Review Blog

May 26 2014

Dark Emu: Black seeds: Agriculture or accident? by Bruce Pascoe

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Magabala Books, 2014. ISBN 9781922142436.
(Age: Secondary) Aboriginal History. Agriculture. Indigenous people. Land rights. This very readable non-fiction work examines the evidence for a revision of thinking about Aboriginal people at the time of European colonial settlement. Pascoe presents compelling arguments (often using the words of the early settlers and explorers - those who created many of the early views of the Australian indigenous people) to show that Aboriginal people did participate in agriculture, and did create housing that suggested more sedentary life styles, did engage in technological developments to assist them in living successful lives. He establishes this to challenge our education of current students that suggests that to be Aboriginal was to be 'only' a hunter-gatherer. This paternalistic, and self-promoting view at the expense of the Aboriginal success over many years is revealed through discussions of agriculture, the use of fire, the environmental wisdom of Aboriginal farming, and the advantage of peaceful trade and transfer of law in relation to the spiritual connection to land.
All teachers should read this book, to challenge their own thinking and to give opportunity to see Australia through different cultural eyes. To quote Pascoe, '...all of us must be alert to the greatest of all limitations to wisdom: the assumption.' If we assume that we know the history of Australia because of what we were taught, then perhaps we have failed to see prejudice in recorded history texts. Early explorers recording what they saw were often blind to the significance of their sightings, and perpetuated their racist/colonial ideas, or as Pascoe states, in referring to the explorer Giles, 'prejudice squeezed [his] racism like toothpaste from a tube...'
The author also suggests interesting ideas about the possibility of the return to successful Aboriginal farming practices and native species to replace unsustainable crops in marginal environments.
Secondary students studying Australian history and Aboriginal studies would benefit from this text.
Carolyn Hull

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