Dark emu : black seeds : agriculture or accident?

by Bruce Pascoe

Paper Book, 2014



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Broome, Western Australia : Magabala Books, 2014.

User reviews

LibraryThing member therebelprince
A rather important, worthwhile read for all Australians. "Dark Emu" is one of several recent books (another being the comprehensive "The Greatest Estate on Earth") seeking to shatter the many misconceptions about the way Aboriginal Australians lived before their land was taken over by the white man.

"Arguing over whether the Aboriginal economy was a hunter-gatherer system or one of burgeoning agriculture is not the central issue. The crucial point is that we have never discussed it as a nation. The belief that Aboriginal people were 'mere' hunter gatherers has been used as a political tool to justify disposession."

Pascoe outlines the anthropological, geographical, and anecdotal evidence for Aboriginal farming, trapping, house-building, clothing, fire-burning, and other interesting practices. This book is not particularly academic, in that it primarily lists a variety of examples and claims, but, as Pascoe notes, this is an area where there remains great prejudice and ignorance today. The information I was taught as factual when I was a child portrays a fairly simplistic view of the Aboriginal tribes, and it's truly fascinating to gain an insight into the rich culture that existed in the country long before the white man. Pascoe sees the best possible answers, of course, but he is never reaching; he relies on the evidence to make his point, and it is a very worthy one. Australia has a long way to go before equality is achieved, and recognition of this sort can only help.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is a fascinating book. Pascoe quotes journals of early European travellers and explorers to show how successful was the aboriginal food production system prior to the disruption and devastation of European settlement.
Pascoe is not an academic and the book is not prefect, but the premise posed is well argued, and the sources available for review. I found his points to be compellingly made.
- he cites reports of food stores (plundered by the explorers who reported them!) that were way beyond what modern Australians have come to expect from the era - grain stores left for later use of 50 - 60 kgs, up to tonnes left in some places.
- population densities far higher than one would expect from the received stories of a hard-scrabble existence prior to European settlement
- complex and durable housing - quite different from the gunyahs and hovels usually reported
- technology for managing water and fish trapping are real eye openers.
The conclusion is that it suited the settlers to have a narrative that downplayed the success and complexity of pre-settlement aboriginal life as part justification as their land was taken for European exploitation.
Perhaps the best vignette of the book is the description of a sophisticated fish capturing set-up involving a sluice in a river through which fish passed and were able to be selectively caught in a loop on a sprung piece of wood and thrown onto the river bank by a fisherman lying on top of the contraption. This was described by the reporter as confirming the indolence of the Aboriginal race! If the same device had been a European invention, one would expect a slightly different response.
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