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Books and Ideas at Montalto

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Bruce Pascoe

Listen to Bruce Pascoe

Myths about the lives of pre-colonial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have proven deeply entrenched. But in his 2014 book Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe struck a grievous blow to one of the most widely accepted assumptions of Australian pre-settlement history. He argued, and presented robust evidence drawn from the journals of European explorers, that Indigenous people were not hunter-gatherers at the time of colonisation.

‘The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag,’ he has said.

Dark Emu, which won Book of the Year at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, also challenges existing narratives around housing construction, cooking and clothing prior to European settlement.

In conversation with Tony Birch, Pascoe discusses the writing, research and reception of his groundbreaking book. What does challenging the past of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people mean for the present?

Books and Ideas at Montalto series sound design and music: Jon Tjhia.

Who?

Portrait of Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe is a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. He’s the author of the best-selling Dark Emu, Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia and over thirty other books including the short story collections Night Animals and Nightjar, and academic texts including The Little Red Yellow Black Book with AIATSIS. Dark Emu (Magabala Books) won Book of the Year and the Indigenous Writer’s Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2016, and has now sold in excess of 200,000 copies.

Portrait of Tony Birch

Tony Birch

Tony Birch is a founding member of the Melbourne School of Discontent. He has published three novels; The White GirlGhost River and Blood. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short story collections, Father’s DayThe Promise and Common People. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature. In 2021 he released two new books, a poetry book, Whisper Songs and a new short story collection, Dark As Last Night.

Books and Ideas at Montalto

A series of thoughtful conversations about Australian literature – away from the city, at Montalto on the Mornington Peninsula.