Bennelong Papers

Pascoe’s ABC: Enough to Make You Ropable

I sometimes wonder if I’m becoming a tad obsessive about Bruce Pascoe, but let me observe in my defence that he is like a mouth ulcer – you just can’t leave it alone. My father once had a mouth ulcer that didn’t go away and, when he finally consulted his doctor, was diagnosed with a cancer that took away half his jaw.   So, while it’s tempting to think of Pascoe as a mere irritant, I worry that he is a symptom of a wider cancer spreading through our society.  I’m talking about the corruption of truth — and rope-making too.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the Aboriginal people could make rope well before 1788.  Well, courtesy of ABC Education, your primary school children and grandchildren will be better informed than you, thanks to Professor of Indigenous Agriculture, Yuin, Burnurong and Tasmanian man Bruce Pascoe. 

In a less-than-riveting four-minute segment, which can be watched here,  Professor Bruce imparts the ancient wisdom of the ‘old people’ by taking a strip of bark from a stringy bark tree while noting that those he claims as ancestors would have used the moist bark from closer to the trunk, something Bruce refuses to do because no tree should be damaged for a mere demonstration. It seems the technique is to separate the bark into two strips and wind each around the other.  But if that seems a bit complicated, Bruce tells us there was an ancient formula and proceeds to lay it on with a trowel.

For example, an Aborigine on the east coast of NSW would point the two strips to the north and then fold one towards the mountains and the next towards the sea and so on.  Do you think you’ve got that?  He doesn’t explain the method used in Central Australia, but I’m sure Pascoe could invent one upon request.  He goes on to note that explorer Thomas Mitchell was impressed that Aboriginal fishing made from such ropes were almost indistinguishable from European nets, even to the knots used.  So, according to Pascoe’s logic (used, for example, in the cases of government and bread-making) this would make the Aboriginal people the inventors of ropes and knots.  

In another episode, also part of the Aboriginal Ingenuity series, the Professor covers language and plants. There’s not a lot about plants – lettuce gets a mention as does murnong and the bulbine lily, and language also gets very short shrift.  Bruce confesses that he doesn’t know the names of indigenous plants except for murnong.  So, he is relying on the kids to look them up online, or to ask their elders.  It might take them 20 minutes or six months but however long it takes ‘that person has made an incredible contribution to their culture, if they can find that word’. Apparently  he has so much work on his bark trencher that he ‘needs the young people to become inquisitive about their culture’.  So as far as language is concerned, we learned another name for murnong – naramah – and that’s it.  Still, it only occupies two minutes.   We can’t ask too much of the overstressed ABC budget.

The ABC Education History series of video clips comprises 42 episodes, 22 relating to Aboriginal issues and culture, the other 20 looking at what we might call mainstream history.  They include four episodes based on the ludicrous ‘Back in Time for Dinner’ series hosted by Annabel Crabb, which I reviewed here.  There is one titled ‘Identity, Racism and Connection’ and a couple of lifestyle pieces (growing up in the 1900s and school in the 1940s).  One on asylum seekers, one on women’s lib and another on tales from around the world.  I count only eight to cover serious topics such Federation, Parliament House, the First Fleet, the gold rush, and so on. 

I understand education ministers are about to review the draft new national curriculum.  I don’t hold out a great deal of hope they will be either willing or able to stem the tide of woke history’s revisionism, but their efforts will not be helped by the ABC’s unaccountable foray into the classroom, which appears to lack any semblance of quality control. The prominence given to Bruce Pascoe’s faux history is the proof.

Order Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest here

18 comments
  • pmprociv

    Thanks for bringing our attention to this amazing technology, Peter. It must have been the first in the world. Do you reckon we should have university courses on this? Indigenous Engineering 101. So good of the ABC to make it available to the public, and in such an easy-to-understand manner; even I had no trouble in following it. Not your elite-type academic. I hope they paid him well. As for Bruce being only a “Yuin, Burnurong and Tasmanian man”, don’t forget that in “Dark Emu” he writes about visiting family up at Lockhart River. I still don’t know why he doesn’t include them among his ancestors. Might just be modesty, I suppose. His mob is like that.

  • aco44409

    PO’B; I came across this word today, which I think aptly describes BP’s utter b/s:
    ………
    Tarraddidle: – noun, Informal: a statement known by its maker to be untrue and made in order to deceive – in other words: fables, fabrications, fairytales, falsehoods, falsities, fibs, lies, mendacities, prevarications, stories, tales, untruths, whoppers, ……….

  • Katzenjammer

    No reports about methods of Indigenous food preparation record whether they boiled or fried eggs, but it’s possible their technological prowess could have extended to baking eggs in hot ashes. 65,000 years and no record of use of plants as spice to enhance the flavour of meat. There’s plenty of scope for the Professor to inform us of traditional culinary innovations after their agricultural harvest.

  • Peter OBrien

    On reflection, I think the ABC’s ‘Aboriginal Ingenuity’ series could be aptly renamed ‘Aboriginal Inanity’.

  • Adelagado

    And what were Europeans up to while this amazing rope ingenuity was going on? Nothing very impressive I suppose. Probably just circumnavigating the world, composing operas, building the Palace of Versailles, and other stuff like that.

  • Adelagado

    “Peter OBrien – 21st October 2021
    On reflection, I think the ABC’s ‘Aboriginal Ingenuity’ series could be aptly renamed ‘Aboriginal Inanity’.”

    Or maybe it should be called ‘Aboriginal Lack of Ingenuity’.
    As a matter of interest, while aboriginals might have mastered the art of making rope from bark in 1788, the mastery of how to boil water still seems to have alluded them. By contrast, England already had working steam engines.

  • Adelagado

    Careless me. I meant eluded, not alluded.

  • Tony Tea

    Ungenuity.

  • Stephen Due

    A useful exercise would be for Bruce to set up a little First Nations (FN) village along the lines of Sovereign Hill. It could include demonstrations of ancient FN crafts such as ropemaking. Bruce is all talk at the moment. But the FN village would be somewhere he could live and actually demonstrate the FN lifestyle. No doubt a young FN girl could be persuaded keep his bed warm for him. To be completely authentic of course he would have give up a lot the the Racist lifestyle he currently embraces (including Invader-style clothing and groceries). Writing books would be out, but he could probably do a lot with smoke signals. In fact there could be plenty of smoke – just no mirrors.

  • Tom Lewis

    He’s really taking the gullible believers to the cleaners. More fool them, but along the way he’s sucking in the young who are being fed this snake-oil by the useful idiots.

  • geoff_brown1

    “And what were Europeans up to?” Geoffrey Blainey’s quote about one culture discovering the steam engine, while the other had never discovered how to boil water, springs to mind.

  • restt

    Is there any book on tribal life that tells the truth and details – internecine warfare, genocidal slaughter of other clans, infanticide, senicide, bestowal/slavery of young girls, the brutal rule by the gerontocracy – details of why Aboriginals were not agriculturalists, astronomers, bakers, aquaculturalists, seamstresses etc

    This book could take the form of a collection of extracts like Voice From the Past by Alistair Crooks and Joe Lane. That is the only way to get to the truth.

  • Clive Bond

    The ABC is running a relentless campaign promoting Aborigines, all in a positive fashion. Note every time a place name comes up on the screen, (weather), the Aboriginal name goes up with it. I suspect this is all a buildup for a referendum for a “voice in parliament” and a multi billion dollar treaty.

  • Alistair

    restt …
    Thanks for the plug of my book! I immediately thought of this quote Voices From the Past ..
    Its a note to the SA Protector of Aborigines from Police Trooper Richards at Fowler’s Bay in the far west :
    “The quantity of rations supplied here is quite sufficient. I have a difficulty getting the women’s dresses made. The want of a net is much felt, the old one having been in use nearly five years, and I have not had time to make a new one.” 1874.

    The poor police troopers with insufficient time from their duties of “geocidal” massacring to knock up some dresses and nets. The suggestion from this and other quotes from ration depots is that Aborigines couldn’t make twine let alone rope in sufficient quantities or of sufficient strength to make a net.
    Incidentally, I did write a book on traditional culture more or less on the lines that mention, extracts from about fifty books … but I have never got around to publishing.
    You can try Spencer and Gillen for a start down load at https://adc.library.usyd.edu.au/data-2/spenati.pdf

  • Claude James

    I see Australian billionaires putting their time and money into woke and/or greenist fantasy projects.
    Wonder if someone with a few quid to spend on something useful would put up some real dough to fund young Aborigines who would offer guidance to other young Aborigines about how to make a good life for themselves in British-created Australia.
    Jacinta Price could supply names and topics., and lead the project.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Maybe Gina Rinehart?

  • Tricone

    I’ve read several books of verbatim accounts by early settlers and explorers.
    Such nets and baskets as they recorded the aboriginals using were mostly hair and grass, as I recall.
    Bark is certainly feasible but I don’t recall it being woven into something strong enough to be called “rope”.

  • Lacebug

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Pascoe is as much a charlatan as the next Quadrant reader, and his book is a work of fiction. But I really think that Peter O’Brien’s interest in Pascoe is bordering on the pathological. You are terrific writer Peter, use your talent to scribe about seething else for a change.

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