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Dark Emu

2016 - Joint winner

Joint winner

Judges' comments

This vital book wrestles with Australia’s ideas about itself and its oldest traditions. Dark Emu injects a profound authenticity into the conversation about how we Australians understand our continent. Pascoe demonstrates with convincing evidence, often from early explorers’ journals, that the Aboriginal peoples lived settled and sophisticated lives here for millennia before Cook. Aboriginal democracy created ‘the Great Australian Peace’ on a continent which was extensively farmed, skilfully managed and deeply loved. The British colonist Cecil Rhodes outlawed any mention of Shona architectural achievement in Zimbabwe; Pascoe argues convincingly that a similar intellectual ‘disappearing’ of Aboriginal civilisations has taken place here. Dark Emu reveals enormous Aboriginal achievement in governance and agriculture, and restores these to their rightful place at the epicentre of Australian history.

Pascoe’s thesis is not simply about what once was but, critically, it also informs a vision of an Australia yet to be. ‘Ensuring that Aboriginal life and history are not wiped from the map because they interrupt the view from Parliament House,’ he argues, ‘will have a convulsive effect on the country’s prospects.’ Passionately and with great love, Pascoe builds a picture of a shared future in Australia based on the traditions which sustained the Aboriginal Nations for so long: respectful human co-operation across political borders, and knowledgeable, sustainable care of the natural world. A voice at once catalysing and unifying, Bruce Pascoe is without peer in his field. Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation.