The Wheeler Centre
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Dark Emu: Bruce Pascoe and Tony Birch in Conversation
In conversation with Tony Birch, Bruce Pascoe discusses the writing, research and reception of his groundbreaking, celebrated book Dark Emu – which won Book of the Year at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. What does challenging the past of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people mean for the present?
Myths about the lives of pre-colonial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have proven deeply entrenched. But in 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. The book also challenges existing narratives around housing construction, cooking and clothing prior to European settlement.
Presented in partnership with Yirramboi.
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.
Tony Birch is a founding member of the Melbourne School of Discontent. He has published three novels; The White Girl, Ghost River and Blood. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short story collections, Father’s Day, The 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.