Bruce Pascoe or Uncle Bruce Pascoe? A question many a Sky News host seems to lose sleepover. But is it their place to decide? Is it even relevant? Fuck no.
Since Pascoe’s book Dark Emu was published, a bunch of ageing colonisers have been obsessed with discrediting not only Pascoe’s work but his very Aboriginality. They don’t actually give a fuck about him or have some kind of real moral argument about him identifying as Aboriginal. Their own fragile identities are threatened because an Aboriginal wrote a book, a bestselling book, a book that asks questions they don’t like. Going for his identity is an attempt to defame Pascoe as an author, and in turn, discredit his book. And people are buying it.
Leading this sad little movement is, unsurprisingly, Andrew “Found Guilty of Racism in a Court of Law” Bolt. But many other sad little white people have joined his parade. Hell, there’s even an entire website dedicated to “exposing Pascoe’s work as fraud”. Dark Emu Exposed is manned by “a group of collective quiet Australians” who “want to hold to account, authors who appear to be rewriting our Australian history to progress their own particular” blah blah blah who gives a shit.
A glorified multi-author blog, Dark Emu Exposed is populated by articles with titles like Mr Pascoe’s Cultural Appropriation, A Day in the Life of an Aboriginal Baker Woman and How Low Can a Writer Go in Re-writing Our History? Oh, here’s a good one: Cannibalism, George Orwell, Bruce Pascoe and the English Language.
As if the headlines weren’t punishing enough, they are penned by such esteemed authors as The Cocky, High School Teacher, Justa QuietAustralian and, my personal favourite, The Professor. To quote directly from the site, the collective authors “believe in intellectual honesty and genuine debate”. How can they expect to be taken as honest and intellectual when they won’t put their names to it? What’s honest about that?
And, what’s with the continual use of “our” in front of history and colonial history? It’s almost an admission that they don’t give a stuff about the truth, they just like the sound of their history better. It’s as if Dark Emu is kryptonite to their white privilege. It’s like they’ve been dumped into a new atmosphere, and are refusing to breathe in the new, fresh air.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that the most recent anti-Pascoe attack comes from – dah dah! – more white people. A new book called Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate was recently published by the University of Melbourne. Co-written by white archeologist Keryn Walshe and white anthropologist Peter Sutton who, according to journalist Stuart Rintoul in the Sydney Morning Herald, has a lot of Aboriginal friends and may or may not be a Christian Scientist.
I haven’t had the time or self-loathing to read Sutton and Walshe’s new print, but I have serious doubts about its integrity, considering Sutton has previously said of Dark Emu: “It is actually not, properly considered, a work of scholarship, its success as a narrative has been achieved in spite of its failure as an account of fact.”
It’s been alleged that Bruce takes things out of context. For example, in Dark Emu he quotes Charles Sturt: “Paths led from this spot to almost every point of the compass, and in walking along one came to a village consisting of nineteen huts”. Contention has arisen because the full quote reads: “Paths led from this spot to almost every point of the compass, and in walking along one came to a village consisting of nineteen huts, but there were no signs of recent occupation”. Observing “no signs of recent occupation” is not stating a fact, it is noting that the writer cannot see signs of occupation. This is an opinion. Stating that there are nineteen huts, however, is a fact. By using “recent”, he also kept the time since occupation vague.
Charles Sturt was an explorer, likely laying eyes on the area for the first time, and lacking the expertise to judge when last the area was occupied. For all he knew, the mob that lived there could have heard there was a bunch of whitefellas walking that way and bailed a day earlier. I mean, massacres were happening all over the country; you’d bail too!!
If there’s anything that can’t be contested when it comes to our history, it’s that the Europeans gave zero fucks about facts. “Official” history tells as fact that Captain James Cook took possession of our land with our permission, or at least without resistance. This is bullshit. “Settler” history reports as fact that the invaders were civilised and First Nations peoples were not, little more advanced than animals. This is also bullshit.
At the time of invasion, Aboriginal people had survived for tens of thousands of years, living off the land and sea, with complex social, agricultural and linguistic systems. The colonisers came and destroyed our land, our communities and our languages, committed genocide and stole our children. Who are the civilised ones again? The ones worth believing on the balance of probabilities?
Sutton and Walshe and tools like Andrew Bolt can discredit Dark Emu as much as they want. The nameless cowards on Dark Emu Exposed can do the same. That’s their right. But going after Uncle Bruce’s Indigenous identity is a low blow and has no bearing on the truth of the book whatsoever.
The “controversy” over Dark Emu is just another example of white settlers’ desperation to own and control the colonisation narrative. For over two hundred years most have been happy to stand idly by as so-called historians, academics and journalists publish dubious works on the subject, as long as those so-called historians, academics and journalists are white. But should a First Nations writer dare present a work that even slightly challenges their hero-saviour/civil-savage complex, they lose their collective shit and go for the jugular.
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