Review

‘Dark Emu’ Skewered, Grilled and Served

Revising history is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as history itself.  The reasons for doing so vary, but one of the most common is to support a political agenda, often by denigrating the reputation of those previously in power, such as a dead king or his dynasty.

Order Bitter Harvest here

George Orwell was not the first to note the importance of history, but he was the most articulate in documenting and predicting the abuse of truth before and since.  In his depressingly magnificent 1984 he stated that ‘he who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’[1].  Orwell also understood the power of changing the meaning of language to suit nefarious political purposes, a process he described in the fabled language of ‘Newspeak’. Thus common terms were often reinterpreted to mean something different, even the opposite of our normal understanding of them.

We have seen the revisionists attack the famed Anzac courage and mateship of WW1, the achievements of the early Australian explorers and pioneers, the nation builders who conceived and completed projects like the Snowy River Scheme and the Ord River Dam (where is Pascoe’s Aboriginal equivalent?) and the development of Australia’s rich mineral resources on which our economy and standard of living now largely depend since the collapse of our manufacturing sector.  Yet the relentless and often fabricated revisions continue unabated, having long since penetrated the classroom, from kindergarten to university level, and all shades of political thought.

Were it not for Peter O’Brien’s comprehensive analysis of Dark Emu, then this faux history would enter the mainstream uncontested and a new round of spurious claims concerning the legitimacy of our Australian nation as a rightful sovereign state would begin.  By taking the flimsiest of evidence and exaggerating it to monstrous proportions, Pascoe falsely builds a case for the alleged existence of an Aboriginal ‘nation’ that met the recognized criteria of what we call ‘civilisation’.  His claim is that they built the foundations of institutions that form a governable nation.  What he cannot provide is any valid evidence, so this is where Newspeak philosophy enters his arena. 

Rudimentary collections of plants near temporary camps (possibly from dropped seeds) become the Elysian Fields[2] of an agrarian paradise of plenty.  The paucity of evidence is no problem, as Pascoe simply misquotes explorers, distorting, misinterpreting, omitting and inventing as appropriate anything he wishes to insert in support of his projection of an Aboriginal idyll.  The corollary is that he can also ignore whatever is inconvenient or does not support his fiction.  What he has written no doubt gives a certain kind of fool the warm feeling of indulging a needlessly guilt-ridden conscience;  I think Dark Emu has been popular because it invites post-modern Australians to hate themselves, their wealth and their lattes without ever leaving the comfort of inner-city armchairs.  That it will be read by children vulnerable to accepting what they are taught by politically motivated teachers is a real concern and one of the best arguments I can think for home-schooling, or more private schools with their own ‘truth, warts and all’ curriculum.

It is worth noting, as Peter points out, that if Pascoe’s tortured view of reality were to be accepted then the legitimacy of the ownership of large parts of Australia could be a bonanza for legal rent-seekers funded by those they sue.  Perhaps that is Pascoe’s semi-hidden objective?  Curiously, I support this in many cases, as handing back spears and boomerangs, ripping up all roads, tearing down all buildings, stopping the whitefella money and leaving them to reestablish their own version of Nirvana would be worth the price.  What more could they want?  I think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World may give a clue.

The kiss of death for any book wishing to make the best-seller list is to categorise it as “scholarly”.  Generally, this is a reviewer’s euphemism by which the academic author is praised for studious toil in producing an obscure, boring, incomprehensible work that is unreadable and, all too often, masked by extravagant prose designed to demonstrate and display the author’s intellectual grandeur.  Well, this book is certainly scholarly, being thoroughly researched (much more so than the book it analyses), but it suffers none of the above vices.  It is well written and highly readable, with an easy flowing style that is quickly engaging.  Given the subject matter this last facet is essential. Its underlying theme, when combined with its readable style, makes Bitter Harvest worth the purchase price and the small effort required t read it.  In a broader sense it is the book that should have been written and placed at the core of understanding how Aborigines lived before (and in remote parts for a century after) the arrival of Europeans.  O’Brien has checked almost all of Pascoe’s references and properly quoted them in context.  His Appendix: Journal Extracts, of a mere 25 pages, is sufficient to replace and invalidate a very high percentage of Pascoe’s Dark Emu fantasies.  The rebuttal by Pascoe to Bitter Harvest should make fascinating reading. I won’t hold my breath until it hits the press.

Bruce Pascoe’s fairy tale of an Aboriginal Camelot that never existed is said to have sold 100,000 copies.  I wonder how many of those purchasers will buy a book that debunks the false premises and fanciful fictions for which they paid their money. Or will 100,000 guilt-ridden luvvies refuse to read a better-researched book challenging their cherished misconceptions? Probably.

In a delightful twist of karma, I note that Pascoe has been referred to the Federal Police (by a real Aborigine) for investigation in regard to his faux-Aboriginal[3] claims.  Should his Aboriginal genealogy turn out to be faked, it will be interesting to see how my taxpayer funded ABC will deal with this situation.  Pardon my little joke, as we already know the national broadcaster has no need of facts, truth or reality. The ABC has an agenda to pursue and Pascoe’s confabulations serve to advance it.

Peter’s book is good, light reading for the most part, even if the subject is as deep and as dark as an emu’s …. tail feather.

Bitter Harvest: The Illusion of Aboriginal Agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’sDark Emu
by Peter O’Brien
Published by Quadrant Books

 

[1] Orwell’s 1984’ Page 40

[2] https://www.thoughtco.com/what-were-the-elysian-fields-in-greek-mythology-116736

[3]  https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/bennelong-papers/2020/01/black-like-bruce-the-afp-takes-up-the-case/

5 comments
  • lhackett01

    I read “Dark Emu” soon after it was published. Having some knowledge of and experience with aborigines in various parts of Australia, I wondered about the veracity of the claims made in that book. I researched the journals of Mitchell and Sturt and came to similar conclusions as has Peter O’Brien. I am thankful for his efforts in publishing “Bitter Harvest”. I, however, am concerned that the police investigation will fade away because of “political “pressures and worry that Pascoe now has his children’s version in schools. Unless and until the deceptions in “Dark Emu” are brought forcefully to light, Pascoe’s message will become widely believed, to the detriment of relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians. ( Forgive my labelling of aborigines as Australians when many reject that label.) Peter’s book goes some way towards correcting the message, but seems not to be given wide enough publicity. Many people with whom I speak have not heard about Peter’s book.

  • DG

    I note that in some commentary Pascoe is honoured as part of the aboriginal community because of his great support for it (in The Australian today: “Some Yuin have rejected Professor Pascoe’s claim to kinship, although an elder, Pastor Ossie Cruse, recently defended the ­historian as having “done a tremendous job” for Yuin culture.”) Well, all we taxpayers have done a tremendous job for all aboriginal culture, we should all be make honorary aboriginals”

  • wstarck

    To accept that the claims put forth in “Dark Emu” are true one must believe that a vast assemblage of accounts by European explorers, settlers and government officials as well as hundreds of anthropological studies have all conspired to successfully hide the existence of an advanced Aboriginal civilization and falsely present it as being only at a primitive hunter/gatherer level. In addition, one must further accept that somehow an advanced civilization existing for thousands of years could leave no evidence of its existence. Then too, there is the rather awkward problem of how an advance civilization could develop across a population so divided and isolated from one another that several hundred languages had developed.

    As for the extraordinary 100,000 copies of “Dark Emu” reportedly sold, its adoption as a text in the educational system presumably accounts for most of them. The questions of how this decision was made, what assessment was conducted, what it cost and who profited begs for an explanation.

  • lhackett01

    According to Paige Taylor’s column in the Weekend Australian, today, the complaint against Pascoe has been dismissed. The problem was stated to be that the complaint was not properly constructed. (Quote) Its (the AFP investigation) first step was to identify whether Professor Pascoe had received a financial benefit and this was not identified on the material provided. This meant the AFP did not take the next step of establishing whether Professor Pascoe had wrongly claimed to be an Aboriginal man.(Unquote)
    This is a common problem when people defend themselves in Court. The Court does not use what most people would believe to be commonly understood about a particular matter. It will use only information that is presented to it, unless there is president.
    Therefore, someone else should formally complain to the AFP using correct procedures. Perhaps legal advice should be sought first?

  • jimriddell

    O’Brien’s book is concise and well written. especially regarding Pascoe’s murky invention of Australia wide governance and peace. ( Note. 1 in 10 males died in tribal fighting – extrapolated from Blainey.) To have any credibility Pascoe must respond. A “Dog Ate My Homework” excuse will not be acceptable, Bruce!
    There is something very wrong out there when Pascoe, and his fantasy are adulated, but Blainey’s excellent “Australia’s People” is passed over.
    Perhaps a crowd sourced legal challenge directed at benefitting from fraudulent identity. I have $100 that I don’t think could be better spent.

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