Farmers or Hunter Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe

‘We contend that Pascoe is broadly wrong, both about what Australians have been told of pre-conquest Aboriginal society and about the nature of that society itself.’

I read ‘Dark Emu’ five years ago and was impressed by what Bruce Pascoe had to say. And now I find myself revisiting those impressions, questioning some (not all) of Bruce Pascoe’s conclusions and my own reactions to them. Why, for example, was I impressed by the idea that Aboriginal society was more sophisticated because land management and food production was more like European farming practices? Why would I so readily accept that farming is more sophisticated than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle? Yes, I was taught this over half a century ago and I guess I have not seen cause to question it.

This book has me thinking about why. It also has me thinking more broadly about Aboriginal society and culture, and about the assumptions and values used in assessing sophistication.

I found reading this book simultaneously informative and uncomfortable. Informative because I was provided with new information, uncomfortable because it forced me to reconsider why I found ‘Dark Emu’ so comforting.

I’d recommend reading both.

‘People keep telling us, even those aware of Dark Emu’s many flaws, that at least it has got people thinking about an important subject.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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