Diggings 12 July 2021

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2021 ( originally National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observation Committee) the lead articles in this issue of Diggins focus on Indigenous Australian foodways. The first four are commentaries on the current debate on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu occasioned by the recently published critique of it by Peter Sutton and Kerryn Walshe in Farmers or Hunter Gathers.

How the Dark Emu debate limits representation of Aboriginal people in Australia

Characterisation of Aboriginal peoples as hunter-gatherers or farmers/agriculturists is a long running and shifting debate among anthropologists and archaeologists. These characterisations and classifications seem to hinge on definitions and interpretations established by the academy. It would be unsurprising if anthropologists critiqued these labels, one another’s field work and conclusions almost entirely in the absence of Aboriginal people.

These were my thoughts, too, when I first read of the Sutton and Walshe critique – terms like hunter-gatherer, agriculture, aquaculture are historically and cultural constructed and warrant critical scrutiny when used as much for what they say of the conception of what constitutes ‘civilisation; and ‘modernity’ as what the practices are that they describe. I have bought the Sutton and Walsh book and will be interested to read it along with a revisiting of Dark Emu and the current articles critically engaging with both books.

Below are two more articles on this.


Book review: Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate rigorously critiques Bruce Pascoe’s argument

Underpinning Dark Emu is the author’s rhetorical purpose. This proselytising is partly achieved by painstaking “massaging” of his sources, a practice forensically examined by Walshe and Sutton. It has led to converts to Pascoe’s dubious proposition. But this willingness to accept Pascoe’s argument reveals a systemic area of failure in the Australian education system. n the basis of long-term research and observation, Sutton and Walshe portray classical Australian Aboriginal people as highly successful hunter-gatherers and fishers. They strongly repudiate racist notions of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers as living in a primitive state.


Transforming the national imagination: The ‘Dark Emu’ debate

A more serious limitation of Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? is that while the book conclusively demonstrates that Pascoe ignores decades of scholarship, it is less convincing in explaining why this is the case. Sutton and Walshe believe “Pascoe’s information gap as a younger person at school in the 1950s and 1960s” is “projected on to the Australian general population”, and they deny that Indigenous inferiority is, as Pascoe suggests, “the window through which our nation angles its view of Aboriginal Australia”. Their evidence is the wealth of accessible and accurate material, such as the “massive two-volume” and “highly illustrated” Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia.

Pascoe might be wrong about the nature of Australia’s pre-conquest society and economy, but, as the response to the “revelations” in Dark Emu demonstrates, he is surely close to the mark about the ignorance of the nation.


Welcome to the fish trap: Dark Emu and the radical difference of pre-1788 Aboriginal society.

Pascoe is at fault in his surmise that these practices were accompanied by substantial storage, systematic planting and harvesting, and that this amounted to incipient agriculture. They say, and it seems a fairly compelling case, that Pascoe has not considered the absence of any evidence for these practices, despite the presence of those more minimal activities.

This is the most risible of the articles on this published so far – just plain wrong in a number of places, like in the quote above, and has some very questionable unsourced descriptions of Aboriginal totem, clan taboos and other cultural practices.]


In a critical year for climate justice, these Torres Strait Islanders are leading the fight.

Data shows that sea levels in the strait are rising at a rate double the global average. According to the Climate Council, the shallowness of this stretch of ocean exacerbates storm surges, and when they coincide with high tides, extreme sea levels result. Communities in the Torres Strait Islands are already in peril. Coastal inundation (when seawater rises high enough that it floods infrastructure and buildings or endangers people’s safety) is contaminating the water supply and destroying crops. It’s washing away roads, sacred cultural sites and the remains of loved ones.

While we have heard about the plight of Pacific Islander communities and the Great Barrier Reef we have heard too little about the impact of climate change on the islands in the Strait. So good to see this story during 2021 NAIDOC Week kicks off.


Threat or trading partner? Sailing vessels in northwestern Arnhem Land rock art reveal different attitudes to visitors


So, why did Aboriginal artists feel the need to paint so many European ships, and sometimes their crew — but very few relating to southeast Asian visits? We argue the proliferation of European-related imagery signals the threat they posed to Indigenous sovereignty. Communicating this threat (via rock art and other means) to family and neighbouring clans was an essential tool for inter-generational education, inter-clan communication, resistance and survival.

Friday essay: beyond ‘statue shaming’ — grappling with Australia’s legacies of slavery

Each of the Australasian colonies was shaped to some extent by the capital, ideologies and personnel of Britain’s Atlantic slave system. In the wake of emancipation, some West India merchant houses re-oriented their businesses from the Caribbean to the Antipodes.

Fascinating insights here into key figures of the colonisation of Western Australia and South Australia in particular and the source of some of their financing and in at one case at least the continuation of plantation practice.


Should slaughterhouses have glass walls? The campaign for greater farm transparency goes to the High Court

In the 2001 High Court case, most justices agreed businesses don’t have a right to privacy. Instead, they saw privacy as something associated with the notion of human dignity. In filming their business operations, farmers’ or workers’ human dignity is arguably not being infringed.

At the end of the day, these activists are filling a regulatory gap. Putting barriers between consumers and animal-use industries by criminalising the activists’ actions won’t encourage trust in such industries.


To end with some comic relief …

Alcohol delivery to playgrounds, schools prompts legal overhaul

In April last year Liquor & Gaming NSW underwent a special operation targeting online alcohol deliverers and uncovered an operator who had delivered to a playground without question. That same operator delivered to a home and left the goods with an inspector who did not place the order and insisted they did not want to be responsible for the order. Age wasn’t verified. Another operator delivered to a school and did not ask for age verification at any stage of the order and delivery. Inspectors were able to order liquor from the operator a second time after 11pm, at a cost of $190 for a bottle which was delivered in under 30 minutes. The delivery provider said he had taken it from his own stock at home.

To end with some comic relief …


and also …

Cartoonist Golding incisively deploys the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ margarine ad slogan to critique NSW Premier Gladys Berejeklian’s dithering on a hard COVID 19 lockdown in Greater Sydney

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