Flat White

Pugnacious polemic and Dark Emu

23 June 2021

4:00 AM

23 June 2021

4:00 AM

At the risk of seeming a little obsessed, and possibly boring readers, I wonder if I might be indulged in these pages one more time on the subject of ‘Professor’ Bruce Pascoe. 

I just received my copy of Farmers or Hunter/Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Drs Sutton and Walshe.  Of course, the first thing I did was to check if my book got a mention.  And, indeed it did.  What a buzz, you might think.  Alas, Bitter Harvest was relegated to footnote 47 on page 220.  Here is what it said: 

A similar limitation applies to Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest …, a pugnacious polemical assessment of Dark Emu.  While O’Brien relies on Mitchell, Sturt, Grey, Davis, McKinlay, Giles, King and other explorers and on colonial lay observers such as Tench, Hunter, Beveridge, Robinson and Kirby, extremely few other anthropologists or archaeologists, other than self-taught ethnographers Howitt, Dawson and Basedow manage to make an appearance.

Well thanks very much, Drs Sutton and Walshe.  Permit me to respond. 


Firstly, let me note that I have repeatedly stated that, in writing Bitter Harvest, I did not set out to prove Aborigines were hunter/gatherers, nor to prove that they were not agriculturalists, nor to position Aboriginal society in any particular way in between.  I set out to demonstrate that Pascoe had failed to prove his own thesis.  In doing so, I, of course, relied principally on the sources that Pascoe cited.  Pascoe’s schtick was that his theory was buttressed by the journals of the early explorers and settlers and so my modus operandi was to check those same references.  As I have also said, I saw my role simply as an auditor.  And my audit came to the same conclusion as Drs Sutton and Walshe, albeit 18 months earlier than they did — that Dark Emu is a complete fraud. 

As to the charge that my book is a ‘pugnacious polemical assessment’, I can only reply that it takes fire to fight fire.  Dark Emu is, itself, a polemic, and its target is the nation state of Australia as it is currently established.  As I have pointed out in an earlier article, at least half of Dark Emu is devoted to vilification of colonists and even current day mainstream Australians.  The aim is to undermine the legal basis for the establishment of, first the colonies and then ultimately, the nation state that grew out of them.  So it requires a polemical response.   And for someone as impervious to criticism and so shameless as Pascoe, it must necessarily be pugnacious. 

When Sutton and Walshe say that Dark Emu is not a scholarly work, I wonder if they realize that Pascoe doesn’t give a toss about that.   He knows that himself.  He is pursuing the same political objective to which they subscribe.  They just object to his grubby tactics.  I guess for them, the end doesn’t justify the means and good on them for that.  But, as I predicted, they did not trouble themselves with calling Pascoe out on his outrageous vilification of white society, some examples of which I outlined in these pages last week, principally because they believe that: 

Through Dark Emu, Pascoe has engendered much interest within Australia in the history of the nation, the traditional ways of life of Aboriginal peoples, and past and present relations between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal Australians.  He builds awareness of the fact that British Empire colonists in Australia assumed their own superiority and justified conquest, slaughter and massive land theft on that basis.  Internationally, the British was the greatest kleptocracy in human history.

That sounds rather pugnaciously polemical to me, by the way. 

I have only had a chance to skim Farmers or Hunter/Gatherers? but it is obviously a well-researched book that contains a wealth of detail about the true Aboriginal society, which I look forward to ingesting over the coming days.   But, in my view, it does Pascoe too much credit and only critiques half his book.  

So if like me, you want to vomit whenever you hear Pascoe, clad in dot-painted shirt or red loincloth, utter some incomprehensible platitude or outrageously improbable claim about either Aboriginal achievement or white racism – such as the claim that ‘we’ measured the heads of Aboriginal people to prove they weren’t human – in that faux humble voice, you might think that a bit of polemical pugnacity is just the ticket for your bed-time reading 

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