Review Blog

Jul 11 2019

Young dark emu, a truer history by Bruce Pascoe

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Magabala books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925360844.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Non-fiction. Pascoe's revelatory book Dark emu, black seeds has now been made into a simplified illustrated hardback version for younger readers - allowing a younger audience to also learn of Pascoe's research into the agricultural practices of Australian Aboriginal people. Pascoe draws on historical records and artefacts to piece together a picture of Aboriginal settlement before the arrival of Europeans, and contrary to the long held view of the 'hunter-gatherer' existence that suited the colonialists' idea of an 'empty' land, he reveals the existence of Aboriginal farming and land care, permanent settlements with houses and storage buildings, and complex aquaculture management systems.
Teachers will welcome this book as an excellent example to show students learning how to research primary sources for their projects. Pascoe includes extracts from many original nineteenth century colonial diaries and reports, and he revaluates the artwork of colonial artists who showed cultivated fields in their paintings, once dismissed as an English romanticising of the Australian landscape. He urges the putting aside of preconceptions and interpreting with a new eye the original materials. 'It is a different way of looking'. Thus the so-called 'humpy' was actually a substantial construction that could accommodate many families, the 'lazy' fisherman had actually engineered an ingenious fishing machine, and fire was not a threat but a useful tool for tilling and cultivating pastures.
Pascoe has collected the evidence to present the case that the Aboriginal way of life actually met all the criteria of an established agricultural society that lived in harmony with their environment. This is not what the colonialists wanted to see, in their quest to occupy new land. And it is evidence that was destroyed as they took possession, and introduced their livestock.
This is an important book in the study of Australian history - it provides a new perspective to be read and discussed. It needs to be on every teacher's reading list and in every school library.
Helen Eddy

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