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Emus cannot fly

By Les Louis - posted Tuesday, 14 January 2020

I have been coerced into abandoning the Aboriginal cause that I have been associated with for over 70 years. Activists and ignorant do-gooders have rendered rational, evidence-based argument impossible by fabricating the false category of "indigenous", which indiscriminately lumps together Aborigines and people of aboriginal descent however slight.

Living in totally different worlds, Aborigines in remote Australia have little, if anything, in common with self identified "indigenous" urban professionals with distant Aboriginal forebears.

And it is intolerable to be labelled a racist if I object that depicting traditional aboriginal society as an Eden is not in accord with the evidence of violence and infanticide.


If Bruce Pascoe is a charlatan, he should be prosecuted; but possibly more important his claims, almost universally accepted now, that Aborigines were not hunter/gatherers but farmers prospering in large permanent villages should be exposed as bunkum.

This is not a semantic issue.

Pascoe is providing the evidence for racists who denigrate Aborigines as "primitive" as they could not invent the wheel and pottery; which could be a fair conclusion, if they were farmers who had to store grain or meat from farmed animals.

But they were hunter gathers who had no use for them; on the contrary, women on the move had to dispense with any encumbrances, with dilly bags and coolamons quite adequate for their purpose.

Similarly, the violence (often over women) and the marriage of pre-pubescent girls to old men, while abhorrent today, are understandable in tribes confined to certain territory whose existence depended on safeguarding resources, and women were indispensable economic units.

The gratuitous insults levelled by a veteran yarn spinner that there has been a conspiracy by professional historians to hide the truth about Aboriginal society which he (Pascoe) has now uncovered are outrageous, particularly when one recalls how John Mulvaney dedicated his life to literally digging up the past to establish the 60,000 years of occupation, and on another plane the significance of the use of ochre.


Recently, I have been made aware of the opinions of retired surveyors who many decades ago worked for long periods in remote areas in close contact with Aborigines. They are of the opinion, "a lot of this book[ Dark Emu ] is complete bullshit", which is in contrast to academics who keep their heads down, or praise our "most influential indigenous historian", Professor Bruce Pascoe.

Rejecting previously accepted paradigms, many now blur differences between farming, agriculture and hunter gathering; whereas, I hold that these distinctions are fundamental to an understanding of Aboriginal pre history.

Aborigines were not simple nomads, but over tens of thousands of years developed skilled techniques (like the use of fire) to enhance resources for survival when there were no cereals available for cultivation or animals for domestication.

But however extreme the notion of "farming" is stretched it does not constitute agriculture. Animals were not domesticated (imagine trying to herd emus and kangaroos into pens), and however sophisticated the fish and eel traps, it was not aquaculture - and was a local practice anyway.

Some scholars with extensive first hand experience, while conceding that Aboriginal society was no Eden, and that Pascoe engages in some exaggeration, refuse to be a party to criticising Dark Emu . This reluctance seems to stem from a belief that he is "doing a good job" promoting a positive perception of indigenous people who have endured such extreme suffering and discrimination after invasion and dispossession.

But however worthy the cause it cannot be constructed on shonky foundations; and its inevitable collapse will be detrimental to the cause.

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About the Author

Les Louis is the author of 'Menzies Cold War: A Reinterpretation' published by Red Rag Publications in 2001 and was the major contributor to the journal 'Cold War Dossier'.

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