Bennelong Papers

How to Impress Fools and Make a Fortune

Teflon historian Bruce Pascoe marches on undaunted and untouched by the volumes of incontrovertible evidence that he is neither Aboriginal nor any kind of historian. Here he is in the New Daily in an article picked up from the New York Times and headlined ‘Bruce Pascoe wants to save the present with the Indigenous past’:

Bruce Pascoe stood near the ancient crops he has written about for years and discussed the day’s plans with a handful of workers.

The farm he owns at Gypsy Point, on a remote hillside near Mallacoota, a day’s drive from either Sydney and Melbourne, aims to correct for colonisation – to ensure that a boom in native foods, caused in part by his book, Dark Emu, does not become yet another example of dispossession.

I became concerned that while the ideas were being accepted, the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the industry was not,” he said. “Because that’s what Australia has found hard, including Aboriginal people in anything.”

The lessons Pascoe, 72, seeks to impart by bringing his own essays to life – and to dinner tables – go beyond appropriation. He has argued that the Indigenous past should be a guidebook for the future, and the popularity of his work in recent years points to a hunger for the alternative he describes: a civilisation where the land and sea are kept healthy through cooperation, where resources are shared with neighbors, where kindness even extends to those who seek to conquer.

“What happened in Australia was a real high point in human development,” he said. “We need to go back there.” Writing about it, he added, can only do so much.

Well here, in a polished demonstration of verbal gymnastics, we have victimhood and triumphalism neatly juxtaposed. 

Certainly, Pascoe has championed native plants, such as murnong and native grasses, but I would be surprised if they are regarded as anything other than boutique crops and hardly of interest to agricultural corporations.  Is Monsanto hovering in the background with an evil glint in its corporate eye?  There would appear to be no bar to Aborigines participating in this alleged bonanza other than a lack of interest.  And good luck to them if they do – this is the kind of enterprise in which there is a low bar to entry.

If Pascoe is to be believed, the major requirement is land, of which Aborigines increasingly have plenty.   Fertilizers and sophisticated irrigation, for example,  should not be required as they were certainly not available to those ingenious Aboriginal agriculturalists of yesteryear.  In fact, Pascoe’s agricultural fantasy is just a rehash of utopian wishful thinking that has been around greenish circles for years.  He’s just tried to impose a ATSI trademark on it.

But it is the idea that Aboriginal culture “was a real high point in human development”, that rivals his other bold claims – Aborigines invented democracy and were the first bakers being just two of his assertions – for sheer chutzpah.   What he is saying is that, at some point, pre-historic Aborigines realised they had achieved nirvana and called a halt to further development. Meanwhile, the rest of us charged mindlessly ahead and screwed up everything. You would need to be as gullible as a NYT reporter or Australian education bureaucrat to swallow that one.

The article continues:

Critics, including Andrew Bolt, a conservative commentator for News Corp, have accused Pascoe of seeking attention and wealth by falsely claiming to be Aboriginal while peddling what they call an “anti-Western fantasy.”

Asked by email why he’s focused on Pascoe in around a dozen newspaper columns since November, Bolt replied: “Have fun talking to white man and congratulating yourself on being so broad-minded as to believe him black.”

Pascoe said “Bolty” is obsessed with him and struggles with nuance. He’s offered to buy him a beer, discuss it at the pub and thank him: Dark Emu sales have doubled since Bolt’s campaign against Pascoe intensified.

I’m not sure why Bolt had to be asked why he has taken a long, hard and critical look at Pascoe, since the columnist has made it perfectly clear that his concern is that Pascoe is peddling a demonstrably false history.  But Pascoe cheerleaders such as, the NYT‘s  Damien Cave, the author the article, have felt free to overlook this inconvenient truth and concentrate instead on the question of Pascoe’s aboriginality, as if that were the determining factor in whether or not he and his confected “history” are to be taken seriously.

Cave’s reporting of Bolt’s putative reply smacks of the same context-eliminating technique at which Pascoe himself excels.

The claim, if true, that Pascoe’s sales have doubled since Bolt turned the spotlight him, tells us a lot more about the credulity and intellect of the useful idiots of the Left who buy a book because someone recommends against it, than it does about Pascoe’s critics.

Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest can be ordered here

14 comments
  • Tony Tea

    The New York Dreamtimes.

  • Peter OBrien

    I am currently a third of the way through Michael Schellenberger’s ‘Apocalypse Never’ (a must read by the way) and coincidentally I am just reading a section on intensive agriculture which totally demolishes Pascoe’s utopian ideas of returning to the ‘sustainable’ practices of the past.

  • Stephen Due

    Ah yes. The tired old argument in favour of native over introduced plants. During the summer, if there are water shortages, we are commonly regaled with advice to drought-proof our gardens with natives. This not-very-good idea has been a recurring theme of ABC Radio’s gardening programs. I remember the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, during an ABC Radio interview, staunchly resisting pressure to endorse the ‘native plants only’ solution to water restrictions.
    The Botanic Gardens were of course established partly as a scientific exercise, They are a product of 19th-century science at its best – which was very good indeed. One cannot help noticing the lasting influence of the enlightened colonial gardeners, botanists and landscape designers of old. They are the reason, for example, that there are magnificent Plane trees lining streets in many of Victoria’s country towns. Under those leafy monarchs the likes of Bruce Pascoe no doubt park their cars when the thermometer reaches 40 degrees in the shade, thus giving the lie to their whole philosophy.

  • Stephen Isaacs

    I haven’t read Pascoe’s book and I probably won’t. My key question about his very improbable idea is what staple crop was this Australian Neolithic revolution based on? In Eurasia the staples are grass seeds. Wheat, rice, barley et al. These have the advantages of having a relatively large seed size and can be stored until the next harvest. Jarod Diamond in “Guns, Germs and Steel” claims that Australian native grasses had seed sizes 1/40th the size of wheat and that because there were no native plants to base agriculture then hunting and gathering was the best strategy for survival. Aboriginals survived here for many thousands of years before British settlement. They’re not stupid, if agriculture was possible they would have developed it as people did every where it was possible.

  • rosross

    The ‘miracle crops’ don’t exist except in Pascoe’s fertile imagination. Kangaroo Grass seeds were certainly gathered, but, never cultivated as Pascoe claims. These seeds are not prolific and are low in nutrition. They are found in Africa and Asia where they are commonly known as ‘famine food,’ something you eat when there is nothing else to eat.

    None of the native seeds of Australia developed into grains and none of them come close to the grains found elsewhere in the world which formed the foundation of human diets.

    Like most of Pascoe’s pontificatings it is pure fancy.

  • rosross

    @Stephen Due – plant more gums and crush more people. These trees are wonderful but they do not belong in public areas. No doubt the early settlers worked that one out quickly enough.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I couldn’t agree more, rosross. Here in Canberra, where the crazies rule, eucalyptus trees are loaded time bombs. We have one, about 45 years old, on the nature strip outside our next door neighbour’s house that regular sheds major branches. The local government has repeatedly refused to remove the tree. By their rather zealous definition, it’s a heritage tree, notwithstanding that it was planted when the area was developed. It will kill somebody one of these days.
    In the good old days before Bob Hawke bit the bullet and forced the ACT to stop bludging on the Australian taxpayer, the local Parks and Gardens department used to employ an army of gardeners to plant and water these trees around all the major department buildings. They were so thoroughly spoilt that they simply never put down the sort of deep taproots and other deep roots. So, every time there was a storm with a bit of a brisk breeze, down hey came.
    Don’t mention their flammability.

  • Farnswort

    Andrew Bolt recently had Geoffrey Blainey on his show to discuss Pascoe’s nonsense:

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=CJ7qeariZ6U

    Peter O’Brien’s work received a nice mention!

  • Tricone

    I wonder if that was all Bolt’s email said.

  • Tony Tea

    Has Pascoe been asked how come he’s the only historian to come to his conclusions? Or how come it has taken 250 years for his townships, society, agriculture, etc to come to light?

  • Farnswort

    Tony, it may have something to do with the fact that Bruce Pascoe is a fiction writer, not a historian. He started as a teacher and short story writer. Somewhere along the line he started to identify as Aboriginal and began trying to pass off his creative writing as ‘history’.

  • ejp

    Well thank you for your braveness

  • pgang

    Doubting Thomas a few years ago there was a long running furore over removing some Morton Bay Figs from out front of the Newcastle art gallery. The council wanted them gone because they had become dangerous in their dotage, but the usual bunch of crazies got the leftist local media on-side to ‘save the trees’. After untold costs to ratepayers and several years of legalities and council in-fighting, the trees finally went. The improvement to the visual amenity of the area was astonishing, with the city now back to looking the way it had always been intended, showing off some magnificent architecture and opening up pleasing aspects.
    The first thing the council did was to re-plant more figs in exactly the same spots. Meh, somebody else’s problem. If you could summarise the ‘thinking’ (term used loosely) of careless leftists like Pascoe, I reckon that would just about nail it.

  • pgang

    Also by the way, the book I ordered on 9th June through Abe, ‘Yiwara; Foragers of the Australian Desert’, has not arrived. Perhaps it’s been retained in customs as contraband. Will I be arrested for attempting to import the truth?

Post a comment