Page extended-protected

Dark Emu (book)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?
Dark Emu cover.jpg
AuthorBruce Pascoe
Publication date

Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? is a 2014 non-fiction book by Bruce Pascoe. It reexamines colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia, and cites evidence of pre-colonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A second edition, published under the title Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture was published in mid-2018, and a version of the book for younger readers, entitled Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, was published in 2019. Both the first and the children's editions were shortlisted for major awards, and the former won two awards in the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.


The first edition, entitled Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture or accident?, was published by Magabala Books in 2014.[1] A second edition, entitled Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture was published in June 2018,[2] and a version of the book for younger readers, entitled Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, was published in 2019.[3] The 2019 version was shortlisted for the 2020 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature in the Children's Literature Award section.[4]


In Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture or accident?, Pascoe examines the journals and diaries of early explorers such as Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell[5] and early settlers in Australia,[1] finding evidence in their accounts of existing agriculture,[6][7] engineering and building, including stone houses, weirs, sluices and fish traps, and also game management.[8][9] This evidence of occupation[10] challenges the traditional views about pre-colonial Australia[11] and "Terra Nullius".[12] The book also gives a description from Sturt's journal of his 1844 encounter with hundreds of Aboriginal people who were living in an established village in what is now Queensland (then part of New South Wales), in which a welcoming party offered him "water, roast duck, cake and a hut to sleep in".[5]

Pascoe discovered that other historians had pursued the same material; one of these was the independent scholar Rupert Gerritsen, who in 2008 published Australia and the Origins of Agriculture,[13] which argued that Aboriginal people were agriculturalists as much as hunter-gatherers. Gerritsen died in 2013, and Pascoe cites him as a scholar who languished in obscurity because his theories contradicted the mainstream view. He said that Gerritsen "should have got all the credit for Dark Emu”. Pascoe also drew on the work of historian Bill Gammage, author of The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2012), which looked at how Aboriginal people used fire, dams and cropping to support themselves sustainably in their environment.[5][14]

Pascoe also cites the work of Dr Heather Builth and colleague Professor Peter Kershaw, noted palynologist at Monash University,[15][16] with reference to their research into the extensive aquaculture and farming of short-finned eels (kooyang) practised by the Gunditjmara people of western Victoria, dated by Kershaw as 8,000 years BP.[17] (Evidence of the dams, weirs and stone dwellings are now protected under several layers of legislation, including a large area being on the World Heritage List as the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape since 2019.[18][19])

In the last pages of Dark Emu, Pascoe says that Australia could learn from Indigenous culture and landcare, replacing wheat with native grasses and eating kangaroo rather than cattle, a message he continues to drive home in his public appearances.[5]

Pascoe's friend, writer Gregory Day, thinks that the success of the book lies in its ability to connect with "whitefellas", in a sense, translating it for this audience.[5]

Critical reception

The book received critical acclaim, winning two NSW Premier's Literary Awards (Book of the Year and the Indigenous Writers' Prize)[8] and being shortlisted for two other prizes (the History Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards and Victorian Premier's Award for Indigenous Writing),[1] as well as mainstream recognition.[20][14][5] It has been widely reviewed in academic journals,[21] earned positive reviews in other media,[22][23] and, with the highest number of nominations by members of the public, was chosen to be the first book discussed in the inaugural meeting of the Parliamentary Book Club.[24][25] By May 2019 it had sold more than 100,000 copies and was in its 28th printing.[5] There is an audiobook and ebook version,[26] and a new edition was published in 2018.[27]

Gammage, whose work was built upon in Dark Emu, praised Pascoe’s storytelling gift of weaving a narrative that challenges many readers' preconceptions, and says that he is a big fan of the book because of its impact, but added that Pascoe sometimes romanticises pre-contact Indigenous society, and says that his claims that Stone Age Indigenous people invented democracy and baking may be "push[ing] these things too far".[5]

Professor Lynette Russell of Monash University's Indigenous Studies Centre and co-author of Australia's First Naturalists: Indigenous Peoples’ Contribution to Early Zoology,[28] admired Dark Emu's achievement in popularising ideas that challenged European Australians' cultural preconceptions.[5] She said that it had managed to promulgate more widely "information about indigenous land management practices that archaeologists have known for a long time".[29]

Tony Hughes-D'Aeth, Associate Professor in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia and researcher in cultural history, said that Dark Emu "...provides the most concerted attempt [yet] to answer the question about the quality of the the pre-colonial epoch", and that the book's strengths lie in "its ability to bridge archaeology, anthropology, archival history, Indigenous oral tradition and other more esoteric but highly revealing disciplines such as ethnobotany and paleoecology".[14]

One criticism of the book by academics has been of Pascoe's claim that since 1880 there has been an academic suppression of alternative historical accounts about Aboriginal peoples' housing, farming and cultivation practices. Professor Peter Hiscock, chair of archaeology at Sydney University, archaeologist Harry Lourandos, who documented the construction of eel traps in Victoria in the 1970s, and Ian McNiven of Monash University's Indigenous Studies Centre all agree that there is a large body of published work on the topic. However, Lourandos and McNiven are delighted at the book's success in reaching the broader public.[5]

Anthropologist Ian Keen has argued in the journal Anthropological Forum against Pascoe's thesis that Indigenous Australians practised agriculture. He concluded that "Aboriginal people were indeed hunters, gatherers and fishers at the time of the British colonisation of Australia", although acknowledging "the boundary between foraging and farming is a fuzzy one".[30]

Awards and accolades


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Pascoe, Bruce (2014), Dark emu : black seeds : agriculture or accident?, Magabala Books, ISBN 978-1-922142-43-6
  2. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (1 June 2018). Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture. Magabala Books. ISBN 9781921248016.
  3. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (2019). Young Dark Emu: A Truer History. Magabala. ISBN 9781925360844. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  4. ^ "Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature". State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Guilliatt, Richard (25 May 2019). "Turning history on its head". The Australian. Weekend Australian Magazine. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  6. ^ Hughes-D'Aeth, Tony (15 June 2018). "Friday essay: Dark Emu and the blindness of Australian agriculture". The Conversation. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  7. ^ Davis, Michael (2014). "Review of Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident". Aboriginal History. 38: 195–198. ISSN 0314-8769. JSTOR 43687015.
  8. ^ a b c d Allam, Lorena (23 May 2019). "Dark Emu's infinite potential: 'Our kids have grown up in a fog about the history of the land'". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  9. ^ "Reading Bruce Pascoe | Tom Griffiths". Inside Story. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  10. ^ Smale, Hilary; Mills, Vanessa (17 March 2014). "Dark Emu argues against 'Hunter Gatherer' history of Indigenous Australians". ABC Kimberley Radio. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  11. ^ Elliott, David (25 February 2019). "Book Review: Dark Emu". The Socialist. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  12. ^ Mazengarb, Michael (28 April 2019). "Review: Dark Emu — How do we reckon with Australia's timeless history?". Medium. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  13. ^ Gerritsen, Rupert (2008). Australia and the Origins of Agriculture. Volume 1874 of British Archaeological Reports British Series; Bar S; BAR international series. Archaeopress. ISBN 9781407303543.
  14. ^ a b c Hughes-D'Aeth, Tony (15 June 2018). "Friday essay: Dark Emu and the blindness of Australian agriculture". The Conversation. Retrieved 17 November 2019. [Pascoe's] cards are on the table, but this does not mean that he is not a rigorous and exacting judge of the historical record.
  15. ^ Kershaw, Peter (17 August 2012). "Fifty years of Quaternary palynology in Australia". Ecological Society of Australia. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  16. ^ "Peter Kershaw". Google Scholar citations. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  17. ^ Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident?. Magabala Books. 2014. pp. 84–86. ISBN 9781922142436.
  18. ^ "World heritage Places - Budj Bim Cultural Landscape". Australian Government. Dept of the Environment and Energy. 6 July 2019. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  19. ^ Neal, Matt. "Ancient Indigenous aquaculture site Budj Bim added to UNESCO World Heritage list". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  20. ^ McQuire, Amy (25 May 2016). "Recognising Sovereignty: Bruce Pascoe's Latest Book A Dark Horse To Lead Battle Over Unfinished Business". New Matilda. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  21. ^ Agora, Nov 2014, Aboriginal History, Dec 2014, Teaching History, Dec 2016, Geographical Education (Online), 2017
  22. ^ Shalvey, Kris (7 September 2016). "Book Review – Dark Emu: Black seeds". South Sydney Herald. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  23. ^ "Dark Emu, by Bruce Pasocoe". Goodreads. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  24. ^ Morris, Linda (17 September 2019). "Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu is pollies' pick". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Arts news — Federal politicians tasked with reading Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu". Radio National: The Book Show. 23 September 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  26. ^ "[Search result for "dark emu black seeds agriculture or accident"]". Worldcat. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture, New Edition". New South Books. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  28. ^ Olsen, Penny; Russell, Lynette (May 2019). Australia's First Naturalists: Indigenous Peoples' Contribution to Early Zoology. National Library of Australia. ISBN 9780642279378.
  29. ^ "Lecture and Book Launch: Australia's first naturalists". Whispering Gums. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  30. ^ Keen, Ian (2021). "Foragers or Farmers: Dark Emu and the Controversy over Aboriginal Agriculture". Anthropological Forum. 31: 106–128. doi:10.1080/00664677.2020.1861538.[page needed]
  31. ^ "Lucashenko wins 2014 Vic Prem's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing". Books+Publishing. 4 September 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  32. ^ "Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature". State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  33. ^ "Dark Emu". Bangarra. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  34. ^ Pascoe, Bruce (2019). Young Dark Emu: A Truer History. Magabala. ISBN 9781925360844. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  35. ^ "Dark Emu to be adapted as TV documentary". ArtsHub Australia: ScreenHub. 21 October 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.

Further reading