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Dark Emu

4.50  ·  Rating details ·  1,641 ratings  ·  307 reviews
Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books suppor ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 2014 by Magabala Books
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John The book is persuasive rather than informative, and at times inaccurate. For example Bruce puts a photo of a Meriam Island House (Torres Strait) in…moreThe book is persuasive rather than informative, and at times inaccurate. For example Bruce puts a photo of a Meriam Island House (Torres Strait) in his section on Arnhem Land 'dome houses'. He also quotes from Mitchell, Sturt, and Dawson very selectively, leaving out all the parts that contradict his argument. Read these primary sources and you get a different picture to the one Bruce paints. His mention of stone houses is exaggerated, because the location he discusses (lake Condah) while certainly containing Aboriginal structure, also has the remains of European structures according to some archaeologists (eg. Sharon Lane). He says fish traps are aquaculture which is just silly. It's good that Bruce draws attention to the fact that Aboriginal people managed the land (not farmed) in a sustainable manner, and cared for the environment as opposed to the capitalist system which destroys the environment. This book will be accepted by most of the public who normally just believe nice stories rather than true stories. My advice if you are genuinely interested in the truth on this subject is to read the primary sources Bruce uses, but also to read the multitude of other sources on Aboriginal culture, bush food & land management practices; many written by Aboriginal people living traditionally today.(less)

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“Imagine you are riding beside the explorer and surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855). He’s an educated and sensitive man and would have been great company, if a little eccentric.”

I’ll say! Pascoe has written often about Aboriginal history, but this is the first book of his I’ve read. He has included extensive references to original diaries and papers as well as to research. There are several photos, but the ones I’ve included here are from other sources.

I’ve read some of this information
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book ought to be made compulsory reading for every Australian. There is a Ted talk by Bruce Pascoe that covers some of the ground covered here ( but this book goes into much more detail.

The standard understanding of Australia prior to white settlement, even in the kindest versions, is that the Australian Aboriginals were trapped in a land without domesticable plants or animals. This meant they had to live the nomadic lives of hunter-gatherers, and it
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When world-famous Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was asked on a US radio show about Aboriginal people in her country, she replied: "The thing about Aboriginal people is they don't believe in living in enclosed structures, houses... They all want to live under the stars because that's their culture, even now... The government build houses and the Aboriginal people trash them and take the beds outside cos they don't believe in houses and they want to live under the stars." Perhaps the rapper - who ...more
Morgan Blanch
I debated for a long time on whether or not I should properly review this. I didn’t really feel like I could adequately review a book of non-fiction without sounding like a total noob. But at the end of the day, I may be a noob, but this work explores a lot of really important issues about aboriginal culture and land pre-colonisation and I think it’s really important that people are at least aware that this knowledge exists and is publicly available.

In saying that however, 1) I haven’t rated it
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book proves that there is a need for a more comprehensive coverage of this subject of Aboriginal Australians and their pre colonial agriculture. At 156 pages of text far too short so therefore not as in depth as I would have thought possible.

None the less fascinating. Recommended.
John Purcell
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading. And all the money needed to do the further research suggested in this book should be given over now. Read it.
Jenny Schwartz
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
In "Dark Emu" the author, Bruce Pascoe, refers to some other books discussing land use in Australia pre-European intrusion. I've read Bill Gammage's "The Biggest Estate on Earth" and thoroughly enjoyed its challenge to read our landscape differently.

Bruce Pascoe has Bunurong/Tasmanian Heritage and brings a more overtly political and personal approach to the question of how humans have managed and lived in the Australian country through the millennia.

The book isn't long, and I'm not going to try
Ian Tymms
This Christmas I visited a friend who gave me two precious things: a copy of Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu and an envelope of seeds from the daisy yam, Microsceris lanceolata, known as “murnong" in the Boonwurrung language.

Dark Emu begins by challenging the received historical wisdom about Australian Aboriginal peoples which says that they were hunter-gatherers who lived opportunistically in a kind of harsh subsistence at the hands of nature. Pascoe argues that this description suited early settl
Sep 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
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. T
Kat Kennedy
An amazing journey, well-written and researched.
Mel Campbell
This beautifully researched survey of Australian indigenous agriculture is jam-packed with fascinating information about some very sophisticated land management, infrastructure-building and primary production practices. Pascoe's innovative approach combines archaeological evidence from contemporary fieldwork with meticulously researched archival accounts of the earliest white colonisers, whose observations of the local peoples they encountered reveal much more now than they did to 18th- and 19th ...more
Michael Livingston
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a brilliant summary of the evidence that Indigenous Australians had much more developed societies than we were taught about in school. Farming, aquaculture, stone houses and more - all described by early colonial explorers, but lost in the broader narrative of terra nullius. The writing's pretty dry, but this is an important and necessary piece of work, with major implications for Australia today.
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘The first British sailors sailed to Australia contemplating what they were about to find, and innate superiority was the prism through which their new world was seen.’

In this book, Bruce Pascoe argues that the common perception of Indigenous Australians leading a ‘hunter-gatherer’ lifestyle before European settlement ignores strong evidence of sophisticated farming and agriculture practices. While there was a lot of movement by Indigenous Australians, there was also more sedentary living, invol
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If, like me, you were taught in Primary School that Australia’s First Peoples were simple hunter-gathers who ate witchity grubs and told dream time stories this excellent book will disabuse you of that notion. Bruce Pascoe uses various European colonisers own observations as well as artefacts to refute this commonly held belief. I now have a clearer understanding of how intimate the relationship between the First Peoples and the Australian was/is/should continue to be. I highly recommend this bo ...more
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It was painful as well as enlightening to read this book. Painful because my ancestors who invaded this land so brutally over-ran the indigenous inhabitants. Enlightening because I learnt so much about aboriginal management of the land as well as culture and spirituality.

It's technically an academic text, I guess, but very accessible for the layperson.

In the final chapter the author suggests ways we can heal from past events and reconcile. It's do-able too.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and essential reading for all Australians.
Kate Whitfield
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly eye-opening. I wish every Australian would read this book.
Eda Günaydın
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
my brane is in tatters. havent read such a thorough & destabilising & systematic challenge to colonial thought, eva. i am on the floor
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been living in Australia for about 6 years now, maybe more - by now I learned that you can predict how white Australians feel about their indigenous population based on their political spectrum. Someone on the 'right' will say that Indigenous Australians were lucky that the British colonisers arrived, they weren't using the land and without the British they would have lived in the dirt forever. Someone on the 'left' will say that Indigenous Australians were peaceful children of the earth, l ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Every Australian should read this, or at least become familiar with the material.
Dark Emu is a first rate extended essay. It presents the heretofore unknown history of Australian Aboriginal agriculture, economy and ways of life, and describes the way European immigrants and hero-worshipped explorers ignored the clear signs (and some that were apparently too subtle) of civilisation and of the manipulation and interaction with the landscape. Pascoe writes about the native crops that were cultivat
Carolyn McDonald
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a literature review of early writings of Australian explorers, this is selective and feels bitty. And some of the jumps to conclusions don't seem to be supported by the evidence provided (reminds me of my Philosphy 101 class - A=B, B=C, A=C - not always!). The strenuous arguments provided for why historic labels about aboriginal culture and practices are invalid or inaccurate seem rather pointless - by all means change them but doing so doesn't change history.

But all the same I really enjoyed
Yvonne Perkins
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had a wonderful day reading Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture of accident? by Bruce Pascoe. Engagingly written, full of interesting material and a modest 176 pages , it was the ideal end-of-conference read.

Pascoe draws on the work of Bill Gammage, R Gerritsen and others as well as his own research to make a strong argument for the reconsideration of our understanding of the way Aboriginal people lived in colonial times. He draws extensively from the journals of explorers to present a remarkab
Kerran Olson
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is a fantastic book which challenges the history we've been taught regarding the social and agricultural practices of Indigenous Australians prior to British colonisation. Pascoe presents his arguments well, and even though I've done a fair amount of reading on this subject I learned a lot. I especially enjoyed Pascoe's commentary on the way we could make farming in Australia much more sustainable using indigenous grains and animals. All in all a great book with information presented in a r ...more
Louise Wilson
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Every Australian should read 'Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident'. At the very least, it should be on the compulsory reading list for all secondary schools. It overturns all of our ignorant assumptions about pre-colonial times in Australia.

I was privileged to hear the author, Dr Bruce Pascoe, speak at the Melbourne Writers' Festival a few months ago. His emotion was obvious when he referred to archaeologists discovering grindstones proving that the Australian aborigine was grinding
Every non-indigenous Australian should read this book.

I would hope that an indigenous Australian read this book would experience a lot of punching the air and YEAH! and "that's what grandma/uncle/cousin always said!" moments. I fear, though, that instead there would be a lot of anger ('why weren't we told?'), bewilderment (ditto), dismay (ditto, and 'where is it now?') and sheer sadness for what's been lost - physically, and as knowledge - and for what's been taken away.

People like me - not indi
I first became aware of this remarkable book when two of my favourite bloggers posted reviews of it on the same day: they are both historians, and they were both impressed.

Yvonne at Stumbling Through the Past piqued my interest with her comment that Pascoe used the journals of Australia’s explorers to make his case:

"Pascoe draws on the work of Bill Gammage, R Gerritsen and others as well as his own research make a strong argument for the reconsideration of our understanding of the way Aboriginal
Rommel Cesena
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book 1000 stars I would.

As someone about to become an Australian who refuses to pledge allegiance to a British queen and who acknowledges the disaster that it was not to become independent at the beginning of the century therefore taking us trough two murderous world wars...I am dumbfounded to find that Australians (in general) choose the Anzac spirit as the main national identity symbol.
People know very little about Aboriginal culture (and the little they know is tainted b
Blue Mountains Library
I want everyone to read this book. It enlarged my understanding of the culture and lifestyles of Aboriginal people at the time of early European settlement and exploration, particularly the agricultural and fishing practices. Early records are revealing of so much descriptive material that did not see the light when I was at school and in tertiary education. The picture of thinly spread wandering nomads needs to go. I was startled at how populated certain areas of Australia were, with substantia ...more
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Heard Pascoe speaking on RN radio and what he said was riveting. The book, however, is not. The content is very interesting, and debunks many of the myths about the original owners of this land (Australia). But it's written in a very academic style...almost as if it is a dissertation. That was a disappointment after hearing what an engaging speaker Pascoe can be. Still, I'm glad I followed up the radio program.
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Must read! There is much to learn and apply from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures, if only we take the time to invest in it.
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Win a copy of this book! 2 7 Jan 05, 2019 04:39AM  
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Bruce Pascoe was born of Bunurong and Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Education. He is a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative of southern Victoria and has been the director of the Australian Studies Project for the Commonwealth Schools Commission.

Bruce has had a varied career as a teach
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