QED

Not This Little Black Duck

There is much to admire about Bruce Pascoe.  He is a successful author and seems to have immense physical and intellectual energy for a man of more than 70 years.  It seems he was a stalwart in fighting the 2019 bushfires near his bush home, and good on him.  But his current status as Australia’s “most influential Indigenous historian”, according to The Australian’s Richard Guilliatt, and recently appointed Enterprise Professor of Indigenous Agriculture at Melbourne University is built on a lie, a dangerous lie at that. With his falsehoods now being foisted upon our school children, I intend to continue calling out his fictions as often as I can. So please bear with me.

Speaking in his professorial role, Pascoe last week told the ABC’s Q&A audience that if we were to adopt the sophisticated agricultural and political practices of traditional Aborigines, we could feed ourselves with no harm to the environment.  Bruce practices what he preaches on his property at Gypsy Point, near Mallacoota, and has established Black Duck Foods, a registered charity, to give effect to his vision. Its website tells us that “Black Duck Foods enjoys ‘deductible gift status’ (DGR) status, registered as a Public Benevolent Institution with the Australian Not For Profit and Charities Commission”.  And that “Black Duck Foods welcomes the support of community members and volunteers to assist with our business, both on and off the farm.”

Its ambition: “Black Duck Foods has a vision to redevelop traditional food growing and country management processes for the economic benefit of Indigenous people and country.”  Never one to let a good bandwagon be other than fully occupied, Pascoe has incorporated the concept of ‘sovereignty’ into food production.  It seems that Black Duck plans to assist Indigenous people on a journey towards ‘food sovereignty’. What that means, apparently, is this:

Central to First Nations sovereignty is food sovereignty – the right to define one’s own food system. The right to produce our own cultural food.

I’m not sure where and when that right has ever been curtailed. Many remote community Aborigines have maintained their traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle, albeit supplemented by a Western diet.  Still, ‘food sovereignty’ has nice ring to it – if you’re into mindless slogans, that is.

But back to Q&A, where Bruce managed to get in his usual plugs about Aboriginal society inventing government 120,000 years ago, was harmonious, settled and sophisticated. Following a passionate plea by Stan Grant for social justice for Aboriginal people, Pascoe delivered this gem of a rant:

And it’s not just social justice.  Have a look at the country.  Have a look at the length of time people were able to work together here and have a prosperous lifestyle over a longer period of time than any other people on earth and only interrupted by the British. How did they do that? Isn’t this a question the world is interested in?  It’s not just about Aboriginal people getting justice – we’re not a charity. 

This was a vibrant successful society which was sustainable.  Isn’t the world interested in this?  Because that was government here.  This was government and it was done over an enormous period of time.  I think this is a social jewel in the world and needs to be analysed.  We hold something here and it’s in the art.  The Burrup Peninsula is being mined at the moment.  Deliberately being damaged by people who are trying to put Aboriginal people in their place, ignoring that incredible art and that incredible culture.

Let me introduce a note of reality here.  ‘A prosperous lifestyle over a longer period of time than any other people on earth’?  Does he think the Western nations or China, for example, were plonked here on earth by  alien invaders?  What he means is ‘a lifestyle unchanged over a longer period of time than any other people on earth’.  Is that especially valuable, or is it no more than an anthropological curiosity? 

As to the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara, it is indeed home to what is regarded as the most extensive collection of rock art in the world.  But it is rudimentary art. The only thing “incredible” about it is that there is so much of it and that it has survived so long.  The same can be said about the culture.  That is not to say we shouldn’t make every effort to preserve as much of it as possible. It is true there is a clash between the demands of mining and the preservation of Aboriginal art in the Pilbara, however the Murujuga National Park website tells us that:

As a result of the Burrup and Maitland Industrial Estates Agreement (BMIEA), Murujuga was declared a National Park on the 17th of January 2013, becoming the 100th National Park in Australia. The National Park consists of freehold land title in excess of 5,134ha, which is vested in MAC. This land title includes a 221ha block, known as ‘Site L’, which was handed back to MAC in July 2019 and added to the Murujuga National Park. The area of Murujuga National Park sits within the broader National Heritage Listed area which comprises the surrounding islands of the Dampier Archipelago …  Access to some rock engraving sites within the park is restricted under Aboriginal lore and custom. The rock arts sites are also protected under the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which sets penalties for disturbing or interfering with the sites.

So, Pascoe might argue that mining should defer to Aboriginal rock art and that everything must be preserved – a la the fake controversy over Jukaan Gorge  — but he cannot say that miners are deliberately damaging rock art ‘to put Aboriginal people in their place’.  This kind of inflammatory rhetoric pervades Dark Emu by the way.

When fellow guest, The Australian‘s Adam Creighton observed that colonisation was inevitable but also brought progress with it, Pascoe wasn’t having any of it.  The response of the man who once said “I’m not thoroughly convinced by capitalism. But while it’s here and enslaving our people, we have to participate” was more of the same: “Advancements are not monetary — advancements are moral”. That went over like Pavlov’s bell with the standard-issue ABC crowd of knee-jerk applauders, whose approving din almost drowned out Creighton’s response: “What about electricity?” Had Creighton been given half a chance he might have expanded on the host of other benefits, starting with an abhorrence of infanticide, cannibalism and wife beating, notwithstanding that examples of the latter still abound.

Stan Grant, to his credit, observed that he values both cultures.  He loves philosophy, he loves history, he loves economics – all of which would have cut no ice with Pascoe, who maintains that Aboriginal culture embodied all three.  Stan also loves to read and he reveres Shakespeare. Give him time and Pascoe may well claim to have found in some explorer’s journal an account of attending a first-night gala in the theatre of one of those permanent Aboriginal ‘towns’ he insists have been erased from the record by racist white revisionists.

But getting back to Bruce, he might be jumping the gun in claiming our current agricultural practices are destroying the environment, and that a charitable enterprise which relies on volunteers, donations and grants, is the answer.

Whatever you might think about the depredations of current agricultural practices, which feed almost 8 billion people and continue to produce produce more food year-on-year, it’s not all bad news.  Let me introduce to you Green Camel, an organic farming operation on less than half a hectares just west of Sydney.  You won’t find it listed in any Charities Commission filings. What you will find is an operation that uses closed-system glasshouses to produce as much as 160,000kg of leafy greens, 16,000kg of tomatoes and 12,000kg of barramundi per year.  It, too, started with seed funding from the government of NSW, but does not rely on volunteers or donations.  As an example of modern Western technology and practice maximising output while minimising impact on the environment, it’s hard to go past Green Camel.

At the glacial pace of traditional Aboriginal development, Black Duck Foods, which as far as I can tell has so far baked a few loaves of native-seed bread, might achieve this level of output in, say, the year 2200. What won’t be lacking in the meantime is loads of the metaphoric fertiliser that Pascoe is so adept at spreading.

You can order the new edition of Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest by clicking here

14 comments
  • lhackett01

    Supporting Peter’s article, I reproduce here some small extracts from my paper, “Aborigines, the Constitution and the Voice”.
    Aboriginal culture is claimed by Aborigines and others to be the oldest surviving culture in the world, dating back over 60,000 years, supposedly. This is interesting because such statements are meant to be laudatory when the statement actually means that Aboriginal culture has not changed in any significant way over the last 60,000 years.
    Many other cultures come from origins equally as old, but have progressed and changed during that time such that their roots are not as obvious today. Aboriginal technology was, and remains, primitive, consisting essentially of the ability to make fire, digging sticks, the spear and woomera, the boomerang, various basic stone implements, fish traps, painting with ochres, and the hand plaiting and weaving of plant fibres. Aborigines did not build large stone monuments, did not farm animals and did not cultivate the soil for crops, notwithstanding the embellishments and misinterpretation of Bruce Pascoe in his book “Dark Emu”. Aborigines never developed an “iron age”, “bronze age”, or pottery. Neither did they invent the wheel. Aboriginal culture essentially remained unchanged throughout the past 60,000 years, producing none of the advances made by most other human groups during the same period.
    Today, many of the more remote Aboriginal groups live in conditions that most non-Aborigines would describe as unsatisfactory, if not appalling. These townships are notable for decent housing and infrastructure provided by the Government. However, with some exceptions, there is obvious social disadvantage and disintegration. … The idea that Aborigines have much to offer Australia, its Constitution and National identity is absurd. Aboriginal culture has virtually nothing to offer that would benefit Australia, the Australian Constitution, or Australians generally.
    The paper can be read at https://www.scribd.com/document/458064355/.

  • Peter OBrien

    Bravo lhackett,
    I have had a look at your excellent article and look forward to reading it in detail tomorrow.
    Other things they didn’t invent include furniture for those sophisticated houses in towns of 1,000 people and the bow and arrow.

  • Harry Lee

    Three points:
    1. Pascoe is a fantasist, as a novelist must be.
    2. The ABC is an enemy of Western Civ.
    3. Science has failed, just as the old religions did.
    (Well, except for Isalm which is doing very well, as subsidised by the West.)

  • Citizen Kane

    Everything that Pascoe contributes by way of writing, publishing, online promotion, his Professorial role, financial contributions to his “farming enterprise”, appearing on TV, the modern house he lives in with Torrens land title etc etc etc can only be in the lexicon of the toadies who buy into his BS – cultural appropriation. He is nothing short of a charlatan and a fraud.

  • NFriar

    Pascoe has been on a grand ride using fictional aborigine ancestry to garner hundreds of thousands of dollars from funding earmarked for those of aborigine ancestry – to support and develop his erroneous claims.
    Black Duck Industries only one of many funded by taxpayers.

    Pascoe says in May 30, 2018 -“Australia has got away with taking everything from Aboriginal people for so long, appropriating everything, including art, and land obviously,” says Bruce, who has started a family-run company called Black Duck Foods. “I don’t want Australians to dispossess us a second time, by taking away our foods and the plants we domesticated all those years ago.” https://mattersjournal.com/stories/swallowingourhistory
    “family run company”
    He didn’t register the business until 17 Oct 2019.

    Each year First Australians Capital works with Indigenous entrepreneurs from around Australia to help them commercialise Indigenous knowledge for social, cultural or environmental impact. This year we are very proud to be supporting Uncle Bruce Pascoe, a Bunurong and Yuin man to bring his vision to life. Uncle Bruces’ passion has recently inspired the establishment of Black Duck Foods Ltd, a social enterprise with a big vision of researching, developing and commercialising Indigenous food growing practices that care for Country and return economic benefits to Indigenous people.
    The board of Black Duck Foods Ltd will be Chaired by *Uncle Bruce supported by a majority Indigenous board including Uncle Noel Butler, Trish Butler, *Jack Pascoe, *Shelly Pascoe and *Lyn Harwood.
    Our next update will focus on how we structured the establishment of Black Duck Foods Ltd with the invaluable legal advice from our partners at Arnold Bloch Leibler led by ABL’s Partner, Public Interest, Peter Seidel.
    First Australians Capital has committed to providing support for Black Duck Foods over the next 2 years. This includes funding, advice and access to our partners. The role of an intermediary like FAC is often difficult to explain so we will be sharing update on Black Duck Foods over time to help us tell this important story.
    We couldn’t do this work without our funding partners: …suckers…suckers….
    ***Uncle Bruce, Jack Pascoe (son), Shelly Pascoe (daughter-in-law), Lyn Harwood (Pascoe’s wife) – all white people.
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/introducing-black-duck-foods-ltd-jocelyn-king/?articleId=6586410958556672000&fbclid=IwAR3IiW39jEgAZsobYlLOUoqucfpKiEhtq01mtwlacH1YTIUk10bsL8I1E0I

  • pgang

    ‘…and that it has survived so long’. Or not.

  • talewis

    Another great article by Peter O’Brien.

  • Tony Tea

    Many academics are overeducated idiots. Pascoe breaks the mold – he’s an undereducated idiot. He just has an innate ability to work the system.

  • Peter OBrien

    talewis,

    thank you.

  • NFriar

    Pascoe has been on a grand ride using fictional aborigine ancestry to garner hundreds of thousands of dollars from funding earmarked for those of aborigine ancestry – to support and develop his erroneous claims.
    Black Duck Industries only one of many funded by taxpayers.

    Pascoe says in May 30, 2018 -“Australia has got away with taking everything from Aboriginal people for so long, appropriating everything, including art, and land obviously,” says Bruce, who has started a family-run company called Black Duck Foods. “I don’t want Australians to dispossess us a second time, by taking away our foods and the plants we domesticated all those years ago.” https://mattersjournal.com/stories/swallowingourhistory
    “family run company”
    He didn’t register the business until 17 Oct 2019.

    Each year First Australians Capital works with Indigenous entrepreneurs from around Australia to help them commercialise Indigenous knowledge for social, cultural or environmental impact. This year we are very proud to be supporting Uncle Bruce Pascoe, a Bunurong and Yuin man to bring his vision to life. Uncle Bruces’ passion has recently inspired the establishment of Black Duck Foods Ltd, a social enterprise with a big vision of researching, developing and commercialising Indigenous food growing practices that care for Country and return economic benefits to Indigenous people.
    The board of Black Duck Foods Ltd will be Chaired by *Uncle Bruce supported by a majority Indigenous board including Uncle Noel Butler, Trish Butler, *Jack Pascoe, *Shelly Pascoe and *Lyn Harwood.
    Our next update will focus on how we structured the establishment of Black Duck Foods Ltd with the invaluable legal advice from our partners at Arnold Bloch Leibler led by ABL’s Partner, Public Interest, Peter Seidel.
    First Australians Capital has committed to providing support for Black Duck Foods over the next 2 years. This includes funding, advice and access to our partners. The role of an intermediary like FAC is often difficult to explain so we will be sharing update on Black Duck Foods over time to help us tell this important story.
    We couldn’t do this work without our funding partners: …suckers…suckers….
    ***Uncle Bruce, Jack Pascoe (son), Shelly Pascoe (daughter-in-law), Lyn Harwood (Pascoe’s wife) – all white people.
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/introducing-black-duck-foods-ltd-jocelyn-king/?articleId=6586410958556672000&fbclid=IwAR3IiW39jEgAZsobYlLOUoqucfpKiEhtq01mtwlacH1YTIUk10bsL8I1E0I

  • pmprociv

    Tony Tea, you are wrong. Pascoe is no idiot — he’s a very shrewd operator, who knows exactly what he’s doing, a professional, slick, snake-oil merchant. I would never have called him an “academic”, although in today’s Mickey-Mouse universities, that term no long means much. Pascoe very deftly avoids any reference to his detractors, notably Peter O’Brien in “Bitter Harvest”, and that genealogical evidence that all his ancestors came from England. He doesn’t want to give such critics any publicity whatsoever, for he knows damned well that he cannot answer them credibly; just ignores them and hopes they’ll go away. And he still persists in pushing the idiocy about “baking bread” from kangaroo grass seeds; it’s very easy to sell this fantasy to a bunch of incredulous morons (his followers are the true “useful idiots”), but anyone with real experience of this grass (I’ve been playing around with it for years) will tell you it’s a dream.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    “Never one to let a good bandwagon be other than fully occupied”

    Says all you need to know about Pascoe, Peter. Energetic, yes, but misplaced. He’s making money out of being anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist, so is apparently quite happy to profit from both. One hopes a competent auditor has his or her eye on the books of this new venture, because, after all, it is so easy to get into a muddle when dealing with capitalist ventures, and then auditors discover that money flows out and about in unusual ways.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    “Pascoe is no idiot — he’s a very shrewd operator, who knows exactly what he’s doing, a professional, slick, snake-oil merchant.”
    I agree. The sort of delusional grandiose type however who believes in his own greatness.

  • Andrewurban

    Thanks, lhackett01. It’s a pity that so much of today’s (sometimes) well meaning but (always) flawed discussions about Aboriginals and contemporary Australia just shows the unquestioning confidence of the truly ignorant.

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