Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu Black Seeds challenges the orthodoxy of how Australia was settled and what the settlers actually saw when they arrived.

To the victor goes the spoils…as well as the right to write history their way.

Reading E.H. Carr’s What is History? during my first year at Uni was the first time I had cause to think about the nature of history, facts and evidence. I was amazed, at the tender age of 18, to think that facts where selected by historians to suit the story they wanted to tell. They decided which facts were important and which ones weren’t. Personal bias and agenda abounded.

The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.

It was also the first time that I considered the role of revisionism in history and how modern thinking could colour how we viewed the ‘historical facts’ at different times throughout history. Carr also went on a bit about the progress of man towards some kind of better, more evolved state which was an idea that even at the tender age of 18 I struggled to swallow!

The progression of man towards some better end was definitely in the minds of many of the early white explorers and settlers to Australia. To that end, they saw everything about the Aboriginal way of life as backward and evidence of their lesser standing. This belief made it easier for them to dismiss and ignore any signs of civilisation or community. And to deny Aboriginals many basic human rights, including the most basic of all, life itself.

Pascoe writes with a barely contained anger. By the end of this slim volume it’s hard not to acknowledge that this anger is justified. Through his anger, Pascoe explores the writings and texts of many of the early explorers, settlers and historians. From this documentation he pulls various examples of large, established Aboriginal settlements, farming and fishing industries, food storage as well as the finely tuned water and fire management that many people may already be familiar with. In other words, Pascoe re-interprets what those early settlers saw and wrote about.

It’s fascinating stuff and I urge you to read this book to see all the possibilities for yourself.

I’ve just started reading Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India which addresses many similar issues. In his Introduction, Tharoor discusses the idea of reparation, but personally feels that atonement is probably a more do-able option. He also discusses the idea of teaching alternate histories or histories told from the other side of colonisation in schools throughout the former Empire.

Books like Tharoor’s and Pascoe’s are a good start.

It seems improbable that a country can continue to hide from the actuality of its history in order to validate the fact that having said sorry we refuse to say thanks.

I’m sure the story will not end here.

History and our view of it is constantly being revised. It’s wonderful that Indigenous writers are now moving into this space. Pascoe’s book will become the start of a new way of considering our colonial history. A history that is shared, although not equally.

The debates will continue.

Definitions will be reconsidered. More evidence will come to light. New ways of viewing this evidence will be explored. Contradictions will occur. Research and academic studies will unpack, tease out, refine and amend the story. Because that’s what history is in the end.

A story.

A story of how we came to be. A story of how we got to where we are now. We can adjust, interpret, and revise the story with hindsight to be more inclusive, to consider a wider narrative and to tell a story that attempts to address the injustices of the past.

Pascoe’s book is another story to add to the growing number of alternative versions of Australian history. It’s an interesting space to watch. A gap that is in need of filling.

Also Read:

My review of Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth


An interesting, balanced 26 Nov 2019 article by Tom Griffiths | Inside Story | Reading Bruce Pascoe

2 thoughts on “Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

  1. I'm part way through the book about India now. I'm keen to seek out more books by indigenous writers from countries that were colonised by the English. They (we) share such common problems and issues, although the reason behind the initial settlement seems to have affected how the English behaved in each country.India was all about the wealth of resources to be had. Australia was about solving an English problem and getting it as far away as possible from English view!Actually I can't just blame the English. The French and then Americans wrecked havoc in Vietnam and the Spanish approach to colonising South America is already well documented, just to name a few.


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