Bruce Pascoe

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Bruce Pascoe
Born1947 (age 75–76)
Richmond, Victoria, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne (BEd)
GenreAustralian fiction, poetry
SubjectAustralian Indigenous history
Notable worksFog a Dox (2012)
Dark Emu (2014)
Notable awards
Spouse? (?–1982)
Lyn Harwood (1982– )

Bruce Pascoe (born 1947) is an Aboriginal Australian writer of literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays and children's literature. As well as his own name, Pascoe has written under the pen names Murray Gray and Leopold Glass. Since August 2020, he has been Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture at the University of Melbourne.

Pascoe is best known for his work Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (2014), in which he argues that traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples engaged in agriculture, engineering and permanent building construction, and that their practices provide possible models for future sustainable development in Australia.

Early life and education

Pascoe was born in Richmond, Victoria in 1947.[2] He grew up in a poor working-class family; his father, Alf, was a carpenter, and his mother, Gloria Pascoe, went on to win a gold medal in lawn bowls at the 1980 Arnhem Paralympics.[3][4][5] Pascoe spent his early years on King Island where his father worked at the tungsten mine. His family moved to Mornington, Victoria, when he was 10 years old, and then two years later moved to the Melbourne suburb of Fawkner. He attended the local state school before completing his secondary education at University High School, where his sister had won an academic scholarship. Pascoe went on to attend the University of Melbourne, initially studying commerce but then transferring to Melbourne State College. After graduating with a Bachelor of Education,[6] he was posted to a small township near Shepparton. He later taught at Bairnsdale for nine years.[7]


While on leave from his teaching career, Pascoe bought a 300-hectare (740-acre) mixed farming property and occasionally worked as an abalone fisherman. In his spare time he began writing short stories, poetry and newspaper articles.[7]

In 1982 he moved back to Melbourne and sought to publish a journal of short stories. He came into conflict with existing publishers and instead decided to form his own company, raising A$10,000 in capital with his friend Lorraine Phelan. He ran Pascoe Publishing and Seaglass Books with his wife, Lyn Harwood.[8][2]

From 1982 to 1998 Pascoe edited and published a new quarterly magazine of short fiction, Australian Short Stories, which published all forms of short stories by both established and new writers, including Helen Garner, Gillian Mears and Tim Winton.[3][8][2] The first issue came close to selling out its initial print run of 20,000.[7]

The main character in his 1988 novel Fox is a fugitive, searching for his Aboriginal identity and home. The book deals with issues such as Aboriginal deaths in custody, discrimination and land rights, as well as blending Aboriginal traditions with contemporary life and education.[9]

Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country (2007), whose title is drawn from the Convincing Ground massacre, examines historical documents and eyewitness accounts of incidents in Australian history and ties them in with the "ongoing debates about identity, dispossession, memory and community". It is described in the publisher's blurb as a book "for all Australians, as an antidote to the great Australian inability to deal respectfully with the nation's constructed Indigenous past".[10][11]

Pascoe featured in the award-winning documentary series which aired on SBS Television in 2008, First Australians,[8] has been Director of Commonwealth Australian Studies project for the Commonwealth Schools Commission,[8] and has worked extensively on preserving the Wathaurong language, producing a dictionary of the language.[2]

Fog a Dox, a story for young adults, won the Prime Minister's Literary Awards in 2013 and was shortlisted for the 2013 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards (Young Adult category) and the 2013 Deadly Awards (Published Book of the Year category).[12] Judges for the PM's Award commented that "The author's Aboriginality shines through but he wears it lightly...", in a story which incorporates Indigenous cultural knowledge.[13]

Dark Emu (2014)

Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?, first published in 2014, challenges the claim that pre-colonial Australian Aboriginal peoples were only hunter-gatherers.[14] Pascoe argues that his examination of early settler accounts and other sources provides evidence of agriculture, aquaculture, engineering and villages of permanent housing in traditional Aboriginal societies.[15][16] The book won Book of the Year at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, and was widely praised for popularising past research on the sophistication of Aboriginal economies. The book also attracted controversy.[17] A favourable review of its cultural implications in the academic online magazine The Conversation touched off a debate there about Pascoe's use of his historical sources.[18] A second edition, entitled Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture was published in mid-2018,[19] and a version of the book for younger readers, entitled Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, was published in 2019.[20] The 2019 version was shortlisted for the 2020 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature in the Children's Literature Award section.[21]

The success of Dark Emu and Young Dark Emu prompted a book-length critique by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe who argue that Pascoe selectively quotes sources and misinterprets archaeological and anthropological evidence to draw conclusions which give a misleading view of Aboriginal societies.[22]

In October 2019 it was announced that a documentary film of Dark Emu would be made for television by Blackfella Films, co-written by Pascoe with Jacob Hickey, directed by Erica Glynn and produced by Darren Dale and Belinda Mravicic.[23]

Later work and other roles

In September 2015, in a collaboration with Poets House in New York, a recording of six First Nations Australia Writers Network members reading their work was presented at a special event, which was recorded. Pascoe was one of the readers, along with Jeanine Leane, Dub Leffler, Melissa Lucashenko, Jared Thomas and Ellen van Neerven.[24]

Pascoe was appointed Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture at the University of Melbourne in September 2020, in a role "within the School of Agriculture and Food,... designed to build knowledge and understanding of Indigenous agriculture within the Faculty and to grow engagement and research activities in this area".[25][26]

Pascoe is a Country Fire Authority volunteer. He battled the 2019–20 bushfires near Mallacoota.[27] In January 2020, he went to New South Wales to help out there, before returning to Mallacoota. He cancelled his scheduled appearances at a Perth Festival event in February and at the Adelaide Writers' Week in March, to remain in East Gippsland to assess the damage done to his Mallacoota property, and to assist his community in the recovery effort in the aftermath of the bushfires.[28]

Aboriginal identity

In his early thirties, Pascoe found Aboriginal ancestors on both sides of his family, including from Tasmania (Palawa),[29] from the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation of Victoria, and the Yuin of southern New South Wales.[30][8] He identified himself as Koori by the age of 40.[3] He acknowledges his Cornish and European colonial ancestry but says that he feels Aboriginal, writing, "It doesn’t matter about the colour of your skin, it's about how deeply embedded you are in the culture. It's the pulse of my life". He said that his family denied their own Aboriginality for a long time, and it was only when he investigated the "glaring absences" in the family's story that he was drawn into Aboriginal society and culture.[31]

In Convincing Ground (2007), Pascoe wrote about the dangers of "people of broken and distant heritage like me...barging into their rediscovered community expecting to be greeted like the Prodigal Son", saying that those who have grown up without awareness of their Aboriginality cannot have experienced racism, being removed from family or other disadvantages, and cannot "fully understand what it is to be Aboriginal. You've lost contact with your identity and in quite profound areas it can never be reclaimed." He says that some branches of family trees and public records have often been "pruned of a few branches".[32][33] In this book and in interviews, Pascoe admits that his Aboriginal ancestry is distant, and that he is "more Cornish than Koori".[3]

Following columnist Andrew Bolt's breach of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011 relating to comments about fair-skinned Aboriginal people, Pascoe suggested that he and Bolt could "have a yarn" together, without rancour, because "I think it's reasonable for Australia to know if people of pale skin identifying as Aborigines are fair dinkum". He described how and why his Aboriginal ancestry – and that of many others – had been buried,[34] and that the full explanation would be very long and involved.[3]

In December 2019 Indigenous lawyer Josephine Cashman alleged that Pascoe had benefited financially from falsely claiming to be Indigenous.[35] The Australian Federal Police investigated and stated that no Commonwealth offences had been identified.[36]

In January 2020, Pascoe said that he believed that the allegations that he is not Aboriginal are motivated by wanting to discredit Dark Emu. He had already responded to the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council's rejection of his connection to the Bunurong, saying that his connection was through the Tasmanian family, not through Central Victorian Bunurong.[37] A few days later, the chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, stated that he does not believe that Pascoe has Indigenous ancestry, and he should stop claiming he does.[38] However, Mansell acknowledged that some Indigenous leaders including Marcia Langton and Ken Wyatt supported Pascoe’s Aboriginality based on his claim to community recognition.[39][40]

In 2021, Nyunggai Warren Mundine, stated that genealogists "have produced research that all Pascoe’s ancestry can be traced to England. Pascoe has not addressed this and has been persistently vague about who his Aboriginal ancestors are and where they came from."[41] Historian Geoffrey Blainey stated that "it is now known that [Pascoe's] four grandparents were of English descent".[42]


Pascoe was nominated as Person of the Year at the National Dreamtime Awards 2018, and was also invited by Yuin elder Max Dulumunmum Harrison to a special cultural ceremony lasting several days.[3][51] In the same year he presented "Mother Earth" for the Eric Rolls Memorial Lecture.[52]

Personal life

In 1982, Pascoe separated from a woman whom he had married after graduating from college.[7] They have a daughter.[53] In the same year, he married Lyn Harwood. They have a son.[53] In 2017, Pascoe and Harwood separated. According to Pascoe, the split was due to his many absences and his late-life mission to pursue farming.[3]

Pascoe lives on a 60-hectare (150-acre) farm near Mallacoota in East Gippsland, on the eastern coast of Victoria.[3] He is also working for his family-run company, Black Duck Foods,[3][54][55] that is aiming to produce the type of Indigenous produce mentioned in Dark Emu on a commercial scale.[56]


The following list is a selection of the 182 items by Pascoe as listed on Austlit as of December 2019:[57]

  • A Corner Full of Characters, Blackstone Press, 1981, ISBN 0959387005
  • Night Animals, Penguin Books, 1986, ISBN 9780140087420
  • Fox, McPhee Gribble/Penguin books, 1988, ISBN 9780140114089
  • Ruby-eyed Coucal, Magabala Books, 1996, ISBN 9781875641291
  • Wathaurong : Too bloody strong : Stories and life journeys of people from Wathaurong, Pascoe Publishing, 1997, ISBN 0947087311
  • Cape Otway: Coast of secrets (1997)
  • Shark, Magabala Books, 1999, ISBN 9781875641482
  • Nightjar, Seaglass Books, 2000, ISBN 9780947087357
  • Earth, Magabala Books, 2001, ISBN 1875641610
  • Ocean, Bruce Sims Books, 2002, ISBN 9780957780064
  • Foxies in a Firehose : A piece of doggerel from Warragul, Seaglass Books, 2006, ISBN 0947087362
  • Bloke. Penguin Books Limited. 3 August 2009. ISBN 978-0-85796-558-5.
  • Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country. Aboriginal Studies Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-85575-549-2.
  • The Little Red Yellow Black Book : An introduction to indigenous Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008, ISBN 9780855756154
  • Fog a Dox, Magabala Books, 2012, ISBN 9781922142597
  • Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident?, Magabala Books, 2014, ISBN 9781922142436[58][59]
  • Seahorse, Magabala Books, 2015, ISBN 9781921248931
  • Mrs Whitlam, Magabala Books, 2016, ISBN 9781925360240
  • Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, Magabala Books, 2019, ISBN 9781925360844
  • Salt: Selected Stories and Essays, Black Inc, 2019, ISBN 9781760641580[60]

He has also written under the names Murray Gray (The Great Australian Novel: At Last it's Here, a 1984 satirical novel)[61] and Leopold Glass (Ribcage: All You Need Is $800,000 – Quickly, a 1999 detective novel).[8][62]


  1. ^ "Open Page with Bruce Pascoe" (no. 413 ed.). Australian Book Review. August 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Author profile: Bruce Pascoe". Macquarie Pen Anthology. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Guilliatt, Richard (25 May 2019). "Turning history on its head". Weekend Australian Magazine. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  4. ^ Gloria Pascoe (2010). Gloria: Light in the Dark / Gloria Pascoe and Bruce Pascoe. Gispy Bay, Victoria: Pascoe Publishing. ISBN 9780947087449. Retrieved 26 July 2021 – via Trove.[page needed]
  5. ^ "Family notices – Deaths (Elizabeth Pascoe, 17 April)". The Age. 18 April 1952. p. 10. Retrieved 26 July 2021 – via Trove.
  6. ^ "Bruce Pascoe". University of Technology Sydney. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Connelly, Patrick (26 March 1983). "A comeback for the short story?". The Canberra Times.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Bruce Pascoe". AustLit. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  9. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (1988). Fox [blurb only]. McPhee Gribble/Penguin. ISBN 9780140114089. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Convincing Ground : Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country [Publisher's blurb]". AustLit. 2007. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  11. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (2007). Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country [Publisher's blurb]. ISBN 9780855755492. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books)". Magabala. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  13. ^ "Fog a Dox". Australian Government. Dept of Communications and the Arts. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  14. ^ "Dark Emu argues against 'Hunter Gatherer' history of Indigenous Australians". ABC Kimberley. 2 April 2014.
  15. ^ Pascoe, Bruce. "Non-fiction". Bruce Pascoe. Archived from the original on 26 April 2019.
  16. ^ Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident?. Magabala Books. 2014. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9781922142436.
  17. ^ Marks, Russell (5 February 2020). "Taking sides over Dark Emu: How the history wars avoid debate and reason". The Monthly. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  18. ^ "Dark Emu and the blindness of Australian agriculture" by Tony Hughes-D'Aeth, 15 June 2018.
  19. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (1 June 2018). Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture. Magabala Books. ISBN 9781921248016.
  20. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (2019). Young Dark Emu: A Truer History. Magabala. ISBN 9781925360844. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature". State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  22. ^ Sutton, Peter; Walshe, Kerun (2021). Farmers or hunter-gatherers, the Dark Emu debate. Melbourne University Press. pp. passim. ISBN 9780522877854.
  23. ^ "Dark Emu to be adapted as TV documentary". Arts Hub. Publishing. 18 October 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  24. ^ "First Nations Australia Writers' Network Reading". Poets House. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  25. ^ "Bruce Pascoe appointed Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture". Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne. 2 September 2020.
  26. ^ "Prof Bruce Pascoe". Find an Expert. University of Melbourne. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  27. ^ Le Grand, Chip (3 January 2020). "A changed world puts an end to our lazy summer". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  28. ^ March, Walter (29 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe withdraws from Adelaide Writers' Week". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  29. ^ "Talk: 60,000 years of tradition meets the microscopic world". Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences. 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  30. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (1 February 2016). "Bruce Pascoe on the complex question of Aboriginal agriculture". Radio National (Interview). Conversations with Richard Fidler. Interviewed by Richard Fidler. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  31. ^ Tan, Monica. "Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe: 'We need novels that are true to the land'". The Guardian. Books. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  32. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (2007). Convincing Ground. Aboriginal Studies Press. pp. 119-121. ISBN 978-0-85575-549-2.
  33. ^ Griffiths, Tom (26 November 2019). "Reading Bruce Pascoe". Inside Story. ISSN 1837-0497. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  34. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (Winter 2012). "Andrew Bolt's disappointment". Griffith Review (36): 164–169. ISSN 1839-2954. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015.
  35. ^ Latimore, Jack (11 January 2020). "Dutton refers matter of Bruce Pascoe's identity to Federal Police". National Indigenous Television. Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  36. ^ Hope, Zach (23 January 2020). "AFP drops Bruce Pascoe investigation after Dark Emu author accused of faking Aboriginal heritage". The Age. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  37. ^ Topsfield, Jewel (18 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe says Aboriginality queries an attempt to discredit Dark Emu". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  38. ^ Mansell, Michael (23 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe Is Not Tasmanian Aboriginal". Tasmanian Times. Archived from the original on 24 January 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  39. ^ Denholm, Matthew (23 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe 'should stop claiming indigenous ancestry'". The Australian. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  40. ^ Morton, Rick (30 November 2019). "Bolt, Pascoe and the culture wars". The Saturday Paper. No. 281. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  41. ^ Nyunggai Warren Mundine (25 June 2021). "Where was scrutiny of Bruce Pascoe's claims in Dark Emu?". The Australian. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  42. ^ Geoffrey Blainey (17 July 2021). "Revisionism buries Australia's true past". The Australian. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  43. ^ "Guide to the papers of David Foster". UNSW Canberra. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  44. ^ Lee, Bronwyn. "Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2013". The Conversation. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  45. ^ "2013 Deadly Awards Winners". The Deadlys. Vibe Australia. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  46. ^ Rice, Deborah (16 May 2016). "Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu wins NSW Premier's Literary prize". ABC News. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  47. ^ Wyndham, Susan (17 May 2016). "Indigenous writers rise to the top of the 2016 NSW Premier's Literary Awards". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  48. ^ "Australia Council Awards". Australia Council. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  49. ^ "CBCA Book of the Year 2020 winners announced". Books+Publishing. 16 October 2020. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  50. ^ "Pascoe awarded 2021 ASA Medal". Books+Publishing. 12 November 2021. Archived from the original on 12 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  51. ^ "Pascoe receives Person of the Year honour at 2018 National Dreamtime Awards". Books+Publishing. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  52. ^ "Mother Earth with Bruce Pascoe". National Library of Australia. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
  53. ^ a b Warne-Smith, Drew (28 September 2007). "Double Take". Weekend Australian Magazine. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  54. ^ "Black Duck Foods success journey". First Australians Capital. 1 September 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  55. ^ "Black Duck Foods Sowing seeds for First Nations food sovereignty". Common Ground. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  56. ^ Edwards, Astrid (9 August 2019). "Indigenous author challenges Australians on our 'fraudulent' history". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  57. ^ "Bruce Pascoe (182 works by)". Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  58. ^ "Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe". Stumbling through the past. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  59. ^ "'Dark Emu' by Bruce Pascoe". The Resident Judge of Port Phillip. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  60. ^ Kinnane, Steve (November 2019). "Salt: Selected stories and essays by Bruce Pascoe". Australian Book Review (416). Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  61. ^ "Murray Gray". AustLit. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  62. ^ "Leopold Glass". AustLit. Retrieved 18 December 2019.

Further reading