now preserved in the Eden  Killer Whale Museum.

The Resource’s text, sadly, goes haywire when it approaches some rigorous material amid its Pascoe blather. A section on correct graphing techniques reads, “Ensure you use a consistent scale (ie 1.5cm represents 1 million years or 1cm represents 1 million years). Ensure your graph has SALTS (scale, axis, legend, title and sources).” Problem is, the cited data for graphing covers only 38 years, 1980-2018. The “million years” is quite a typo.

It’s disturbing that the Resource and much other teaching these days tell kids how social conditions should be, rather than how things verifiably are. Hence the Resource’s ‘kangaroo dreaming’ in lieu of educating kids about Australia’s meat production and productivity, exports (including the genuine ‘live sheep’ controversies) and trading partners.

The educationists’ final and explicit goal is to turn the kids into activists, but only for OK green-left causes. Kids are constantly exhorted to send letters to their local Member or gee-up their own school principal to make the school more woke. The impetus in all states (Labor and Conservative) is from the top through the national curriculum authority (ACARA) which mandates:

The learning area [ideally] provides content that supports the development of students’ world views, particularly in relation to judgements about past social and economic systems, and access to and use of Earth’s resources … Students explore contemporary issues of sustainability and develop action plans and possible solutions to local, national and global issues which have social, economic and environmental perspectives.” (My emphases. Maybe teens should solve global problems after they solve the mess in their bedrooms and their own laundry requisites).

The crowning insult to conservative parents is the three Julia Gillard-endorsed “cross-curriculum priorities” since 2009 which force teachers to lard all subjects with sustainability, Aboriginality and (lame-duck) Asian emphases.[8] Do primary maths teachers now ask, “What is 12 boomerangs plus 11 boomerangs?” Worst of all, “sustainability” has become an open-sesame for every green-left lobby from Cool Australia to ACF and Greenpeace to inject their agitprop into classrooms.

The Williamstown duo’s Teacher Resources opens a window onto how kids are actually taught and what stories they are force-fed. Are conservative politicians asleep as the education system converts trusting youngsters into green variants of China’s Red Guards? Or is that they are simply too cowardly to raise a fuss?

Tony Thomas’s new book, Come to think of it – essays to tickle the brain, is available as book ($34.95) or e-book ($14.95) here.


[1] How has the ABC’s remit been extended to pedagogy? To which educationists is ABC Education accountable for its quasi-curricula materials? What is ABC Education’s budget?

[2] “Note also that since 2019, Pascoe’s work has been evaluated differently by some people, who don’t agree with his interpretations of historical sources. This resource contains excerpts from the original texts and scientific evidence that Bruce draws on. We encourage you to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all historical sources.”

[3] To be fair to the book, it is citing from the Kangaroo Industries Association, although I haven’t been able to turn up that quote of theirs.

[4] Lawyer Jason Briggs, Chairman of the Boonwurrung Land & Sea Council:

To the best of our knowledge and research, we do not accept Mr Bruce Pascoe as possessing any Boonwurrung ancestry whatsoever.

We have a sophisticated (and utilised in a recent Federal Court of Australia matter) ancestral database of all peoples/families who can rightfully claim to be of Boonwurrung (aka Bunurong) descent.

[5] Although the first three editions of “The Little Red Yellow Black Book” encyclopaedia by AIATSIS have Pascoe as author, and although Pascoe is cited online by AIATSIS as author of the fourth edition, and elsewhere as joint author with AIATSIS, the fourth edition I bought last week does not mention Pascoe among its 22 authors and reviewers. My AIATSIS 4th edition cites Dark Emu once under “Writing and Literature” and once under “Environment and Economic Management”, but not under “History”. AIATSIS stands for Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

[6] Teaching resources these days constantly tell kids to consult and catalogue their “feelings”. In the real world employers are less interested in youngsters “feelings” than getting tasks done.

[7] The authors, although woke, have not caught up with the edicts against “ATSI” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which is like calling refugees “reffos”

[8] Launched by federal-state education ministers, eight Labor and one Independent.

27 thoughts on “Bruce Pascoe’s Tribe Dines on Young Brains

  • Biggles says:

    That the ABC is pushing Pascoe’s barrow should alone be cause enough for its being disbanded. The ABC’s charter should, and hopefully does, ban it from propagating blatant lies.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    This really is a hopeless load of absolute bilge. Teachers should be made aware of the fact that no proper historian or anthropologist or archaeologist gives it any credence whatsoever. Pascoe has bowdlerised the work of the two main explorers from whom he draws unwarranted conclusions and has collected a disparate set of untruths and half -truths from various regions to provide, paradoxically, a Eurocentric view of traditional aboriginal cultures that were clearly those of hunter-gathering peoples, and not those of settled town-dwelling agricultural practitioners in the slightest.
    The technologies used and the life-style provided by aboriginal cultures are found in hunter-gather cultures elsewhere. In aboriginal Australia, due to long isolation, these cultures are particularly precious as a part of world cultural heritage. For these were advanced cultures in their own right, and do not need to be twisted and shaped into appearing to be something they were not. This is a sad state of affairs for those who would give aboriginal culture its rightful due for providing human survival in a range of isolated environments, some easier than other, and for producing a set of organising principles around kinship systems that were complex and socially integrative. A focus on the amazing mythological life of these cultures would be far more realistic and interesting for children, as well as looking at the genuine technology of fire-farming, which was a major aboriginal technique to provide hunting grounds. Children should know too that rather than ‘caring’ for an existing environment, such fire-farming radically changed Australia’s flora and then its fauna, and in geographical terms created large areas of suitable kangaroo hunting grasslands. This culture ‘shaped’ the land rather than simply existing upon it; quite an achievement.
    Teachers should tell students that pictures need interpreting: women Pascoe claims are ‘digging’ were doing ‘gathering’ not creating gardens. They were digging for wild yams and other foodstuffs. Hunter-gatherers in many areas of the world made similar simple fish traps and also used ground wild seeds to cook ‘rock’ cakes – on hot rocks! They also came together in larger numbers for ceremonial activities and engaged in trading activities.

    How sad that Pascoe’s book full of pseudo-science has now devolved to a silly illustrated fable, made attractive for children and gullible teachers, for Pascoe’s ideas do no justice to one of the world’s great traditional cultures, one which reaches back to the origins of us all who share our common humanity, our physical form and capacity to think, create and imagine. That this children’s book is currently short-listed for a prestigious children’s book award, one directed at offering children material based on good scientific principles, is a very worrying thing. One can only hope that the judges have more sense than to give it their stamp of approval and that teachers are made aware of its very serious shortcomings.

    Schools may indeed have some choice in the materials they chose to use according to perceived needs of their students; but no student needs to be taught ridiculous fantasies when there is a much better real tale to be told, based on proper research and historical truth.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    The real damage being done by Pascoe is not peddling a false narrative about Aboriginal culture, that is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, but he is using his narrative to foment grievance among Aboriginal people and a hatred of our own history in particular and Western civilization in general among suggestible whites. His books Convincing Ground and both versions of Dark Emu abound in descriptions of alleged massacres and other atrocities. Some of his example as are real but most are not. Those that are real, are inevitably, inflated in their extent.

  • Lacebug says:

    Lacey underpants (Off Topic): regarding the ILLEGAL BLM rally today in Sydney. The organiser’s name is Paddy Gibson. His email is Should we be surprised he teaches at UTS?

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Mixing with some of the more senior of the local aborigines of the Alligator Rivers region of the Top End in the early 1970s was instructive. This was before academic anthropoligists created stories for the locals. We enjoyed low-stress, idea-swapping, leg-pulling companionship and open telling of past events. It was quite clear at the time that there was little concept of sacred or traditional learning passed down through generations, let alone examples of such, related or shown to us. Often, a visit to rock paintings met with comments that these were by people drawing a long time ago, interpretation no longer known. One official ‘sacred site’ marked on a government map drew a laugh. “We know that place well because you can usually get some flying fox for dinner there. That is why we visit.”

    Folks, you write about a problem of Bruce Pascoe and modern tachers making stuff up. Be aware of the bigger picture, that most Aboriginal history is made up, if my example from the rich Alligator Rivers region can be extrapolated for the whole of Australia.
    Keep in mind that there was no apparent benefit to these people over the generations, to create and preserve (with the limited means available) entities like myths and traditions and power structures of which your average 20th century anthropoligist is so enamoured. Geoff S

  • john.singer says:

    It no wonder they are seeking the lifting of the age of ability to regognise right from wrong from 10 to 14. Children being forcefed on material which defies common-sense could well be set-back by 4 or more years. If they are then fed more garbage in High School and University who knows when they might be mature enough to recognise reality.
    Try this: If a society increases in population in proportion to the food it can grow, then what population can be sustained by the Aboriginal Agriculture as described by Bruce Pascoe?
    For University Students add this question: Starting with a population of 25,000,000 how many people will die of starvation while you implement the system? Predict Australia’s population in the year 2025.

  • wdr says:

    Pascoe’s book is utter bilge from A to Z.

  • Stephen Due says:

    The problem in terms of the education of Australian children is not Bruce Pascoe. The problem is the teachers who promote his material, and the Education Departments that allow them to teach it. The ground has been prepared for this descent by two generations of teachers and bureaucrats. The current generation is now operating with what Victor Davis Hanson calls the “New Dark Age” mindset, namely that truth is socially constructed and you can be whatever sex or race feels good to you. History can be whatever you would like it to be. If you feel the Aborigines are victims, then there must have been massacres and plenty of them. If you feel the Aborigines were a civilisation, then clearly they built houses and had agriculture. All that is surprising is that Pascoe has not yet discovered their writings, books and libraries. VDH believes the descent into the New Dark Age will not end well and I agree with him. For the trend to be reversed would take at least another two generations, and it would need a concerted, sustained political will in Australia’s parliaments to force change in education. The only practical strategy for the average citizen is to campaign for more avenues of escape from state-controlled education, in the hope that more parents will choose to leave the system, and the movement will gain momentum. Private schools and home schooling are vitally important, and will need effective, active political support.

  • en passant says:

    So and genealogically white man (if ‘man’ is his preference), claims he has some ‘black blood’, but is rejected by those tribes he claims to belong to and is never initiated into any of them. His word against the documented, DNA and scientific evidence.
    This is seen as sufficient proof by our educators, their ABC and even politicians that his holy words are true.
    Fortunately, I just finished reading Charles Mackay’s ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ so I fully understand the ignorance and delusions of the educated. They seek not the truth, but a delusion they can believe in, no matter how mad.

  • Tricone says:

    The problem isn’t just in Pascoe’s stories, but in what happens to teachers (and students, and parents) who challenge them, or show anything less than total enthusiasm.

  • Tricone says:

    Going further, I can’t be the only one who’s felt the chill silence descend among friends and family when I questioned – or even raised an eyebrow at – dubious massacre narratives.

    Gaining confidence from this fear of challenge, the invention and exaggeration machine is bound to go into overdrive.

  • Tricone says:

    False impressions are built up not by direct narrative but by embedding in the cultural wallpaper.

    The assertions are inserted offhandedly into unrelated stories and articles until they seem like simple truths.

    Look at this in a National Geographic article about volcanoes I was reading recently:
    “THE LEGEND ASSOCIATED with Mt Eccles, which the Gunditjmara people know as Budj Bim, isn’t violent, but the reality of settlement is, and indigenous guide Tyson Lovett-Murray credits the volcanic nature of the land with saving his people.

    Tyson has a very straight way of telling a story. Sitting in the picnic ground at Mt Eccles National Park, 43km north-east of Portland, he recounts the Convincing Ground Massacre of 1834–35, when up to 200 Aboriginal people, asserting their right to take as food a whale washed up on a beach, were “rounded up” and shot. That sparked the Eumeralla Wars, which lasted 15 years and saw, Tyson says, the Gunditjmara fight a guerilla campaign.”
    There is no contemporary primary source for any of these assertions. What happens next is that “up to 200” becomes “200” and then “at least 200” and so on. A monument to “Eumeralla Wars” is raised, complete with backstory.

  • Stephen Due says:

    Biggles. It depends what you call a lie. The ABC believes Bruce Pascoe is an Aboriginal because he ‘identifies’ as an Aboriginal. It believes the army officer calling himself Catherine McGregor AM is a woman because he dresses up as one and wears lipstick and pearls. It believes homosexuals and Lesbians can be married and have babies. It thinks a baby in the womb is something called a ‘fetus’ that is neither a person nor a human being. It believes state-sponsored suicide is not a form of murder. These are some of the many such ‘truths’ embraced by the ABC today. They are not exceptional or especially weird ‘truths’. They make up the mental material that forms the basis of everyday thinking at the ABC. The entire organisation is corrupt, intellectually and morally. Reform is unlikely under the doddering Women’s Weekly person currently in charge, or under any leadership the staff would accept. Privatisation is the best option in my view.

  • pgang says:

    Stephen Due, we live in a weird age of puritan political correctness, combined with the most rampant immorality imaginable – a condition of total spiritual void. I almost suspect that this is something new. The Romans at least had their gods. The French and the Russians lacked our complete surrender to moral decay. Perhaps only the Israelites offer a similar scenario, yet even they had Baal.
    I don’t think that the relativism of the ABC can be so easily fixed now, given that it is almost being out-done by commercial media and the clerisy at large.
    Cultural Marxism/Leninism is growing in power and confidence, even taking over the military. China is destabilising and ready to explode. Islam now holds beachheads all over the world. The Christian church in the West is dilapidated, compromised and heretical. World governments have gifted themselves an excuse to massively increase authoritarian interference in everyday life. Our public elites are completely separated from the reality of commoners. Education is becoming indoctrination. The American union is in danger of collapsing, and with it any hope of peace and stability.
    What is happening? Is this our Babylon?

  • Blair says:

    Cripes, my youngest grandson has just enrolled at Williamstown High.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Peter O’Brien, I agree with you that Pascoe and his ilk are trying to foment grievance. There is no question that is what their ridiculous assertions about traditional aboriginal culture and especially about invented ‘massacres’ are intended to do, right down to the level of primary school children.

    I studied anthropology and did honours in it during the 1960’s, well before the current period of grievance and invention. Above, I have put forward the principal that scientific understanding is actually important, in all aspects of our understanding including about traditional cultures, for the assault on science is well underway, as we see with modelling nonsense regarding both Covid-19 and ‘Climate Change’.

    Anthropology as the study of pre-literate societies has never been more than a ‘salvage’ study, trying to obtain information about cultures that have been long-gone from their ‘pristine’ conditions of pre-contact. This is especially the case for aboriginal cultures where even the oldest informants had little left of their traditional world of the mind and religion and doubtless some wool was pulled over the eyes of gullible researchers regarding practices, probably not properly trained investigators. Nevertheless some good fieldwork was still done, especially re kinship systems and the Dreamtime mythology that supported these, which also determined the power structure of older men marrying younger women. In practice, these cultures were brutal, they were terrible for women, gerontocratic towards young men, and they were ignorant in our terms; but impressively, they survived for millennia with little technological change and a strong mythological base well worth retrieving wherever possible for an understanding of human ethnology. Once an objective approach to knowledge in any field is diminished, as Pascoe does, then fantasy and political wish-thinking creeps in.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Elizabeth Beare,
    You seem to remain convinced that scientific research has revealed cultural values of world heritage significance that have endured for millennia, if you accept this summary as reasonable. With admittedly less scientific research, I saw next to zero evidence of anything more than what a group of ordinary people would do, using plain common sense to survive in their given environment.
    As a test of your confidence, can you please refer me to methods used scientifically to allow deductions about past millennia? What evidence do you have that knowledge of anything out of the ordinary extends back more than a couple of generations?
    Please be aware that my colleagues and I benefited from the services of anthropology consultants who usually travelled with us at relevant times in the 1970-80 era in the Top End and Cape York. Geoff S

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    pgang: “We live in a weird age of puritan political correctness, combined with the most rampant immorality imaginable – a condition of total spiritual void……What is happening? Is this our Babylon?”

    Agreed:Babylon or Rome or Big Brother.

    Current mess possibly a harbinger of worse to come. Edward Gibbon’s “ five marks of the Roman [modern] decaying culture” come to mind:

    “concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth; obsession with sex and perversions of sex; art/[media] becomes freakish/[sensationalist] instead of creative/original; widening disparity between very rich and very poor; and increased demand to live off the state.”

    And the rise and rise of pseudoscience and “precautionary principle” to justify all kinds of post-modern tripe.

  • pgang says:

    Alice I also read somewhere that the final phase of civilisational collapse is a populace that loses faith in its future and longs for the past. Perhaps that turning point is approaching.

  • pgang says:

    Geoff Sherrington, I side with you. That has been my experience also, albeit not on your scale. I think this is born out in the very nature of aboriginal people, who are (or were) the most down-to-earth, clever and guileless people I’ve ever come across. (It’s my opinion that our (once) unique Australian outlook and humour is squarely based on the aboriginals’).
    Having said that I did also see evidence for superstitious mysticism, which isn’t surprising if you’ve ever spent time alone in the outback. It can be a spooky place. The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle – there probably were some places and ceremonies that held superstitious significance, but how do we get inside the mind of a people who took the view of nature as the chaotic fomentation of creator-spirits? I would imagine that their dream-time fables were constantly evolving.
    The problem from my perspective comes from the inability of academia these days to distinguish between religion and superstition. Having given the aborigines religion, why not give them technology and a history?

  • pgang says:

    ‘…who are (or were) the most down-to-earth, clever and guileless people I’ve ever come across.’
    And that is what we should be celebrating and preserving, not the superstitious rot.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    pgang – 30th July 2020
    “I also read somewhere that the final phase of civilisational collapse is a populace that loses faith in its future and longs for the past. Perhaps that turning point is approaching.”

    Kenneth Clark asked what happened to the Roman Empire. His answer: fear – of war, invasion, plague, and famine – and the supernatural. MB: “The late antique world was full of meaningless rituals, mystery religions that destroyed self-confidence.”

    The outcome, according to Clark, was exhaustion, “the feeling of hopelessness that can overtake people with even a high degree of material prosperity.”

    The Fear Index is rising fast today too: fear of covid-19, fear of “climate change”, fear of extinction, fear that Nature controls us and vice versa, fear of being sucked back into the Washington Swamp in November, and so on.

    Yet as the President said: “there is nothing to fear except fear itself.”

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Geoff, that is quite a challenge and hardly answerable in a quick blog comment. I’m glad you found your aboriginal companions ordinary people, for they likely were so. All people are, and few are conveyors of their culture as it existed in past times. Kenneth Clarke makes us amazingly aware of that with regard to our own culture. I can only refer you to the work of those who painstakingly assembled and checked details from observation of more ‘pristine’ periods in aboriginal contact with Europeans. Firstly the C19th explorers, Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt, then the classic works of William Baldwin Spencer who worked with FJ Gillen, and after that the early 20th century reporters A.F. Elkin (a Minister of Religion then anthropologist, especially his ‘Aboriginal Men of High Degree’) and GH Strehlow’s monumental works, and then the later anthropologists and historians CD Rowley, Ernst Worms, Manning Clark, Ronald and Catherine Berndt, Paul Hasluck, and Geoffrey Blainey. Also those anthropologists and archaeologists I studied under – the excellent anthropological fieldwork (using a scientific methodology of observation, querying and cross checking) of many, including Mervyn Meggitt, Lester Hiatt, Margaret MacArthur (on women’s gathering of food), and the archaeology of Rhys Jones on fire-farming, and all of the researchers at Kow Swamp and other archaeological sites, Aboriginal cultures hold a special place in the story of hunter-gatherers on this planet, which is not a unitary tale and has many sub-divisions in a world context. Their traditional belief systems were long-standing with an unusual sense of time, and their elaborate organising kinship systems of ‘sections’ turned out to be beyond the ken of the 30% of students I once failed in ‘Kinship 201’ at the University of Sydney.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    With regard to “traditional belief systems’, perhaps one could add Australia’s first Jungian analyst, Rix Weaver (1902-1990).
    As Olive Mason noted in an essay about her early this year:
    “In 1965 Rix Weaver made an extraordinary journey to Ayers Rock driving over 5000 miles on unsealed roads in an erratic Volkswagen Beetle. She had dropped everything to seize the opportunity when her friend, bushman and poet Bill Harney told her: “You should come now.” On Harney’s word, the aborigines trusted her and explained the form and meaning of their sacred chants and symbols; Harney translated for her. She was just in time as Bill Harney died the following year.
    She was given permission to take photos of the sacred sites. She used these slides along with the notes she made and recordings of the sacred chants of the men’s initiation ceremonies as the basis for lectures. A year or two later she presented these at the CG Jung Institute in Zürich and for the Analytical Psychology Clubs in New York and Los Angeles. In 1989 she accepted an invitation to go to Paris to present this material to the International Association Congress6 However, she was too frail to undertake this journey and the material was incorporated into the video – A BOOK IN STONE – and duly presented to acclaim in Paris.

  • Occidental says:

    I was about to make a post concerning this issue, and the lack of rigor of some researchers. It centered around the pidgeon english word “gammon”. I recall reading an article in the higher education section of The Australian newspaper some four or five years ago, by a University of Queensland student who was researching for her Phd, I think related to lingusitics. The general tone of, or theme of the article, was an affirmation of the need to teach aboriginal language(s) to indigenous children. The point I was going to make was how this researcher who spent a not insignificant amount of time in and around aboriginal communities in North West Queensland, still had failed to understand the meaning of an oft used word in this region. I grew up in the area and had intimate knowledge of the indigenous use of that word (in that region). She described its use in the article, – of an elderly aborigine describing teenagers wearing caps backward, and aping black american culture as “gammon”. She then wrote to the effect-he means dishonest, as the word means a lie. Well it meant no such thing in that region. The example she gave was a fine example of exactly of what the word is meant to convey, “fake” or “not genuine” or even “a blandishment”. However to try and locate the article (I couldn’t) I put a search string into Google. To my amazement I found numerous papers and citations touching upon the australian aborigine’s use of the word “gammon” (they all seem to say it means a “lie”). How can so many want to think about let alone research languages that have such little use to its surviving speakers that those speakers themselves give it little regard. As a result I am left with John Williams novel “Stoner” where he describes academia as an “asylum, …for the discontent”… where its inhabitants can work, but not as hard as the world wants. Take a look at these papers, theses, and academic works on aboriginal australian languages and hopefully get a sense of the wonder that modern society can sustain and nurture so much research over so many decades, most of which is questionable, but all of which really is of such little if any utility to future generations. If all those papers were by some accident of fate lost, is there any possibility that they would be missed?

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Occidental, I wouldn’t disagree that there are many pieces of arcane academic research of perhaps dubious value, some theoretical physics even, from what I’ve been told about ‘string theory’, Aboriginal language is a valid study, not necessarily always done well, but all human languages are grist to the mill about human thought and culture. Imposing ancient languages on aboriginal children as their main language of teaching is bad for them; I certainly agree there. In general, collected knowledge has to stand for its own sake, for later critique, or even for the mistakes made, and it is surprising how useful some pieces of previously discarded research can turn out to be, even if only to show avenues proven fruitless. This applies in all fields of investigation, not just aboriginal studies. Rational investigation proceeds by experimentation and other forms of confirmation. Best we can do.

  • L Louis says:

    I have long given up on The Conversation which ruthlessly deletes any comment deviating from narrow PC. Today, however, I was provoked by an article by Robyn Moore Social Researcher, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania, “Secondary school textbooks teach our kids the myth that Aboriginal Australians were nomadic hunter-gatherers”. She claims that Pascoe gives the true version of pre history, and history text books encourage “racist stereotypes” and portray Aboriginal Australians as hunter-gatherers.
    My three comments were deleted.
    My response to Moore’s reference to Bill Gammage’s book: “A main secondary source for Pascoe is Bill Gammage’s major study, The Biggest Estate on Earth. On how Aborigines made Australia; and the usage is revealing. Pascoe (p.14) reproduces a central theme as formulated by Gammage (p.281): “People farmed in 1788, but were not farmers. These are not the same…people never depended on farming. Mobility was more important…”; and mobility is repeatedly stressed (eg p. 304). Gammage provides a mountain of evidence on farming and land management, and goes into the difficulties of applying conventional categories to Aboriginal practices. Pascoe simply employs the material as evidence of agriculture to rewrite a travesty of pre-history. Agriculture is not an entry in Gammage’s comprehensive index”.
    And to other ignorant assertions by Moore:
    “The standard text books on the pre history of Australia were the culmination of many decades of rigorous field work and scholarship by archaeologists and anthropologists of international stature, including John Mulvaney, Isabelle Mc Bryde and Rhys Jones. And in his The Prehistory of Australia , Mulvaney is unequivocal,“They[ Aborigines] practiced neither agriculture nor simpler horticulture as it is conventionally defined and never domesticated any indigenous animals”… But Pascoe desperately needs some semblance of credibility, so he surreptitiously drops in references to an authority. For example, on pp. 22, 23, he refers to Professor David Frankel, but in his comprehensive study, Between the Murray and the Sea: Aboriginal Archaeology in South-eastern Australia, there is no question that Aborigines were other than hunter-gatherers.”
    “It is Pascoe who denigrates hunter- gatherers, and this hinders an appreciation of the achievements of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers over such a long time in an old dry continent with limited natural resources. As Geoffrey Blainey in The Triumph of the Nomads (p.225) concludes: a comparison of standards of living in relation to food, health, shelter and warmth, would show that “the average Aboriginal was probably as well off as the average European in 1800”. They certainly had more leisure time. And Stanner reports: “Their [the Aborigine’s] tools and crafts, meagre — pitiably meagre — though they are, have nonetheless been good enough to let them win the battle for survival, and to win it comfortably at that. With no pottery, no knowledge of metals, no wheel, no domestication of animals, no agriculture, they have still been able to people the entire continent…” (The Dreaming and Other Essays, pp. 234-235).”

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