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DARK EMU by Bruce Pascoe

DARK EMU Bruce Pascoe

Review by Ian Browne Shamrock News

“If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people ‘did’ build houses, ‘did’ build dams, ‘did’ sow, irrigate and till the land, ‘did’ alter the course of rivers, ‘did’ sew their clothes, and ‘did’ construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love the land more." - Bruce Pascoe

You may have already read this book, many have. Perhaps you have explored Rupert Gerritsen’s Australia and the Origins of Agriculture… or the The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage. Well now, you have attained wisdom, beyond what our kids are taught in schools - fostered by an outdated education curriculum. Many teachers of the social sciences know little about this continent’s first nation peoples - other than what they are preaching from the 'incorrections' of their textbooks. Thankfully, Bruce Pascoe has weaved together a clear communication of the truths of land management before and at the time of the arrival of the first European explorers - documenting what they saw, yet still advocating for its destruction.

Whether you have a passion for history, for agriculture, or an honest love for the land and its inhabitants, this book will please in its accessibility to the first Australians use of climate, hydrology and aquaculture, soil type, landscape and architectural engineering; ceremonial and political communication, and social harmony. I really don’t want to give too much away, as it is important for all to investigate this knowledge first-hand through Mr Pascoe’s eyes. But the latter really hit a chord with me: Aboriginal Australia invested in peace rather than warfare, and this was harmonised by a respect for the Dreaming and its creation spirits. A notion and lesson clearly lost on the all-conquering blood lust of the capitalistic European nations of the time.

It has been easy for past governments to condemn Indigenous culture; its societies, to simple stone age ‘hunter-gatherers’, rather than a peaceful society where perhaps the first of the planet’s geological engineers and agriculturalists flourished. Many years of reading books on Indigenous culture; studies at university, and while working with many students from many language groups - has allowed me to build both a pragmatic and spiritual knowledge base - and with it a hefty dose of love and respect for our first nations people. But to the naive, the ‘ones’ who look to the negatives they see in modern Aboriginal societies, those believing in the conservative mantra or the commercial television version of what an Aboriginal person entails, they too will be enlightened by this book - while gathering in its facts with ease.

Does allowing for such well-coordinated engineering feats in modifying the landscape to gather in the bounty of fish and plant products diminish what we have learnt about Aboriginal spiritual connection to country? Does a diligence in village design and construction mean that their respect for the land sprits has been overstated, where the totemic relationships via fauna and flora species’ continuance of the Dreamtime also became a novelty to them? Having coordinated ‘spoken word’ bush tucker programs in the Top End with students from both the tropics and desert country, the practice of understanding and implementing native flora and fauna use in remote communities was still relevant. So much so that Gardening Australia turned up to pick my brains in relation to my students’ collective knowledge. While I was at university there was little mention of the Aboriginal use of agriculture, though in some of the remote savanna towns of the Northern Territory agriculture more akin to introduced European, and perhaps Asian practices, is enjoyed today in even the poorest communities. I read a paper about the first of world’s horticultural practices occurring near Rockhampton, Queensland, where the landscape was burnt to influence cycads to flower and fruit, stimulating the life history traits of male and female plant cycles. This practice still occurs today, and I enjoy teaching high school students about the ceremonial stewardship in places like Arnhem Land to this harvesting of seeds to make paddy cakes. But not much was mentioned at the time in relation to our first nations people’s use of agricultural techniques; at least the eel traps of Victoria were being investigated.

Picture sourced via Pinterest

Tim Lowe’s Feral Future explores the sustainable initiatives made possible in arid regions by utilising native resources such as acacia seeds to make bread. Just last week there was a story on ABC where Indigenous folk in central Queensland’s Woorabinda were making a quid from harvesting acacia seeds to produce flour for bread, gaining as much as $150 a kilo from a curiously eager community. Bruce Pascoe describes all the various types of native grass, more than 100 species in fact, where the soil was tilled, the grains from many hectares of native grasslands harvested. Some of these grains make delicious, sweet tasting breads. Some gluten free. Even in the dry regions of this old red continent agricultural was at play. The explorers documented this before the settlers moved through with their sheep, clearing the architectural splendour of village life and eating down the crops that fed hundreds of bellies for thousands of years.

As an Australian I’d like to think that most of ‘you’ too are as grumpy as me as to this sweeping of hard-fought wisdom and high intelligence under the collective carpet. We should be proud of just how thoughtful and creative our first nations people were, and as Bruce Pascoe hollers, we should also celebrate these achievements in stunning life-giving efficiencies to foster pride in our first Australians today. We took this away from them ‘then’ but can give back ‘now’.

After work, a few times a week, I would cross the road at my home in Nightcliff-Darwin and head into the mangroves to where an old tidal rock fish trap still remained. The proof has been available to us all, but sadly it has been easier for white men in places of power to dismiss Aboriginal ingenuity as way of control. Land-grabbing, murder, disease, translocation and by stealing children - you wonder why some feel the need to drink to forget? It was ‘nice’ to see an Indigenous aunty and an African female elder being voted as Australians of the Year 2021. I am sure our current prime minister is proud of many things Aboriginal Australia. But when will we see a leader stand up and explain to this nation that our first nations people come from a prosperous past, where technologies were explored and shared across trade routes within ceremony and corroboree, and that peace was maintained by a nation’s respect for the spirit world, allowing lives to be healthy and fulfilling?

Picture sourced via The Australian


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