Indigenous History Debate | PUNT ROAD END | Richmond Tigers Forum
  • IMPORTANT // Please look after your loved ones, yourself and be kind to others. If you are feeling that the world is too hard to handle there is always help - I implore you not to hesitate in contacting one of these wonderful organisations Lifeline and Beyond Blue ... and I'm sure reaching out to our PRE community we will find a way to help. T.

Indigenous History Debate

LeeToRainesToRoach

Tiger Legend
Jun 4, 2006
33,188
11,537
Melbourne
I just pointed out that there are political forces rewriting history, with flights of fancy substituting for documented evidence in the form of e.g. Marn Grook theory or Bruce Pascoe's fevered imaginings.

Anthropologist and archaeologist say Dark Emu was littered with weak evidence and unsourced claims
Rob Harris
Sydney Morning Herald
June 12, 2021

Two leading Australian academics have savaged the best-selling Indigenous history book Dark Emu for being riddled with mistakes, accusing its author Bruce Pascoe of lacking “true scholarship” and ignoring Aboriginal voices.

In a new book, Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate, anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe claim Professor Bruce Pascoe’s work is “littered with unsourced material”, uses selective quotations and exaggerates “weak evidence”, including the suggestion Aboriginal people have occupied Australia for 120,000 years.

Published in 2014, Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the “hunter-gatherer” description for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and depicts more complex Indigenous societies, which employed sophisticated agriculture and governance. It has sold more than 260,000 copies and has inspired a children’s book, a teaching resource and a stage play.

It also won some of the nation’s richest and most prestigious literary awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing and both Book of the Year and the Indigenous Writers’ Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

But Professor Sutton, from the University of Adelaide, who has lived and worked with Aboriginal people in remote areas and rural centres for 40 years, tells Good Weekend he was “outraged” that school curricula were being changed to conform with the Dark Emu narrative and embracing Professor Pascoe’s descriptions of an early agricultural society.

Professor Pascoe defended his work and welcomed the latest critique, saying it should further an important examination of Australia’s history prior to European settlement.

Dark Emu has helped to shine a light on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ingenuity, the stewardship of Aboriginal lands and First Nations’ agricultural practices in Australia.”

The new book is published by Melbourne University Publishing – the publishing arm of the university that last year appointed Pascoe as Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture. However, Professor Pascoe defended MUP’s decision to publish the book.

“I would be alarmed if a university press began suppressing academic commentary,” he told Good Weekend . “Certain academics may feel a particular book has flaws, but it would be an indictment on all our futures, if we suppressed dissent.”

Professor Pascoe’s work has previously attracted criticism by conservative commentators and in 2019 his own Aboriginal heritage was the subject of a bitter public dispute. Then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton referred to the Australian Federal Police fraud allegations against Mr Pascoe raised by a prominent Aboriginal businesswoman, Josephine Cashman. The AFP found Mr Pascoe had no case to answer.

Professor Sutton told Good Weekend he believed reading and accepting Dark Emu had become a search for “moral recovery” for some white Australians of good will. Professor Sutton and Dr Walshe, a long-time archaeologist at the South Australia Museum, also question why no one asked Aboriginal people still connected to traditional practices, or anthropologists, whether Mr Pascoe was right.

“As far as we can tell, no journalist or book reviewer covering the Dark Emu story has interviewed senior Aboriginal people from remote communities where knowledge of the old economy is retained at least by some, and practised in an adapted way by many,” they write.

In a foreword to the new book, Wiradjuri archaeologist Kellie Pollard, from Charles Darwin University, writes that the authors “show that Pascoe tried, and failed, to overturn over a century of anthropological and archaeological study, analysis and documentation, in addition to Aboriginal oral testimony, of the ways of life, governance, socioeconomic behaviour, material, technological and spiritual accomplishments and preferences of Aboriginal people in classical society and on the cusp of colonisation.”
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

Michael

Tiger Champion
Nov 30, 2004
4,364
43
Yep Lee its an interesting debate. Bruce Pascoe wasnt all that kind to archeologists or anthropologists is in his book. Looks lkke he ruffled a few feathers.

However, Pascoe, Sutton and Walshe all agree that the aboriginals were here before European explorers or settlers
 

AngryAnt

Tiger Legend
Nov 25, 2004
24,625
10,725
Great to have this kind of debate. The more that is known about indigenous culture and practices the better.
 

DavidSSS

Tiger Legend
Dec 11, 2017
6,992
9,147
Melbourne
What needs more of a challenge, which Pascoe didn't do, in fact quite the opposite, is this notion that somehow settled farming is a sign of a more "advanced" society than working with the environment to ensure year round supplies.

We've seen a lot of settled farming since white settlement, things like sheep farming in Wilpena Pound and the like, which has been a disaster.

It is a colonial attitude and was part of the justification for terra nullius that indigenous Aussies were not settled in one place permanently therefore we could just nick the land.

For a more nuanced piece on Pacoe and Dark Emu, this is not bad: https://insidestory.org.au/reading-bruce-pascoe/ It is from 2019.

DS
 

Michael

Tiger Champion
Nov 30, 2004
4,364
43
I havent read Salt, did read Dark Emu many years ago.
Loved the bit in Dark Emu where he had quotes from Howitt, the bloke who financed Burke and Wills, describing the set up of an Aboriginal Village

As the insiders story suggests the problem with Pascoe and some other modern historians/academics is that the use accounts from settlers, whalers etc rather than just the officials accounts of the day. The establishment seems to discount these narratives. The bloke who wrote Girt and True Girt comes to mind. He got the academics in a real fluster when he published accounts of the aboriginals living in huts on the beach. Good fun.

The other thing, why would a pre settlement aboriginal wander about in the desert, scratching out an existence when you could base yourself at say Byron. Plenty of sun, surf, fresh water, food and fertile soil
 

AngryAnt

Tiger Legend
Nov 25, 2004
24,625
10,725
I havent read Salt, did read Dark Emu many years ago.
Loved the bit in Dark Emu where he had quotes from Howitt, the bloke who financed Burke and Wills, describing the set up of an Aboriginal Village

As the insiders story suggests the problem with Pascoe and some other modern historians/academics is that the use accounts from settlers, whalers etc rather than just the officials accounts of the day. The establishment seems to discount these narratives. The bloke who wrote Girt and True Girt comes to mind. He got the academics in a real fluster when he published accounts of the aboriginals living in huts on the beach. Good fun.

The other thing, why would a pre settlement aboriginal wander about in the desert, scratching out an existence when you could base yourself at say Byron. Plenty of sun, surf, fresh water, food and fertile soil

Generally humans will spread out to whereever it's habitable - sometimes driven by conflict. And they got pretty good at living out in places we consider dry and inhospitable, finding water and things to eat easily through traditional knowledge.

I get the criticisms of Pascoe's work. Some might be inaccurate, but it also disregards a lot of known tradition and knowledge of the first nations peoples themselves. So the point is not that it runs counter to the "official histories" (which it does) but that it still puts primacy in white people's accounts of aboriginal life.
 

LeeToRainesToRoach

Tiger Legend
Jun 4, 2006
33,188
11,537
Melbourne
Dark Emu’s feel-good factor trumps academic rigour (paywalled)

“If scholarly authenticity in the fields of history and anthropology were determined by the number of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ uttered into an ABC microphone, Dark Emu would be nothing short of magisterial.” So I wrote in 2019 regarding the adulation given to Bruce Pascoe’s best-selling book.

“In reality, such recognition is properly realised only through sources that are both primary and verifiable,” I added. “Even then, the mere inclusion of this material is nothing more than window dressing if the analysis and conclusions are far removed from those sources. The ‘feel-good’ factor should never be a criterion in such evaluations.”

But the feel-good factor was not just a consideration: it was the sole consideration. Journalists, politicians, and even academics effusively seized on Pascoe’s conclusions that pre-contact Indigenous Australia was not composed of hunter-gatherers, but was instead a sophisticated society that cultivated crops, constructed permanent dwellings and large towns, and designed complex dams. Why did we not know this before? Because apparently a conspiracy that started with Captain James Cook in 1770 successfully suppressed this knowledge. And the claims just got even better from there.

“Well, Australian political history is 120,000 years old, minimum, and that was a society – basically egalitarian,” said Pascoe when appearing on ABC’s Q + A in March. “We have probably got the oldest village on earth in this country, which meant we invented society, and that society, for 120,000 years, was largely egalitarian.”

Host Hamish MacDonald did not query these claims.

“On the matter of the book I say this strongly: NO ONE who has actually READ the book, can say he [Pascoe] is a fantasist,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons last year. “For when you actually read it, the penny drops … his case is unanswerable – as inconvenient as that might be for those who seek to downplay just how precious a culture was destroyed by white settlement.”

A companion version, ‘Young Dark Emu: A Truer History’, now features in school curricula. “I recommend not only that you read the book if you haven’t,” ABC radio host Patricia Karvelas told listeners in 2019, “because I promise you, it’s worth your time, but to read the book with your children too, which is what I’m doing. It is a gamechanger.”

Not all journalists accepted his claims without question. Sky News host and Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has vigorously disputed Pascoe’s assertions. Many of his sources, he wrote in 2019, “are misrepresented or used to wildly extrapolate. Some … are summarised incorrectly.” As is so often the case, the standard response to such protests was to dismiss them as a “culture war,” notwithstanding some reviewers and academics had similar misgivings about Pascoe’s claims.

His critics can no longer be ignored or derisively dismissed. As reported by Stuart Rintoul in the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend, authors and academics Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe have refuted Pascoe’s theories in their book ‘Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate’.

Their credentials are impressive. Sutton, 75, is among Australia’s leading anthropologists. Walshe is an archaeologist with 35 years’ experience. The study of the Indigenous context in their respective fields is extensive and longstanding. And their criticism of Pascoe’s findings is damning. It is, “littered with unsourced material, is poorly researched, distorts and exaggerates many points, selectively emphasises evidence to suit those opinions, and ignores large bodies of information that do not support the author’s opinions,” they write.

To take just one example, Pascoe cites the journal of explorer Thomas Mitchell to record the latter’s surprise at coming across a deserted village during the Australian Felix expedition. “He [Mitchell] counts houses and estimates a population of 1,000,” Pascoe writes. As Sutton notes, “there is no mention of anyone counting anything.”

And what of Pascoe’s citing the observation by Granville Stapylton, who accompanied Mitchell, that the buildings “were of very large dimensions, one capable of containing at least 40 persons and of very superior construction”? As Rintoul notes, Pascoe conveniently omits Stapylton’s surmising that this was “the work of a white man” thought to be William Buckley, who lived among the Wathaurong people for many years.

These discrepancies, nor Pascoe’s many others, are not a new discovery. In addition to Bolt, the journal Quadrant has listed them, as has Peter O’Brien, the author of ‘Bitter Harvest: The Illusion of Aboriginal Agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu’. A website ‘Dark Emu Exposed’ has long been dedicated to exposing Pascoe’s fallacies.

Sutton and Walshe rightly castigate journalists’ glib acceptance of Pascoe’s claims, particularly their failure to consult anthropological specialists or Indigenous people in remote communities. But what of our political representatives who, as have many commentators, do not so much subscribe to Dark Emu but accept its veracity as an act of faith?

A quick check of Hansard will confirm I am not exaggerating. Labor MP Alicia Payne: “We are waking up, with the help of thought leaders like Bruce Pascoe and his book, Dark Emu, to the sophistication of Aboriginal cultures and societies.” Thought leaders? Labor MP Susan Templeman: “He [Pascoe] demonstrated by taking apart the accounts of settlers that there was agriculture, engineering and ownership and stewardship of this land by the First Peoples.”

It was, “an amazing book,” said Labor MP and indigenous woman Linda Burney. It “turns on its head the widely held view that Aboriginal people were hunter and gatherer societies,” and presents “a truer picture of Aboriginal society and the land”.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese: “Look at what Bruce Pascoe has done with Dark Emu and our place in this land. In this one extraordinary book, Bruce has unearthed the knowledge that we already had in our possession but chose to bury along the way. Ignorance feeds in darkness. Bruce has simply reminded us where the light switch is. With the flick of that switch a complex mosaic of ancient nations is suddenly laid out before us in light as bright as those early European explorers first saw it and recorded it.”

Labor senator Penny Wong: “We are no longer trapped in the ignorance of our own assumptions and prejudice, premised on the underlying supremacism of the narrative that white people know best. Bruce Pascoe writes of Australia before colonisation with First Nations people engaging in complex water management and agriculture and living in sophisticated housing among villages — none of which fit the definition of a hunter-gatherer.”

Greens senator Janet Rice: “I recently read the book Dark Emu … There were really complex technologies, there were settlements, there was agriculture, and there were villages and towns of thousands of people, in some cases, which have been wiped from our history, unacknowledged, because we have a myth of our history …” Independent MP Zali Steggall: “Bruce Pascoe has demonstrated that there was once a grain belt that extended across the whole continent.”

Labor MP Tim Watts went as far to single out and shame his great-great-great grandfather John Watts for observing Indigenous Australians were a “nomad race who made no use of [the land] except for going from place to place and living only on the wild animals and the small roots of the earth and never in any way cultivating a single inch of the ground.”

“This statement of ignorance is laid bare by the prize-winning book Dark Emu, in which Bruce Pascoe carefully disproves the ignorant assumptions my ancestor had about the ‘natives’ and their agricultural primitivism,” Watts self-righteously declared, oblivious to his own gullibility. What is more, Watts’s reference to “agricultural primitivism” is itself a form of chauvinism which Sutton deplores. The absence of agricultural methods in Indigenous Australia was, he notes, “an active championing and protection of their own way of life and, when in contact with outsiders, a resistance to an alien economic pattern”.

In acknowledging this week that Pascoe had “fallen short” regarding his “intellectual rigour,” The Age nonetheless urged caution. “We hope the latest chapter in the Dark Emu debate does not reignite the culture wars,” it editorialised. This completely misses the point. For the past few years, Dark Emu has been intrinsic in a postmodernist strategy to delegitimise white settlement of Australia, and one that frequently involves vilifying those who question its claims.

According to Pascoe, he does not want Dark Emu to be his legacy. “I’m a fiction writer, a storyteller,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2019. At least he and his critics agree on something.

Pirate twaddle!
 

DavidSSS

Tiger Legend
Dec 11, 2017
6,992
9,147
Melbourne
I'm sure Bruce Pascoe is amused by The Australian thinking that he is running a postmodernist strategy to delegitimise the white takeover of Australia.

Mind you, even our own High Court no longer accepts the Terra Nullius doctrine which was the basis of that takeover. I figure Eddie Mabo already delegitimised the basis on which our forebears claimed this land as our own.

We have so far to go when the above article is the attitude. How are the first Australians supposed to attempt a reconciliation with that?

DS
 

Brodders17

Tiger Legend
Mar 21, 2008
13,614
3,751
It's much less about Aboriginals than the falsification of history.
do you mean like denying massacres of Indigenous people took place? and children were stolen from their parents because they were Indigenous?
i agree, those falsifications need to be called out wherever and whenever they exist.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

LeeToRainesToRoach

Tiger Legend
Jun 4, 2006
33,188
11,537
Melbourne
do you mean like denying massacres of Indigenous people took place? and children were stolen from their parents because they were Indigenous?
i agree, those falsifications need to be called out wherever and whenever they exist.
We're talking about Dark Emu.

Scholarly light cast on Dark Emu claims (paywalled)

If only Australians had been told the truth, claimed Bruce Pascoe, they would have known that Indigenous societies, as they existed before European settlement, were anything but primitive communities of “mere hunter-gatherers” whose “simple lot” was to “wander haplessly” across the continent’s length and breadth.

But those truths were hidden from us: “our country’s history” was “edited, so that our children (would) never question our right to the soil”. Ruthlessly suppressed was the “advanced nature” of the Aborigines’ “ancient agricultural economy”, which placed Indigenous Australia on a development trajectory that stood “ahead of many other parts of the world”.

And suppressed, too, were achievements that stretched from the first baking of bread — “an idea far more important to humanity than the moon landing” — to the development of villages of “one thousand people” in “permanent housing”: achievements that meant the Aboriginal economy deserved a “much higher rank than some of the nations considered the hallmark of human evolution”.

Good thing, then, that Pascoe’s Dark Emu finally pierced the shroud of ignorance in 2014 and emerged as a bestseller. And good thing, too, that so epochal a contribution won a swag of the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes, was transformed into texts widely used in schools, shaped the Indigenous sections of the new national curriculum and earned its author the Australia Council’s lifetime achievement award.

But, it now turns out, the only editing of this country’s history was that done by Pascoe himself.

As eminent anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe meticulously demonstrate in Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?, released this week by Melbourne University Press, Dark Emu is “poorly researched, distorts and exaggerates many old sources, ignores large bodies of information that do not support the author’s opinions (and) contains a large number of factual errors”.

Highlighting instance after instance in which Pascoe doctors key quotes, misrepresents dates, places and numbers, and miscites crucial references, they expose conduct that would be widely considered unacceptable.

And the problems they identify are, if anything, greater in the educational material Pascoe has influenced or prepared, which, they write, would “seriously mislead” young people and “should be withdrawn by any educational authority currently using it”.

However, Dark Emu’s glaring flaws do not just lie in the distortions of fact and authority on which it bases its wildly implausible claims; even more troubling is its fundamental disregard for Indigenous culture.

In effect, what it presents as admirable in precolonial Indigenous society is not what makes it distinctive but what brings it closer to us: the alleged complexity of its technology; the scale of its tribal gatherings; the supposed durability and number of its dwellings.

Dark Emu’s rigidly ethnocentric conception of merit, in which quantity is confused for quality, is, as Sutton and Walshe wryly observe, resolutely “Texan”.

But to view Indigenous culture through that prism is utterly misguided. That culture was not oriented to material affluence, and even less to technological change.

Rather, Sutton and Walshe write, “for the Old People, making a living and obtaining materials for artefacts were inseparable from their commitment to a spiritual understanding of the origin of species, to conservative values in relation to change and to a cosmology in which economics had to be in conformity to ancestral authority”. They lived, in other words, in what philosopher Charles Taylor has described as a “world brimming with presences”, in which the spiritual and the temporal, the natural and the supernatural, were fused within a cosmic order that was not to be manipulated and transformed — as it was in the West — but revered and maintained.

What we would now call faith was not a distinct sphere of life; it was inseparable from life itself, there forever, from the Dreaming, whose latent powers, including for the cyclical regrowth of plants and animals, were to be preserved through obedience to its demands. And where technologies — such as their Melanesian neighbours’ agricultural and horticultural methods — had not been sanctioned by the Dreaming, they rejected them, not out of ignorance but out of respect for the transcendent foundations of earthly existence.

In contrast, Pascoe’s caricature – which “consistently pushes the evidence of Aboriginal subsistence beyond what it can factually bear and into a European model of economic life … as if the more European the Old People can be made to seem, the better” – robbed that world of its spirituality. That certainly made Dark Emu all the more attractive to the staunchly secular “progressives”, who are its fiercest defenders; but it also made Pascoe incapable of understanding, much less explaining, the Indigenous world’s stability and persistence.

Ultimately, it condemned his book to being little more than “a popularised mythology of history” that “does not respect or do justice to” the societies it purports to admire.

Yet this question remains: how can it be that in a country that has a long tradition of first-rate scholarship in anthropology and archaeology, it took seven years to bring Pascoe to account? After all, the errors were seemingly obvious to trained readers; but the silence from the academy was as deafening as it was disturbing.

No doubt the answer lies partly in the politically charged nature of the issues — a political charge Pascoe himself sought to intensify. Contentiously identifying as Aboriginal, he repeatedly presented his book as a defence of Indigenous people; it followed, in a warped syllogism, that to criticise it would be to attack them.

And with access to remote sites now conditional on securing Indigenous approval, any researcher who was branded as a racist faced the threat of being excluded from the field work needed to build a career.

But an even more powerful force has also been at work: the conviction, which has become pervasive in our universities, that telling the truth, instead of being the first and greatest duty, is not as important as achieving social goals. Being right matters far less than being on the right side; and it is immeasurably worse to concede a point to the wrong side than to tolerate error.

That is a recipe not for advancing knowledge but for entrenching ignorance. It can only make us a poorer and stupider country, while training future generations in conformity rather than intellectual honesty.

In subjecting Dark Emu to the most painful, but most valuable, of science’s tests, the test of fact, Sutton and Walshe break that mould. Their courage not only does this country and its Indigenous people an immense service; it also shows that, despite everything, our finest scholars are still capable of producing “books with spine”.
 

AngryAnt

Tiger Legend
Nov 25, 2004
24,625
10,725
I'm guessing Lee's pushing the Australian line on Dark Emu.

Fair enough, it's good to have an academic debate about the merits or otherwise of that work. I've read the criticisms and the point that Pascoe's approach actually falls into the trap of relying on the word of whites to tell indigenous history is a good one.

What is most important is that we allow indigenous people a voice and the right to their own history, instead of dictating it to them.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

DavidSSS

Tiger Legend
Dec 11, 2017
6,992
9,147
Melbourne
A lot of what Bruce Pascoe was talking about in Dark Emu has been published earlier, which explains why no-one was going after that book in particular.

As for the comment that universities somehow put social goals ahead of seeking knowledge, that's just made up click bait with no evidence from someone who just wants to bash universities.

Brodders, I doubt the Murdochian writers are even cherry picking quotes from the recent book as I very much doubt they own it either, especially given it was published on 16 June.

I doubt they have even read much about the book, part of the description of "Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers" states:

In Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe ask why Australians have been so receptive to the notion that farming represents an advance from hunting and gathering.

So, yeah, the f***heads from the Murdochian are just pushing their agenda, not interested in what is really being debated and going after click bait.

DS
 

LeeToRainesToRoach

Tiger Legend
Jun 4, 2006
33,188
11,537
Melbourne
i would imagine there is a fair chance the writers in the Oz are cherry picking quotes from the academic to suit their own agenda.
The criticisms are what they are. Pascoe has cherry-picked historical accounts from off the beaten track, so to speak, and embellished them with his own brand of "storytelling".

Regarding Aboriginals documenting their history, oral tradition has its own pitfalls and obviously there are no written records pre-colonisation.

The concern is that Pascoe's account has been embraced and advocated by eager partisans to the point where it has become embedded in school curricula. If this occurred with all research, we would end up with such a distorted view of the world that entire systems would collapse. It would be madness, literally.
 

Brodders17

Tiger Legend
Mar 21, 2008
13,614
3,751
The criticisms are what they are. Pascoe has cherry-picked historical accounts from off the beaten track, so to speak, and embellished them with his own brand of "storytelling".

Regarding Aboriginals documenting their history, oral tradition has its own pitfalls and obviously there are no written records pre-colonisation.

The concern is that Pascoe's account has been embraced and advocated by eager partisans to the point where it has become embedded in school curricula. If this occurred with all research, we would end up with such a distorted view of the world that entire systems would collapse. It would be madness, literally.
but from what i gather, you dont know what the criticisms are, you know what the Oz's authors are saying they are?

and can you tell me exactly what is embedded in the school curricula that is false?
 

LeeToRainesToRoach

Tiger Legend
Jun 4, 2006
33,188
11,537
Melbourne
but from what i gather, you dont know what the criticisms are, you know what the Oz's authors are saying they are?

and can you tell me exactly what is embedded in the school curricula that is false?
The articles provide a decent summary if you read them properly. That’s what they’re for, for people who don’t have time to read the book.

Schools are teaching concepts from a book that is deeply flawed.

dark_emu_in_the_classroom_high_res_x600.jpg


Academics behind Dark Emu debunking say Indigenous history book should be removed from school libraries