The absurd fiction about Aboriginal agriculture

A powerful new book tackling the latest claims about Aboriginal history

Bitter Harvest: The illusion of Aboriginal agriculture in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu

by Peter O’Brien

Bitter Harvest is a comprehensive appraisal of Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu. Pascoe postulates that, rather than being a nomadic hunter-gatherer society, Australian Aborigines were actually sedentary agriculturalists with ‘skills superior to those of the white colonisers who took their land and despoiled it’. Dark Emu has enjoyed extraordinary public and critical acclaim, winning Premier’s literary awards in New South Wales and named Book of the Year. Professor Marcia Langton called it ‘the most important book on Australia’. Its ideas have already been taken up in school texts and the ABC is producing a documentary series about it.

But nothing in Dark Emu justifies its success. Bitter Harvest is a forensic but highly readable examination which reveals that Bruce Pascoe omits, distorts or mischaracterises important information to such an extent that, as purported history, Dark Emu is worthless. Even worse, it promotes a divisive, victim-based agenda that pits one Australian against another.

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