Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

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Title: Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?
Author: Bruce Pascoe
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Australian authorsIndigenous Australians, Non-fiction
Dates read: 14th – 19th May 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Magabala Books
Year: 2014
5th sentence, 74th page: Sturt climbed one final dune and peered down onto the plain.

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“If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love our land all the more.” – Bruce Pascoe

Pascoe puts forward a compelling argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticed plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.


I’ve been meaning to get to this book for ages. Good intentions and all that. And once I picked this up… wow! It completely changed my outlook on Indigenous Australians and their culture – pre Europeans. Alright, I already had a lot of respect and fascination for these peoples, but after reading all of the different aspects of their daily lives and existences… just, wow.

Pascoe brilliantly sets out his arguments for an agricultural and sedentary existence in Dark Emu. Each chapter is set out into different aspects of this lifestyle and filled with examples, quotes and so many different forms of proof. Unlike a lot of books I’ve read which use quotes to back up their evidence, Pascoe provides some great background information before imparting the words of others. It feels less like information has just been spewed forth, and more like the quotes were adding to his information, instead of just complementing it.

When Dark Emu came out, it was highlighted as a great outlook on a forgotten group of people, or at least a group of people who, in Australian history are normally overlooked and forgotten. But for me it was almost something more… it was a great way to immerse myself in the ways that we use the land around us. I’m an ecologist and reading about species and plants which I see in the field all the time, just not in the same quantities. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the land and the soil that I step on all the time. A greater appreciation for the world I live in.

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