History has portrayed Australia’s First Peoples, the Aboriginals, as hunter-gatherers who lived on an empty, uncultivated land. History is wrong.
In this seminal book, Bruce Pascoe uncovers evidence that long before the arrival of white men, Aboriginal people across the continent were building dams and wells; planting, irrigating, and harvesting seeds, and then preserving the surplus and storing it in houses, sheds, or secure vessels; and creating elaborate cemeteries and manipulating the landscape. All of these behaviours were inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag, which turns out to have been a convenient lie that worked to justify dispossession.
Using compelling evidence from the records and diaries of early Australian explorers and colonists, he reveals that Aboriginal systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required — for the benefit of us all.
Dark Emu, a bestseller in Australia, won both the Book of the Year Award and the Indigenous Writer’s Prize in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.
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.