cover image Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture

Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture

Bruce Pascoe. Scribe US, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-947534-08-7

In this brisk and lucidly written account, independent scholar and filmmaker Pascoe persuasively challenges the conventional wisdom of Australian historians, politicians, and textbook authors that the indigenous inhabitants of the continent were primitive hunter-gatherers who wandered “from plant to plant, kangaroo to kangaroo, in hapless opportunism.” This idea, he writes, has often been used to justify the dispossession of the country’s First People in favor of those who would supposedly use natural resources more efficiently. But in examining the writings of the first explorers and colonists, Pascoe found them filled with references to “industry and ingenuity applied to food production” by indigenous Australians, contradicting the rationalizing stereotype. He demonstrates that they intensively cultivated land, engaged in sophisticated forms of aquaculture, including the construction of dikes and fishing weirs, built substantial houses, developed effective forms of food storage and preservation, and used controlled fires to regenerate soil fertility. He also points out the supremacist mindset that enabled Europeans to suppress their own and others’ awareness of this evidence and propagate the myth of indigenous Australians as primitive, although he does not delve into why it continues to dominate popular culture. This is an important and deeply researched reinterpretation of Australian history and a stark warning about the danger of accepting received wisdom at face value. (June)