Books and Ideas at Montalto
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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.
Bruce Pascoe is a Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian man born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. He is a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative of southern Victoria and has been the director of the Australian Studies Project for the Commonwealth Schools Commission. Bruce has had a varied career as a teacher, farmer, fisherman, barman, fencing contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and editor. His book Fog a Dox won the Young Adult category of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. His most recent book is Dark Emu: Black Seeds: agriculture or accident, which won the NSW Premier’s Book of the Year Award in 2016.
Tony Birch is the author of Ghost River, which won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing, and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He is also the author of Shadowboxing, and three short story collections – Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People.
Tony is a frequent contributor to ABC local and national radio, and a regular guest at writers’ festivals. He lives in Melbourne and is a Senior Research Fellow at Victoria University.