This week Patsy Jones gives us an excellent overview of Young Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s younger readers’ version of Dark Emu, which he discussed in a session at the CBCA National Conference in Canberra on June 1. Mary Blake emailed notification of its arrival at the Aboriginal Education Library on May 21.
Australian writers have recently been addressing the need to broaden our Eurocentric history and literature regarding the colonisation of Australia. For example, Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth : how Aborigines made Australia, published in 2012, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu : Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture, first published in 2014 with a second edition in 2019, have attracted much interest not only among academics but among the general public. We remember Bruce as the author of Fog a Dox, Mrs Whitlam, and other books for younger members of the community.
Now there is a version of Bruce’s book written especially for young people: Young Dark Emu : a truer history, recently published by Magabala Books Aboriginal Corporation.
Page 7 tells us ‘Dark emu is a shape in the dark areas between the stars of the Milky Way. It’s a different way of seeing’. The text contains, besides Bruce’s remarks and explanations, material from well-known contemporary explorers and commentators such as George Augustus Robinson, Thomas Mitchell, and Charles Sturt, and quotations from contemporary diarists whose names we have not heard before. Indigenous agriculture, aquaculture, and food storage methods are described at firsthand by the Europeans who benefited from these methods and often, in their ignorance, destroyed what they saw.
My twelve-year-old grandson was specifically interested in the chapter on Aquaculture and remarked on the reminiscences of a local farmer, written in 1897, about the fish traps on the Murray River in previous years. Tom was indignant at the perspective of the writer, who described in detail the method of fishing with these traps, but referred to the ‘indolence’ rather than the ingenuity of the trap user.
The book is profusely illustrated, with a challenging variety of Indigenous and European art works reproduced in black, white, and ochre. A bibliography and picture credits provide other sources for a reader who wants to know more, and an index allows a reader to find specific information.
It is to be expected that copies of this book will find their way into every school library in Australia, and that the English classification of Australia as ‘terra nullius’ will be even more widely acknowledged to be inaccurate as a result.
Retired Librarian, Retired Teacher