Yes, it’s me again. Sorry! But I’ve got something I need to get off my chest and, yes, it concerns fauxboriginal charlatan Bruce Pascoe and how, ever since his scholarship, ethics and general honesty were revealed by myself and others to be conspicuous by their absence
I guess any organisation will receive many letters that can be safely consigned to the rubbish bin with not more than a cursory glance but when I was younger, it was regarded as de rigeur to at the very least provide a polite acknowledgement of receipt of any letter that was not obviously junk mail, abusive or malicious. That would apply even more so if the letter were accompanied by some sort of gift. Clearly, as in so many other areas, this simple courtesy is no longer seen as necessary. The logic seems to be ‘If we don’t reply, you can assume we are not interested’. Admittedly, that has been the case in the publishing industry for some time – presumably for pragmatic reasons – but I cannot think of any reason why this logic should apply in government, taxpayer-funded organizations or the university sector.
I have sent copies of my book Bitter Harvest to:
♦ The NSW Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell
♦ The heads of history at ANU, Melbourne, Monash and Sydney universities
♦ The Australian newspaper
♦ ABC Chair Ita Buttrose
♦ Mark Latham and Alan Jones
Guess which ones bothered to respond? Wrong, not just Alan Jones and Mark Latham. I have to give the ABC credit because it acknowledged receipt of the book, but that’s where it ended for them.
Let me begin with the ABC. Ms Buttrose acknowledged receipt of the book and advised that she had passed it onto Managing Director David Anderson. In December 2020, Anderson also acknowledged receipt of the book and said the national broadcaster would take it into consideration. Having heard nothing since, I sent a follow up letter in May. Here is the text of that letter:
Dear Mr Anderson,
Some time ago I sent to ABC Chairman Ita Buttrose, a copy of my book Bitter Harvest, which critically examines Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu.
She forwarded it to you and you also acknowledged receipt of it. I would be interested to know if you have had a chance to read it, or if you tasked somebody else to do so. If so, I would also be interested to know how my book was received.
A thorough reading of my book would, I hope, reveal conclusively that most of Dark Emu is specious nonsense.
I note that the two-part documentary of Dark Emu, heralded as early as 2019, has still not screened on the ABC, so possibly you have realized the truth about it and have decided to just let it slide. If that is the case, you might like to consider withdrawing the Dark Emu digibook from the pages of ABC Education as well.
I have noted that when it comes to Pascoe, most of those to whom I have sent a copy of my book – which includes The Australian newspaper and the heads of history at four major universities – simply choose to ignore me. I ask for a more substantive response to this letter than a mere acknowledgement of receipt.
I still haven’t heard anything so recently I sent the following email, personal for David Anderson:
I write for Quadrant and Spectator magazines and am the author of Bitter Harvest which comprehensively critiques Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’. In 2020 I sent a copy of my book to Chairman Buttrose, who forwarded it to you. You acknowledged receipt of it in December of that year and said that you would take it into consideration.
I heard nothing further, so in May this year, I sent you a follow up letter, asking if anyone had actually ‘taken it into consideration’.
In almost a month I have not had a reply. That seems a reasonable length of time in which to expect, at least, an acknowledgement of receipt.
But apart from this discourtesy, the main reason I am writing is to ask if the ABC now has cause to re-examine its commitment to Mr Pascoe, in the light of the recent publication of ‘Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate’ by Drs Sutton and Walshe?
I note that the Dark Emu digi-book is still online at ABC Education. It contains the following disclaimer:
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.
That disclaimer is not a result of recent revelations. It was put there last year, thanks to representations from Quadrant contributor Marc Hendrickx. But it is interesting to note, the digi-book has a page titled ‘Additional Resources and Links’ in which you might expect to find a reference to some of those other historical sources students are encouraged to explore. Not a bit of it! The only link is to ‘A recent scientific study in south-west Victoria suggests Aboriginal Australians may have been living on the continent for 120,000 years’. So much for balance, ABC-style.
Readers will already have seen my first letter to NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell. Here is the text of my follow-up email:
two months ago, I sent you a copy of my book Bitter Harvest, which debunks Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. I don’t know if you had a chance to look at it – indeed I don’t even know whether you received it since I have had no acknowledgement of receipt – however I wonder whether now, in the light of recent revelations concerning Dark Emu viz the publication of another book which totally discredits it, you will consider directing that Dark Emu be withdrawn from any participation in the NSW curriculum.
Here’s my correspondence with The Australian‘s editor, Michelle Gunn:
Dear Ms Gunn,
Last week The Australian ran an article by Peter Lalor reporting, inter alia, that Australian cricket Captain Tim Paine had his views on racism changed by the BLM movement and that bowler Pat Cummins had ‘his views about racism and Indigenous culture’ hugely impacted by reading Bruce Pascoe’s amazingly successful book, Dark Emu.
That story attracted 391 on-line comments, almost all of which were critical of BLM and Dark Emu. Given that The Australian is far and away the most balanced newspaper in the country and reflects a range of opinion amongst its readership, that result is astonishing. My particular concern is Dark Emu. I have written a detailed rebuttal of Dark Emu in my own book Bitter Harvest, a copy herewith.
My book has received virtually no recognition from any mainstream media outlet, although it has sold out its first print run and a new expanded edition is also selling well. It has been ignored by even those such as The Australian, whom we count upon to canvass both sides of any argument. Despite this, 10 of the commenters on the above article specifically referenced my book and received a total of 350 ‘likes’. Professor Geoffrey Blainey has described Bitter Harvest as a ‘powerful critique’.
Given that my book apparently reflects the views of a large majority of your readers, you might like to have someone review it. Chris Kenny would be the ideal person, if he is willing to undertake the task. My book has an ideological component, in which I examine the political agenda behind Dark Emu, and a purely academic element in which I simply audit Pascoe’s claims, most of which I have proven to be either deliberate misrepresentations or outright fabrications. I doubt that Chris Kenny, for example, would agree with some, or even all, of my ideological argument but I believe he would find the audit component compelling.
At some point in the near future, Australians will be asked to vote on the subject of Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. I know that Chris supports that proposal. I do not. Nonetheless, I am sure that Chris would agree that Australians should be able to base their consideration of the question on correct information. Dark Emu has reached an enormous audience and has already shaped public opinion towards what I believe is a false narrative – as witness the comments of Pat Cummins, who is himself an influencer.
I hope you will consider my request and I wish all at The Australian the very best for 2021.
Having had no reply, I followed up:
On 27th December 2020, I sent you a copy of my book Bitter Harvest, which examines Bruce Pascoe’s popular book Dark Emu, requesting that it be reviewed in the pages of The Australian.
My book is meticulously researched and has been described by Professor Geoffrey Blainey as ‘a powerful critique’. Given the influence that Dark Emu has garnered and its political ramifications, it seems to me that the contents of my book are worthy of consideration by the nation’s most important newspaper.
However, disturbingly, I did not even receive the courtesy of an acknowledgement of my letter. I have been a reader and subscriber to The Australian since 1967 and I take this disrespect personally.
(Quadrant Online readers should take note of the Update at the foot of this page)
Here is the letter I sent to the history professors:
Dear Professor _______,
I have sent you a copy of my book Bitter Harvest – The illusion of Aboriginal Agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu.
Mr Pascoe has received considerable accolades for his book Dark Emu, which purports to be a ‘truer history’ of Aboriginal Australia than previously taught. That is the sub-title of the children’s version of his book. He is now widely feted within the tertiary establishment and on the ABC. His book has insinuated itself into our education systems.
But Dark Emu is primarily a work of fiction, as my book comprehensively shows. Let me be clear, I am not arguing that Mr Pascoe’s interpretation of facts and events is incorrect. Since I am not, myself, a historian, that would be a bold claim on my part. What I am saying is that he, routinely and deliberately, misquotes or misrepresents his sources. Many of his claims are unsourced and much of what he writes is pure invention. The real evidence he presents in support of his thesis is so threadbare that its very paucity serves to establish the counter argument.
I am not aware of Mr Pascoe ever having claimed to be a historian, but others have claimed that on his behalf. For example, The Australian newspaper described him as ‘our most influential Indigenous historian’. Mr Pascoe has never disowned that label. And his book is widely accepted and promoted as history.
I hope you will find time to read my book and judge for yourself the worth of what I am claiming. I accept that you may not agree with some of my polemical positions but I hope you will find my rebuttal of Mr Pascoe’s purported history to be compelling.
If you do, I hope you would accept that prominent historians such as yourself have a duty to protect the integrity of your discipline by calling out this charade and making it quite clear that Dark Emu has no place in the history section of any library.
I look forward to your response.
As far as the history professors are concerned, I deplore their discourtesy but have too many other things on my plate than to bother following up with them.
Recently I have sent the following emails to Professor Marcia Langton:
Dear Professor Langton,
I am the author of a book, Bitter Harvest, which critically analyses Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. Because I am not an academic my book has been largely ignored. However, I wonder if, in view of the publication of Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Drs Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, you still hold to your view that Dark Emu “is the most important book on Australia and should be read by every Australian”?
And to Magabala Books, publishers of Dark Emu:
I am the author of a book, Bitter Harvest, which critically analyses Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and I write for Quadrant and Spectator Magazines. I would like to know if, in view of the publication of Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Drs Peter Sutton and Kerryn Walshe, you now have any doubts about the quality of Mr Pascoe’s work. How do these revelations sit with the testimonial published on your website:
Magabala Books is Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house. Aboriginal owned and led, we celebrate and nurture the talent and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.
Would you be prepared to publish another reprint or edition of Dark Emu?
If I ever get a reply from any of the above, I’ll let you know. I’m not holding my breath.
And by the way, why hasn’t Professor’ Pascoe sued me? Let me repeat for the record: he is a knave and charlatan who has profited mightily from a grand deception. The fact that I haven’t heard from his lawyers speaks volumes.
UPDATE: In today’s Australian, indigenous scholar and human rights adviser Hannah McGlade joins in the dismantling of Pascoe’s ill-deserved reputation, describing Dark Emu as ideological, subjective and offensive. Subscribers can view her piece behind the paywall via this link