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How 'Dark Emu' upset the Right-wing media

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Author Bruce Pascoe has caused a stir with his book, 'Dark Emu' (Screenshot via YouTube)

Andrew Bolt and other News Corp associates have begun attacking author Bruce Pascoe and his book ‘Dark Emu’, writes Dr Martin Hirst.

THANKS, ANDREW. Because you made a fuss, I read the book and I learned something valuable.

I learned that recalcitrant racists will do and say anything to discredit any view of Australian history in which Aboriginal people are not desperate, hapless and hopeless savages who’ve been “saved” by the benign and well-meaning intervention of white colonialism.

I hope that Bolt continues whining because Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe deserves a wide audience. It will be interesting to see how many Federal MPs and senators join the newly inaugurated Parliamentary Book Club which has chosen ‘Dark Emu’ as its first topic book. It’s already sold well over 100,000 copies which is extraordinary for a non-fiction book from a small publisher.

The thesis

The central thesis of ‘Dark Emu’ is that pre-invasion, Aboriginal Australia had a thriving and sustainable economy based on collectivised agriculture and extensive land management. This alternative history of Indigenous Australia has been erased both physically, intellectually and spiritually from the Australian psyche as a post-factual justification for the systemic genocide of the nation’s First People in the rush to plunder the natural wealth of terra nullius.

Perhaps if Bruce Pascoe had ended his story there, he would not have been subject to systematic efforts to destroy his reputation and bury the book under an avalanche of hostile critique.

Bruce Pascoe’s second – and more dangerous – thesis is that a return to Aboriginal land management systems might actually be beneficial for Australia economically, spiritually and ecologically. This is the idea that really sparks faux outrage in Bolt and others.

Any suggestion that current intensive agricultural practices should be replaced with the gentler Indigenous methods of harvesting native grasses and native animals is horrifying to those with vested interests, or those – like Bolt – who see their role in the media as defending the same vested interests.

The antithesis

To my horror, but not to my surprise, there is a whole underground industry devoted to disproving both the claims made in ‘Dark Emu’ and the Aboriginal identity of Bruce Pascoe. The website Dark Emu Exposed claims to be a group of self-described “quiet Australians” who refute the thesis of ‘Dark Emu’ but who also fear “retribution” for their politically incorrect views. A second site, Australian History – The Truth Matters, also devotes an extensive series of posts to Bruce Pascoe’s ancestry in an attempt to refute his claim of Aboriginal heritage.

Why would they go to all the trouble and expense just to prove that Pascoe doesn’t have Aboriginal heritage?

The answer doesn’t come easily, but there are several factors and they ultimately rely on a view that if Pascoe is not Indigenous, then his views about Aboriginal history, agriculture and animal husbandry can be dismissed.

Secondly, the doubters argue, if Pascoe has consistently lied about his Aboriginal heritage then he is also lying about the research and conclusions in ‘Dark Emu’.

Of course, for Andrew Bolt, the detective work done by the people behind Dark Emu Exposed and The Truth Matters is like gold. He shamelessly and uncritically hoovers it up and regurgitates it in his poisonous columns for the Herald Sun.

We get a taste from the publicly available teasers.

Pascoe’s greatest crime – according to Bolt – is that he is “anti-white”:

Truth is now what activists say it is. Proof: the ABC will this year screen a two-part “history” by “Aboriginal writer” Bruce Pascoe.

 

This is the kind of anti-white story that the woke now love, and so Pascoe was given the NSW Premier’s Prize for Book of the Year and another for best Indigenous writer. The Australia Council gave him a lifetime achievement award.

So, what does Bruce Pascoe say about his Aboriginal heritage? In his own words – ironically quoted in a sympathetic profile in The Australian’s weekend magazine – he is “more Cornish that Aboriginal”. Pascoe has always acknowledged that the history of his family has been difficult to fully piece together and that his Aboriginal ancestry is more than three generations away from today. Richard Guilliatt’s profile piece was written in May 2019, but it’s clear that Bruce Pascoe has been on Bolt’s attack radar for a long time.

Bolt first sneered at Bruce Pascoe’s claims of Aboriginal heritage in 2012, well before ‘Dark Emu’ was published. Since then, he has shamelessly leveraged the work of other people in mounting his attacks on Pascoe and his work.

What’s mildly amusing in all of this is that Bolt has probably never read ‘Dark Emu’ .

He’s been asked several times, most recently by Rick Morton writing in The Saturday Paper and each time he’s refused to directly answer:

‘In correspondence with The Saturday Paper, the News Corp columnist was asked three times whether he has read ‘Dark Emu’ . Each time, he evaded the question.’

Synthesis

Of course, the only sensible conclusion is that the complaints of Bolt and others are not directed at correcting the historical record by disproving Pascoe’s claims about Indigenous farming, community building and settlement patterns. Instead, we can confidently suggest that the real battle is to silence any attempt to rescue Aboriginal Australia from the false narrative of savagery, ignorance and superstition that is the basis on which white Australia colonised the continent.

This is why they hate ‘Dark Emu’ and vilify its author so relentlessly and with vicious mendacity. Bolt has written several vitriolic columns about Pascoe. The Murdoch media has also shown its willingness to recruit dubious characters into its relentless culture wars.

In recent weeks, The Australian has given space to a wildly offensive suggestion that Indigenous Australians should be placed on a register and have to somehow prove their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. The Aboriginal woman who proposed this, Josephine Cashman, has been praised in The Australian’s letters page (after some judicious editing, no doubt) and given space to call on Peter Dutton and the Australian Federal Police to investigate Bruce Pascoe. Dutton is, as you’d expect, willing to go along with this as it strengthens his hand and publicly displays his loyalty to the Murdoch agenda.

However, it is the intervention by Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko that steals the show for me. You might remember this charlatan as the young woman who pretended to be the daughter of a Ukrainian Nazi war criminal in her book, The Hand that Signed the Paper.

Like Pascoe, she won a literary prize for this work, but it was removed when her deception was discovered. Now Dale (as she currently calls herself) claims that she pretended to be Helen Demidenko to expose the PC sham of Australia’s literary awards.

She got caught and now she’s cashing in, even having the temerity to claim that it is “her story”.

‘I see the Bruce Pascoe-Dark Emu’ story is turning into my story.’

No, Helen, your story is all about white privilege. Bruce’s story is about attempts – yours included – to discredit a narrative that makes white privilege untenable.

Dale has since written a lengthy Twitter thread in which her real – and inherently racist – motivation for attacking Bruce Pascoe is revealed.

In the end, I ultimately don’t know if Bruce Pascoe has Aboriginal heritage. He says he does and that’s good enough for me. I’m with Marcia Langton on this issue; the campaign against Bruce Pascoe is just another skirmish in the history wars.

I also don’t know if Bruce’s historical research is reliable. Many experts seem to think it is and attempts to discredit his sources – mainly the diary accounts of white explorers and settlers – have fallen flat.

However, I think ‘Dark Emu’ is an important book because it forces us to look at Australian history with fresh eyes that are not half-closed by the inherent bias that white history brings to our past. It also confronts us with ideas about Australia’s future transformation in the wake of climate change. That scares the denialists even more.

Martin Hirst is a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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