Dark Emu: Black Seeds : Agriculture Or Accident?

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Magabala Books, 2014 - Aboriginal Australians - 173 pages
Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing - behaviors inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources.

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Dark Emu: aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture is a non-fiction book by lecturer, researcher and award-winning author, Bruce Pascoe. Pascoe is of Bunurong and Tasmanian Aboriginal
heritage. In this book, he tries to convey a wealth of information about Australia’s indigenous population before white settlement with which many readers will be unfamiliar.
Contrary to previously accepted belief that the Australian aboriginals were hunter-gatherers, Pascoe details evidence of agriculture, of engineering and of game management. Much of the evidence comes from the journals and diaries of early explorers and settlers. They were often amazed at the sophistication, extent and beauty of aboriginal architecture and constructions, including stone houses, dams, weirs, sluices and fish traps. That all this was known but never officially acknowledged, nor taught in schools, is a sad indictment on the greed of early settlers and government seeking to rationalise their theft.
The aboriginals maintained permanent fisheries and were experienced in aquaculture: the Brewarrina fish traps are possibly the oldest known human construction. It’s perhaps the ultimate irony that at the time of first settlement, abalone were referred to as mutton fish and deemed only suitable for the blacks, but now that Asian markets increase demand, they are prosecuted for harvesting this traditional food source.
They milled flour from disease-resistant, drought-tolerant native grains and rices, stores of which were then pilfered by settlers. The indigenous crops and methods produced yields that astonished western observers who then proceeded to ignore the long-held knowledge of the race and introduced their own unsuitable crops and methods to deplete the soils.
Pascoe discusses what is meant by civilisation, maintaining that a race which builds permanent structures, engages in vegetation management by cooperative controlled burning, sows crops and stores the excess yield, produces elaborate clothing such as cloaks, shoes, skirts and hats, such a race cannot be called primitive.
He also suggests that farming emu and kangaroo, and planting native grains, tubers and rice would be more suited to the Australian climate as these are indigenous to the land, thus likely drought-proof and sustainable. Niche markets for innovative farmers would be guaranteed.
Today’s nations could learn much from the pre-settlement Australians who led a peaceable existence through co-operation and sharing of resources and culture instead of conflict and conquest for sovereignty over land and resources.
This audio version is read by the author, and while it is easy enough to listen to, it is perhaps not the best medium for conveying detailed information, or for recalling more than a few points. An eye-opening book that is a must-read for all Australians.

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This book just won the NSW State Govt Book of the Year Award, and is thoroughly deserving of it. While much of the book builds upon (and provides an Indigenous author's perspective on) Gammage's 'Biggest Estate on Earth' it is more concise and readable and filled with gems of perspective from Pascoe.
There is possibly no other title on bookshelves anywhere that does a better job of correcting Non-Indigenous peoples uncharitable perspectives of the capabilities and sophistication of Aboriginal people, and moreover, provides a compelling argument to integrate long overlooked Indigenous knowledge and higher cultural aspirations to the better governance and agricultural productivity of modern Australia

About the author (2014)

Bruce Pascoe is a Bunurong man born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. 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 teacher, farmer, fisherman, barman, fencing contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and editor. Books include the short story collections Night Animals and Nightjar; the novels Fox, Ruby Eyed Coucal, Ribcage, Shark, Earth, and Ocean; historical works Cape Otway: Coast of secrets and Convincing Ground; the childrens' book Foxies in a Firehose and the young adult fiction Fog a Dox, which won the Prime Ministers Literary Award for YA Fiction, 2013.

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