Bennelong Papers

A Fraudster and his Obliging Cobbers

When even Crikey! concludes a much-championed and revered voice of the cultural Left is a rogue and fraud you can be sure the reputational rot has reached the terminal stage. That’s the take-away lesson from David Hardaker’s gentle leap onto the anti-Pascoe bandwagon.  Here he is, after a few paragraphs of soft-soaping Pascoe’s troubled relationship with truth, hammering some fresh nails into the coffin of his standing as a writer and researcher who warrants being taken seriously. The underscored passage in the excerpt below also explains how the Mallacoota mountebank got away with it for so long:

Questions have been raised about Pascoe’s facts in the years before Sutton and his co-author Walshe came along.

At the beginning of 2020, Melbourne lawyer Russell Marks, who has worked in Aboriginal justice, wrote in The Monthly that “throughout Dark Emu, Pascoe regularly exaggerates and embellishes”:

One example: he quotes Thomas Mitchell’s description of large, circular, chimneyed huts Mitchell observed near Mount Arapiles, in western Victoria, on July 26, 1836, but leaves out [Mitchell’s accompanying] words, ‘which were of a very different construction from those of the Aborigines in general’.

In 2019, the book Bitter Harvest: The Illusion of Aboriginal Agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu alleged “that Pascoe omits, distorts or mischaracterises important information to such an extent that, as purported history, Dark Emu is worthless”. The book’s author, Peter O’Brien, while not an academic, considered himself to be an expert on two of the main historical sources referenced in Dark Emu: the diaries and journals of early Australian explorers Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell. However, the fact that the book was published by the right-wing Quadrant Books meant it was destined to die in a ditch in the culture wars.

Far from damaging Dark Emu, criticisms from conservative sources such as Quadrant, the website “Dark Emu Exposed”, and the work of Murdoch columnist Andrew Bolt, only served to make Pascoe stronger.

Sutton and Walshe, though, cannot be dismissed as the usual right-wing suspects. In nearly 300 pages of fact-checking, they call Pascoe to account in an unaccustomed way.

First a disclaimer:  I am not an expert on Sturt and Mitchell and I have never claimed to be. 

It is apparent to me that Mr Hardaker has not bothered to read Bitter Harvest.  If he did, he would find that, within my own remit – which was not to prove the null hypothesis viz that Aboriginal people were semi-nomadic hunter/gatherers, but simply to demonstrate that Pascoe had failed to prove they were not – my book is just as detailed, comprehensive and forensic as Sutton and Walshe.

And I’ve got news for Hardaker.  The reports of the death of Bitter Harvest have been greatly exaggerated.

Goodreads is a website that provides book lovers with a number of services, including recommended reading lists based on your preferences.  It also provides reviews of a wide range of books and, in general, seems to do a pretty good job.  Even a reputedly moribund work like Bitter Harvest managed a review.   Here is a summary of that review.  I reproduce it to demonstrate, in a simple format, just what constitutes debate for the Left: the same mindset exemplified by Hardaker’s dismissive classification of me as one of ‘the usual right-wing suspects’.

OVERALL RATING  3 ½ STARS

Harry Peterson rated it *
Absolute trash. Psuedo-scholarship from a sad old man.

Meredith rated it ****
So good to see that it was not only me who noticed how Pascoe begins with quotes but then makes broad sweeping statements that render the quotes untrue. Also how he takes one small example and applies it to the whole of the Australian continent, as though Australia was a small area. I only had access to a copy of Sturt when I was reading Dark Emu, but since I could read with my own eyes the selective quoting and some blatant lies, I figured Pascoe had done the same with other sources. Peter O’Brien read many of the other sources.

Shon Ellerton rated it ***
Peter O’Brien does a very good job exposing Pascoe’s Dark Emu. This book was not easy to get as it is not nearly so well-known. Moreover, I highly doubt that the mainstream outlets would be selling the book on grounds of failing to adopt the public narrative which Bruce Pascoe tries to purport.

What O’Brien did is to go through every reference Pascoe alluded to in his bibliography on his book, Dark Emu. He must have gone through quite a lot of painstaking research, but the efforts are most definitely worth it.

It transpires that Pascoe is a master of omission. By carefully omitting parts of the original text, the story he so often construes is so different from what the original source is intended to tell, it’s almost comical. I was so spellbound by this that I had to go and research some of the material myself, some of which can be downloaded from the Internet. O’Brien is right in what he is saying in his book.

If you really want to read Dark Emu because you think you need to, please try to get a copy of Bitter Harvest. I urge you to. Reading both books gives a very good background of this topic.

Both books are not particularly long but they are certainly on the drier side of things.

Stef Rozitis rated it *
Envy inspires pity but is no excuse for racism and poor scholarship

Stevo Wilson rated it *
I’m embarrassed for the author. I didn’t read it all, it’s super boring, who wants to read 300+ pages of bitter resentment.

Paco rated it 0 stars
Just rubbish.

Petronius rated it ****
Dark Emu makes a case that the First Australians, in addition to being a hunter gather society, were a farmer society which preserved seeds, planted crops, stored plant food, lived in permanent structures and formed large stable settlements. The book relies heavily upon revisionist interpretations of the journals of Australian Explorers.

Mr Pascoe is not an anthropologist nor a historian. He has a education degree. He deserved some credit for his literary skills and the grand idea behind Dark Emu. One wonders, however, if he was altogether serious. Anyhow his book answered a call among progressive thinkers to make the First Australians more like themselves and more like the people the colonial settlers encountered in their appropriation of ‘country’.

This is all connected in an oblique way with the push for the hot button topics of Indigenous reconciliation and constitutional recognition.

Peter O’Brien is also not an historian nor an anthropologist; he has tertiary qualifications in science, computers and other studies and worked for the military and in business. Much of his work is based upon comparing the actual text of the explorers with Dark Emu’s use of these references. He comes across as a natural historian who may have missed his milieu in the military and commerce.

Bitter Harvest for all its detail moves quickly and keeps one’s interest.

After reading Bitter Harvest I am of the view that Dark Emu fails to convince and the work on the whole seems a pathetic fallacy.

The recent book, Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers (MUP 2021) by academics Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe supports many of the independently achieved findings of Peter O’Brien.

I’m sure it has not escaped your attention that the negative reviews are nothing more than ad homs, which is standard operating procedure for your self-rated kind and gentle leftoid when confronted with evidence that rattles cherished preconceptions.  I remonstrated with Goodreads that abusive comments — that I am ‘a sad old man’ guilty of purveying ‘pseudo scholarship’ — with no other details to support such appraisals could hardly be classified as reviews.  No action was taken.

As to Mr Hardaker of Crikey!, that daily emailed epistle of approved leftist thought (the word used advisedly) and his assertion that Bitter Harvest is dead “in a ditch”, well let me inform him that my book sold out its first print run in just seven months.  And, as of this week, only a few copies of the second and updated edition remain in the warehouse, so get in fast.  But don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Petronius above, God bless him.   

Order the new edition of Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest by clicking here 

22 comments
  • Doubting Thomas

    Congratulations, Peter. You know you’re over the target when you’re receiving flak. The wonder is that the left never learns that their resort to ad hominem says more about their ignorance and stupidity than it does about their targets.
    Forgive me for taking this opportunity to draw attention to Greg Sheridan’s article on Gough Whitlam in today’s Australian. Long overdue commentary on the left’s habitual myth making.

  • Bert White

    One error here is to regard Pascoe’s claims as anything other than imaginations to fill a novel, and provide material for his public performances. But a far bigger error is to miss the obvious: That Pascoe is being used as a tool by the Left in their nearly complete campaign to destroy our systems of governance, education, flow of valid information, and even of the law. Certainly, this is part of the Left’s campaign to destroy the requirements for citizenship of an integrated nation. This is not “cobbers getting together to have a laugh”. Far from it. This is part of the wider and very successful war now almost completely won by the Left. And the Australian Left is every bit as vicious, power-mongering, and lethal as were the Japanese in New Guinea and all through East Asia and the Pacific.

  • Tony Tea

    Don’t you love the way the Crikers call him “Bruce”.

  • Lawriewal

    Would dearly love to read what professor Dr. Marcia Langton PhD AM has to say now in the light of recent disclosures.
    Does she still claim (as illustrated above) that all Pascoe’s references are correct?

  • Tony Tea

    Peter, did you miss Grundle’s laughingly-termed “defence” of Pascoe?

  • Peter OBrien

    Tony, no I caught that. I decided it was best ignored.

  • Tony Tea

    Well played.

  • MungoMann

    As frightening as it is to accept, I think Bert White’s comments are spot on. The more I dig around in this whole Dark Emu Hoax, the more I come to realise just how deep is the cultural Marxist infiltration of our institutions. Take an X-ray of any of our institutions, schools, military, media or corporate organisations and you will see the spots of the cancer there. It was being planted from the 1970s onward and it has been slowly spreading ever since. The pessimist in me really fears it is terminal and our trajectory is on a slow (because we are still rich and have huge momentum) path that South Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain and increasingly the US are already well on. The end game is an indebted, corrupt, welfare subsistence, society which can only say to its young – emigrate. The optimist in me however, says the bogan, trady, ethnic and rural & regional Aussies might pull us through by being a bulwark against all this BS. When I mention Bruce Pascoe and Dark Emu to many people I meet, I just get a blank, unknowing stare – this might be our saviour : we anti-Marxist warriors are just in a very small intellectual bubble and so we think things are worse than they are. In my home State of Victoria there is a lot of schadenfreude in the ‘working classes’ at the moment due to the COVID reset. Many of us in the working classes have never been busier in our factories, on our farms, in the transport and construction industries Other Victorians who are losing their jobs in academia, hospitality and the Arts are now having serious career altering conversations with themselves. Maybe ‘go woke go broke’ is real? Reportedly, there is a drop off in the number of kids now wanting to study radical history, indigenous law, anthropology, etc. Maybe the financial penny has dropped? We shall see. So hence my belief that us oldies just need keep fighting our generation’s Marxists and elites who have infiltrated the institutions. We just need a few more ‘Emu Wars’ against The Voice, The Uluru Statement, the Indigenisation of the School Curriculum, Critical Race Theory, etc and we can arrest the cancer. Who knows we might even go into complete remission! If we fail, at least we have all our books on the past history of our wonderful country to read while we slip into palliative care. But let’s not give up yet.

  • vicjurskis

    With regard to Pascoe’s ref to Mitchell’s observations July 1836. It’s much worse than leaving a few words out: Pascoe’s wrote:
    Mitchell also recorded his astonishment at the size of the villages. He noticed: some huts … being large, circular; and made of straight rods meeting at an upright pole in 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. He’s disappointed that nobody’s home; it’s obvious they have only just left, and the evidence is everywhere that they have used the place for a very long time.

    Here’s what Mitchell actually wrote:
    “On that side, I saw two natives at a distance, making the best of their way to the southward. We had this day noticed some of their huts, which were of a very different construction from those of the aborigines, in general, being large … chimney. The place seemed to have been in use for years, as a casual habitation. … The natives invariably fled at our approach … ”

    Mitchell did not count the houses or estimate a population of over one thousand. In fact he estimated that the entire Australian population was less than 6,000:
    The native population is very thinly spread over the regions I have explored, amounting to nearly a seventh part of Australia. I cannot estimate the number at more than 6000 ; but on the contrary, I believe it to be considerably less.(Mitchell 1839 Vol II p. 351). Mitchell observations were 50 years after the devastating smallpox epidemic that swept from Torres Strait to Bass Strait in 1789.

  • john.singer

    Scholarship has little to do with academia these days as students these days are pushed toward the recent papers on a subject and often have never read the originator or primary work. Real Scholarship comes from deep study of a narrow field by someone who has first understood the wider field.
    So we come to our current problem. We have a people who mastered survival in a harsh environment in their own way. A way honoured by great historians like Geoffrey Blainey, glorified by Nugget Coombes and his set of Rousseau fans and since perverted by the elites and profiteers who have usurped the field.
    Start with the Government which has lumped the Aboriginal People and the Torres Strait Islanders into one pot. If you watch the episodes of “Blue Water Empire” you would gain a strong impression that not only are they a different people but they had a lifestyle for thousands of years which was totally different to that of the mainland people. This was the serious mistake made by the High Court in its Judgment in the Mabo Case which was then put into statute law by a misguided or an ideologically led Keating Government. The Torres Strait Islands were never terra nullius regardless of any definition you give the term and the majority of mainland Aboriginal people were always Hunter gatherers with a Usufruct usage of land.
    The “History Wars” as they became known created new definitions for the term terra nullius (which was never something that came out of ancient law only Latin made it seem so) and as the High Court was deemed to have upset its application, the industry sensing power and profit set about applying it to the mainland Aboriginal people. Into this field rode unscholarly Bruce Pascoe who was immediately elevated to knighthood (armour and white charger and all) by the elites and academics who were prospering under the Keating led legislations.
    There are many losers in this battle. The women and girls living in bodily danger from customary law. The children running wild and flouting the Law and ending up incarcerated instead of educated. The Aboriginal People who want to share in the bounties of 21st Century living and are held back by their kith and kin and then by the Australian people as a whole, who are having their history destroyed and the Nations wealth depleted on myths instead of development.

  • Geoff Sherrington

    Bert White notes “the Left in their nearly complete campaign to destroy our systems of governance, education, flow of valid information, and even of the law” It is easy to agree with this observation, but each time I see it I ask about the motivation. Who stands to gain? Is the goal political or economic or vengeful? Who are the chiefs? Why has the tactic been so sudden, so vicious and so successful to date? Why did it have wide backing from the media? Geoff S

  • pgang

    Geoff Sherrington, nobody stands to gain, that is the point of socialism. Its purpose is to ‘equalise’. The only way to do that is to destroy everything and make it nothing. So we all become equal in nothingness. Another word for it is simply ‘death’; they long for the death of mankind.
    Of course the flip side of that is that the few chosen ones will inherit all power over the earth in the forthcoming utopia, which can only arise after the death of all things. Socialism is a religious experience for its adherents. It is based entirely on emotion, which is why logic plays no part in it. As such it is a manifestation of the anti-Christ, given that it takes the core message of Christianity (resurrection of the dead through faith in Christ into a renewed creation, with Christ as king over all), and blasphemes it into its polar opposite – the creation of a humanist authoritarian hell through death.

  • IainC

    I bought Bitter Harvest this year, thoroughly enjoyed it. Five Stars!

  • Peter OBrien

    Thanks IainC

  • Blair

    john.singer – 18th July 2021
    “Start with the Government which has lumped the Aboriginal People and the Torres Strait Islanders into one pot.”
    “We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.”
    Kevin Rudd
    The “Bringing Them Home Report” could not provide one example of a Torres Strait Islander child removed from his or her family, community and country.

  • pmprociv

    Peter, you’ve done us all a great service in your ongoing almost-one-man war, for which we are all extremely grateful. But you can’t deny Hardaker’s commen, “the fact that the book was published by the right-wing Quadrant Books meant it was destined to die in a ditch in the culture wars”, does contain much truth. Not the dying bit, but that it can be readily ignored by the ad hominem attack troops: it offers the culture warriors their only point of “weakness”, in their eyes, to attack. Having Andrew Bolt’s (perfectly rational) backing, sadly, is another. I’ve actually bought (and read!) both versions of your book, and have drawn readers’ attention to it in dozens of comments on The Conversation — all of which (maybe bar one?) were taken down, some within hours. The Thought Police are definitely out on patrol — it’s possible they have a computer program, seeking out key words, but then, that should have operated much faster.
    And don’t be too harsh on Sutton & Walshe (whose book I’m reading right now; it, too, is brilliant, but different). They could never admit to having been prompted by “Bitter Harvest” to put together their tome, and they would have to be very careful not to praise you (but you do get a mention!), seeing that would offer another chink in their armour. But they are the long-awaited, heavy artillery (real academics) needed to break the impasse in this “culture war”, and what they write supports just about everything you’ve said. And, being recognised professionals in the field, they’ve attacked Pascoe on just about every one of his erroneous claims, giving more comprehensive and authoritative alternative explanations — in contrast to you, an “amateur” forensically dissecting Pascoe’s use of references (with extra stuff, of course). Your book and theirs dovetail perfectly, adding up to a watertight case.
    I can’t wait to see how the heavies at the ABC (and Melbourne University, including Marcia Langton) squirm their way out of this; it’s going to be brutal, but do such ignorant, gutless, self-promoters deserve any mercy?.

  • bomber49

    I suppose that technically that Professor Pascoe (University of Technology Sydney – Aboriginal Languages) could be called an academic, but hells bells UTC – Aboriginal Languages, give me a break. Somehow this level of academic achievement satisfies the loony left.

  • pgang

    I think that the really important and influential work nearly always gets overlooked by the mainstream. That’s just the way it is, and Mr O’Brien should take pride in being one of the key influencers in this expose, in spite of the refusal by the zombie media and academy to acknowledge him.

  • paerobin

    Ode to Bruce Pascoe

    Hunt blackfella genes.
    Fudge Dreamtime culture.
    Don Aboriginal sheen.
    Scorn modernity’s wonder.
    Dub indigenous myth spiritual pith –
    a balm for horror and shame,
    guilt and blame,
    despair, waste and blunder.
    Drill us all. Lock us in lore.
    Strut fantastic claim;
    herd hunter-gatherers from the bush
    into village and field as farmers;
    puff population; stretch duration;
    brand ‘racist’ any gainsay.
    Smear years of research
    as a plot to besmirch
    and gag your wobbly words.
    Tout grog, spirit souled,
    pitched with your school book name.

    Jar with this quote, Dark Emu’s first boast,
    “Europeans stare at the stars,
    but Aboriginal people also see
    the spaces in between …”.
    What of an Arabian gaze?
    or the night sky eyes of Chinese?

    Dark space, a stellar actor
    world-wide, a welter of roles:
    Phaethon’s wild path in Helios’ chariot;
    sacred dark Inca constellations –
    Yacana the llama is our Emu spirit;
    E.E. Barnard and Max Wolf saw
    dust clouds fermenting stars
    obscure night light from galactic core.
    E.E. Barnard – Tennessean;
    Phaethon, Helios and Max Wolf – European.

    Ern O’Malley, Helen Demidenko
    eclipsed by you, Mr Pascoe:
    Accolade, awards, starry-eyed hordes,
    professorial appointment, media anointment,
    Science trashed; humbug adored.

  • Tony Tea

    Bomber, The Australian wouldn’t print my comment that Pascoe is not a real professor.

  • Joseph

    Hardaker also points out the extraordinary amount of money and resources the Bruce Pascoe industry is attracting. Some of this is ‘prizes’ and the like, but some of it is from people and organisations who should know better. Surely people can appreciate the great difficulty caused by the Australian climate to agriculture. A very small area of the continent supports farming and often this is only possible with substantial and complex water storage technology. Even the pastoral areas rely heavily on the availability of artificial water sources. The idea that the inland of Australia supported a substantial cropping operation prior to settlement should have alerted most sensible and educated people. Have a look at the Black Duck Foods website as well, to see who proudly associates with this organisation of Bruce Pascoe.

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