The tragedy of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu

Martin Porr, Ella Vivian-Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    In the book Dark Emu, Pascoe argues that Aboriginal Australian societies should not be described as ‘hunter-gatherers’ but as ‘farmers’. In doing this, Pascoe actually places Aboriginal lifeways at the origin of a culture-historical trajectory that he himself has criticised for most of his life. He implicitly supports a historical narrative and a vision of human nature that is at the heart of most current environmental and social problems. The success and enthusiastic reception of Dark Emu by large sections of Australian society is consequently equally unsurprising and deeply problematic. Australian archaeologists have so far largely failed to engage with Dark Emu and its arguments in any substantial form. One of the reasons for this lack of critical interrogation is an agreement with Dark Emu’s key motivation: a genuine interest in growing the knowledge of and appreciation for Indigenous heritage in Australia. However, Australian archaeology is also complicit in the erasure of Aboriginal diversity and alterity that is an effect of Dark Emu’s project and, as such, responsible for the erasure of options to learn from the past and challenge the present. In this paper, we draw attention to a certain tragic dimension of the book and its logic, by placing its arguments in a framework of the modern understanding of society, human history, and humanity’s future.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)300-304
    Number of pages5
    JournalAustralian Archaeology
    Issue number3
    Early online date2021
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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