Dark Emu: book review

I read this book recently, Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, and wrote a kind of review on Goodreads, and I want to share it with you too, whether you’re on Goodreads or not, because I think every Australian should read this, or at least become familiar with the material.

Dark Emu is a first rate extended essay. It presents the heretofore unknown history of Australian Aboriginal agriculture, economy and ways of life, and describes the way European immigrants and hero-worshipped explorers ignored the clear signs (and some that were apparently too subtle) of civilisation and of the manipulation and interaction with the landscape. Pascoe writes about the native crops that were cultivated and the ways they were managed, and suggests ways of bringing back the farming methods that sustained Aboriginal people for millennia – that seem to work on this dry continent with its particular soil.

The style is – well, I’ve described it as an essay – documentary and somewhat academic. Pascoe writes with real conviction, making his own position clear and encouraging the reader to take the same position and also to feel curious to learn more about Aboriginal ways of life.
One thing that I found strange in reading Dark Emu was the insistence against the perception that Aboriginal Australians were ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers: rather, they did build towns and work the land. That’s fine, but what’s so bad about hunting and gathering? Pascoe seems to argue that it’s seen as primitive, whereas farming is seen as a sign of a more developed way of life. I’d thought that hunting and gathering was supposed to be kinder to the land, whereas farming was harder on it – but Pascoe reckons it’s just that Western farming methods and crops/stock aren’t designed for Australian conditions. Either way, I imagine Pascoe’s dispute with the ‘hunter-gatherer’ label must be partly because it’s not accurate and partly because the stereotype worked against Aboriginal people when it came to Native Title – maybe the white guys were arguing that ‘they’re not farming the land, they’re just wandering around and taking from it’ to deny Aboriginal entitlement to the land.

Excellent writing, not only for Australians.
Now I’m going to check out some of Pascoe’s other stuff as well as this novel ‘Taboo’ by Kim Scott. If you’ve got any country-specific recommendations for me, please let me know! I’m also enjoying reading a couple of books set in China at the moment.

3 thoughts on “Dark Emu: book review

  1. Hi Cath,
    Super-interesting to hear about this book. I’ll try and remember to get it. Meanwhile, yes, I have a country-specific recommendation for you. If you haven’t read it yet, check out Elena Ferrante’s book My Brilliant Friend. It really is brilliantly written. Set in Naples. For me, the fascination comes from the fact that she (writing as the protagonist) is actually rather introverted by nature, but is brutally honest about her feelings and in recounting incidents and conversations. Apparently it’s “fiction” but it certainly feels very autobiographical. Makes it gripping reading. In fact there are four in the series, and I’m just about to finish the last one. I’m reading the last pages really slowly to prolong staying in the story. It’s actually the only time I’ve ever read more than two books by an author… I’m almost always disappointed by the second. Not this time though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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