I assume that, right now, Pascoe is briefing scientists on the coordinates of these multiple towns, and he even implies that not all his people’s domed houses have disappeared. This expedition will doubtless study the sites by aerial snaps and ground radar. And Quadrant’s Peter O’Brien in Bitter Harvest, historian Les Louis et al can damn well apologise to Professor (University of Melbourne) Pascoe for calling him a fake, fraud and charlatan. For shame, say I.
Before I explicate Pascoe’s towns, I’d like again to congratulate Jonathan Green as an exemplar of ABC investigative journalism. No-one’s perfect and Jonathan did once fall for and publish on the ABC’s Unleashed the rant of fake blogger Alene Composta. Alene, whose name is an anagram of “Moose Placenta”, had alerted him and his ABC of a chance to tilt the 2011 NSW election against the Liberals via a convoluted strategy involving mooses, genitals, vulgar slang and Labor Premier Kristina Keneally.
Alene’s hit-job on the Libs had a brief life as ABC agitprop until Jonathan tweeted, using the royal ‘we’: “turns out it was a fake. apparently. we were had. it seemed plausible. i was wrong. i pulled it.” He blamed this minor lapse on “the urgency of a busy day”; other professionals like medicos and nuclear power operators don’t experience such pressure. Alene was embittered that the ABC wouldn’t pay her the $200 contributor’s fee, left a suicide note for Jonathan and expired painfully with her head in her electric oven. The real identity of Alene Composta remains one of Melbourne’s most tantalising mysteries.
Now over to Melbourne University’s Professor in Indigenous Agriculture Bruce Pascoe at Jonathan Green’s aetherial ABC salon:
There is a lot I can’t say about Birdsville because I travelled through there with local people and some of the stories can’t be told yet [I can hardly wait, TT] but when we were there, we were taken to a place where Don Rowlands [veteran Aboriginal park ranger] erected a very moving but modest memorial to his grandmother in a tiny oasis, an incredibly beautiful thing.
But while we were going there we flew over old Aboriginal towns of domed houses and in very recent times some of those houses had been destroyed, been destroyed deliberately by white land-holders, and yet these towns are amongst some of the oldest in the world.
In Australia we can blow up a cave of Aboriginal art and get away scot free, and we can bulldoze some old Aboriginal houses and get away scot free, and yet what we are doing is we are destroying one of the founts of human development, of where humans first invented ‘society’.
There are very old houses in Turkey, no-one would approach them with a bulldozer, in fact they are on the maps of the military so they are not accidentally bombed, but in Australia you can bomb anything [I never knew that, TT]. At Birdsville it was very moving for me in that regard, because I think it is such an important indication of the depth of Aboriginal spirituality and life and there are things there, I think in the next 18 months, will be revealed as some of the most important sites in the world.” [Again, I can hardly wait for the world headlines].
Note that the domed houses must have been above ground in the past 70 years or so of the bulldozer era, which began in earnest the US in 1923. They must have been substantial – stone-walled? – if landowners needed bulldozers to knock them down. Biplanes were flying around Birdsville since the pre-war QANTAS era. I did an air-tour around there myself just five years ago. How odd that no aviator except Pascoe has noticed these amazing Aboriginal town-sites. How odd that Pascoe’s pal, Aboriginal ranger and one-time local cattleman Don Rowlands didn’t consider the towns worth a mention when asked his most memorable career moment – even though his Munga-Thirri National Park is only 70km from Birdsville.
The ABC’s Jonathan must also have nodded off, Homer fashion (Iliad, not Simpson) when interviewing Pascoe a year ago on Radio National’s Big Weekend of Books. Pascoe told him that Rupert Gerritsen, whose website lives on long after its creator, was a substantial source for Dark Emu and continued,
I think of Rupert Gerritsen’s life too, you know. A man who tried to blow up the American embassy in Perth during the Vietnam War was the person I relied on most in telling Dark Emu. It should have been Rupert who was getting this acclaim. But he died.”
Green, who also edits Meanjin, did not demur.
In 2019, the concerned citizens at the Dark Emu Exposed website discovered Gerritsen had done a year’s jail in 1973 for planting a bomb capable of killing multiple public servants in Perth’s Department of Labor’s building. Luckily it didn’t go off. Pascoe has transmogrified one-time terrorist Gerritsen into a Viet protestor boldly attacking Perth’s non-existent US embassy. Pascoe had a field day in July’s NAIDOC week, notwithstanding that he’s never named one Aboriginal ancestor and his four grandparents are Cornish/English. SBS-TV calls him, reverently, “Uncle Bruce Pascoe” when broadcasting his New Age sentiments about the need to “honour and respect” the life and death of a fish unlucky enough to wind up in his frying pan. The piece began, “Bruce Pascoe stands by his Aboriginal identity” but search as I might, he didn’t seem to name that ancestor.
What I did find was an elaboration of his talking points as lead plenary speaker to an Academy of Science/Future Earth seminar last April. He told that credulous crowd about how a whale had warned his forebears 12,000 years ago (when they were living on dry land now beneath Bass Strait), to bug out to Tasmania and/or Victoria before the rising seawaters gave them a dunking.
Although Pascoe won respectful applause, I kept wondering how the whale got his (or her or, if the whale was of undecided gender, ‘they’s’) message past the breakers, absent a loud-hailer. But Pascoe had earlier covered that: he told SBS that according to his forebears, the whale was land-based and went into the sea later. This must have been about 40 million years ago but, hey, let’s not get picky about Bruce’s dates. As SBS recounts:
Uncle Bruce Pascoe – founder of the Indigenous social enterprise, Black Duck Foods – reveals one version of the ancient story to SBS. ‘Many years ago, the people on the land had a relationship with the whale because she was a land animal,’ says Pascoe, an Aboriginal Australian writer, teacher, academic and farmer. ‘Then one day, we saw her go into the sea. The people stood on the headland and begged the whale to come back to the land, because they couldn’t imagine that it would be able to live out in the sea.
Worth noting here is that Black Duck Foods isn’t one of your run-of-the-mill commercial outfits. It’s a registered charity. But back to that chatty land-based whale:
The whale did not return to the land. Instead, the mammal rose out of the water and showed the people its mouth full of seaweed. It said ‘Look. I can eat and live here in the water. I’ll be okay.’
The people, threatened by rising sea levels, were led to safety by the whale that took them into the lands of other Australian-Aboriginals [this whale was an amphibian]. The whale warns the group about how they will have to learn to live together with their [new] hosts, saying ‘You’ll be asking them to share what they have with you. They will give up the amenity of their land for your sake. So you will have to be polite’.
There are so many beautiful environmental and social themes in this condensed version of the traditional story. Pascoe explains that it serves as a reminder of the relationship between animals and humans. It also highlights the need to amicably and respectfully share the Earth’s resources with animals as well as other groups of people. Most importantly, however, the story stresses the need to be respectful as we share.
For Pascoe, this respect extends to both humans and the natural environment, which feeds us. ‘How we treat the Earth is so important to Australia and the world,’ says the Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian man. ‘We have to be modest about our demands on it. In this world today, we have far too much. We eat far too much. We process our food far too much. We need to respect the Earth a lot more.’
If you’re around when Professor Bruce starts one of his whale tales, run for the hills to retain your sanity. For example, here’s “facts” from Dark Emu:
When the natives see a whale being chased by killer whales one of the old men pretends to be lame and frail … to excite the compassion of the killer whales and the man calls on the killers to bring the whale ashore. When the injured whale drifts in to shore the other men come out of hiding to kill the whale and call on neighbouring tribes to join the feast.
Peter O’Brien in his Bitter Harvest examination of Pascoe’s malarkey finds historical documents only about white whalers’ cooperation with killer whales on the south coast of NSW, with the skeleton of the leading killer whale, Old Tom, now preserved in the Eden Killer Whale Museum.
Professor Pascoe can well complain, as he did to SBS, of having far too much. His book sales have been stratospheric, with ignorant teachers shoving Dark Emu fictions down the throats of their charges from age six. Sales of Dark Emu and spin-offs run to 310,000-plus, and if he gets a 10 per cent royalty, he’s pocketing a million bucks, conservatively, for his Emu shtick alone.
Crikey! has sussed out that Pascoe’s weird Melbourne University professorship is at Level E, which according to the university’s enterprise bargaining agreement, yields $200,000 a year if full-time.
Pascoe’s business Black Duck Foods has charity tax-deductibility for donations. A host of woke corporates, foundations, top-tier consulting firms and government entities have thrown cash at this entity. Crikey!‘s excellent reporter David Hardaker concludes,
Not just a darling of the left, he is at the centre of a large pool of social change money and a celebrity magnet for boardrooms looking to improve their ‘purpose’ metrics. However flawed his facts might allegedly be, and whatever question marks that hang over his ancestry, there is a strong vested interest in keeping the Pascoe dream alive.
Mark McKenna reported for The Guardian,
Since the publication of Dark Emu in 2014, Pascoe’s life has been transformed. Rarely does a day pass without another invitation to address the public. Everyone wants a piece of him: schools, media, Indigenous bodies and major corporations, including universities.
I’ve no idea what he charges to speak but it’s clearly quite a sideline. For example, at Tasmania’s Ballawinne Festival at Port Cygnet, Tas., “he received a standing ovation after he spoke and the queue for his autograph was unrelenting. By the end of day, on-site retailer Southern Swan reported that all copies of his books had sold out.”
At his talks, Pascoe’s rhetoric precisely aligns with what his New Age and credulous audiences love to hear. He proclaimed to the ABC’s Jonathan Green the sublimely peaceful nature of pre-contact Aboriginal society – especially his Yuin forebears. They’re a model for today’s troubled world, he says.
Here he is (8.30mins), speaking as a particularly pink-cheeked Yuin man to Green about Yuin lore concerning Mt Gulaga, near Tilba Tilba in NSW:
She is a very powerful mountain but her lore is incredibly gentle, all about women. The story and power of mother earth is expressed through reference to women. What country on earth has in its story a story without weapons, it is incredibly rare. In the galleries of the whole world, wherever you go there are spears, swords, machines for war. That seems to be the celebration of the human spirit because they dominate art galleries and churches. And yet here this spiritual life doesn’t include weapons.
Actually, Bruce, the eminent olden-day anthropologist Alfred Howitt studied the Yuin and reported in 1883 about their not-so-peaceful habits:
Among the Yuin there was the same practice of expiatory ordeals as among the other tribes I have quoted and the old men prefer this to armed parties being sent out to exact blood-revenge in a feud. The kindred of the deceased frequently revenged themselves by lying in wait for the suspected person, and killing him when out hunting alone. This naturally led to reprisals, and thus to complications such as those which caused the great blood-feud in the Kurnai tribe [Gippsland region].
An instance is known to me of an expiatory meeting in the Yuin tribe in consequence of a Moruya man being killed by a man from Bodalla, but I am not aware whether by violence or by magic.
The Bodalla Gommera [elders] sent a Jirri (messenger) to the Bodalla man, telling him he must come to a certain place and stand out. Meanwhile the men of Moruya were preparing their spears and heating their boomerangs in hot ashes to make them tough. At the time fixed, the man appeared, armed with two shields…
The man is then wounded by a barrage of boomerangs and spears and this completes the punishment. Note the casual reference to “two shields”, obviously at hand for armed conflict.
Pascoe’s notion of pan-continental peace and democracy forged by pre-contact Aboriginals (with encouragement from at least one Bass Strait whale) does not gel with early accounts in southern Victoria such as those by Aboriginal Protector Charles Sievwright, who was quite sympathetic to local clans. As Peter O’Brien recounts in Bitter Harvest, (p146-49) different clans came in to the Protector’s Terang camp (near Warrnambool) competing for access to rations, and intense fighting ensued. At 2am Jarcoort natives begged him for protection after a 13-year-old girl, Worangaer, was speared twice in the face by Bolagher clansmen. While Sievwright tried and failed to save her, Bolagher men selected a 17-year-old Jarcoort girl, Mootenewharnong, and felled her with about 20 spears. The Bolagher men took Worangaer’s body into the bush, Seivwright following them. They disembowelled her and Seivwright witnessed ‘the most fearful scene of ferocious cannibalism’. As the old man began to portion out the entire contents of Worangaer’s viscera, there was a ‘general scramble’ by some of the women for her liver. It was snatched up in pieces and eagerly devoured. Next the women avidly tore up and ate Worangaer’s kidneys and heart, as the old man cupped his hands and quaffed the blood and serum that had collected in her chest cavity. Worangaer’s body was then dismembered and Seivwright was offered a foot. He thought it wise to accept and carried it off to later be buried:
At the end of the day, Seivwright rode off to secretly bury Worangaer’s foot, passing on the way the tree hollow where her severed head had been placed between some stones heated in the fire, and was undergoing a process of baking.
That doesn’t seem to be the same world’s best Aboriginal baking that Pascoe keeps reminding us about.
TO WRAP UP up this essay, I’ll bring you the latest gossip on Pascoe’s actual Aboriginality, or not.
David Hardaker on Crikey! has been doing excellent work (see also Peter O’Brien’s commendation), and a week ago unearthed that Pascoe has asserted to be Yuin, Bunerong and Tasmanian in a sworn affidavit for a Copyright Tribunal hearing constituted by a Federal Court judge and dated November 2019.
Crikey, moreover, has ascertained that Pascoe has also asserted himself to be Wiradjuri from Central NSW. (The Yuin community is on the NSW south coast). Perhaps the real question is which First Nation he does not claim to belong to?
The Bunurong and Tasmanian authorities have flat-out denied Pascoe’s claims, Crikey! says. “As well, Crikey’s investigation now raises serious questions about Pascoe’s claim to Yuin ancestry too.”
Pascoe has found three Yuin members who accept him, including one of his Black Duck Foods board members who says, “If someone tells me they’re a horse, OK then, I’ll treat them like a horse.” But Hardaker says a key Yuin community organisation, the Aboriginal Land Council of Eden, does not. Yuin man B.J. Cruse, who has chaired the land council for nearly 40 years, says that he definitely can’t and won’t say that Pascoe is an Aboriginal person.
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre CEO Heather Sculthorpe told Hardaker that Pascoe had not provided the information to persuade them that he had Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestry. Sculthorpe also blasted “the high profile people” who, she said, associated any questioning of Pascoe’s claims to Aboriginality with being
a fascist or a Bolt supporter … The intellectual laziness of the commentators astounds me.
The Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania similarly rejects Pascoe, complaining, “No names, no direct statement about from whom he gets Aboriginal heritage, all general and vague.”
Hardaker claims Pascoe modelled a race-shift in middle age via his friendship with Aboriginal activist artist Lin Onus, who died in 1996.
Among those particularly resistant to Pascoe’s shtick is Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine, a one-time president of the Australian Labor Party and now a Liberal-affiliated politician. He told Peta Credlin on Sky News that Dark Emu’s claims have no evidence and are “complete exaggerations” and “verging on the fraudulent”. He wants Dark Emu expelled from classrooms as propaganda, nonsense that paints a false image of Aboriginal people. Against this negativity, a lot of people in high places have beclowned themselves by fawning over Pascoe.
The luvvee idiots at the Australia Council for the Arts have called Dark Emu “a monumental work of scholarship”. Judges for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (2013) gave Pascoe a prize for his teens’ book Fog a Dox, and commented, “The author’s Aboriginality shines through but he wears it lightly.” He sure does — call it pure gossamer. Dark Emu could be sub-titled, “The incredible lightness of me being Aboriginal.”
 Gerrritsen fled Perth, first to Melbourne and then to NZ, being twice extradited. He pleaded guilty. I’m not negating his later history work but Pascoe, for an alleged historian, seems to make a lot of stuff up.
 Note that in Aboriginal pay-back culture, all deaths and misadventures could be attributed to sorcery from the next-door clan and vengeance enacted indiscriminately.
 Arkley, Lindsey; The Hated Protector, Orbit Press, Melbourne 2000, p165-8. Note that Sievwright was “hated” not by the Aborigines but by the settlers for his zealous regard for Aborigines