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Bruce Pascoe on The Dark Emu Story

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu
The Dark Emu Story

It was a landmark broadcast event -The Dark Emu Story on ABC TV. The feature doco by Blackfella Films scrutinised the culture war that sprang up around Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 best selling book Dark Emu.

For years I've been trying to get my father to read it because it claims that the Brewarrina fish traps are the oldest human construction on Earth. Dad grew up a stone's throw from this sacred monument but he finds it difficult to reconcile this new information. He's a fourth generation settler and the ground is shifting beneath his feet.

I've visited Bre' and the Baiame Nguunha (fish traps) several times and have met with Bradley Hardy who runs the Aboriginal Cultural Centre there. He tells the story of the traps in the doco just as surely as he's told me many times on the banks of the Barwon. He knows it's old because his elders told him.

Much of the debate around Dark Emu is based on colonial terms like "hunting and gathering" and "agriculture". As Bruce points out, it's an argument about semantics. Anthropologist Peter Sutton wants to call it "spiritual propagation" but Marcia Langton says in the film that's just "Anthropology of the Ooga Booga".

Dark Emu threw all the outdated history books out the library window. By revisiting first hand accounts from white explorers, it proposed that First Nations Australians were also farmers living in substantial structures in large villages.

Bruce Pascoe has been on the frontlines defending his research and promoting the doco but he took time out on the eve of the broadcast to speak with me on Roadtrip. Hear my interview with Bruce on The Dark Emu Story below.


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