I cannot recommend this book highly enough! After waiting four weeks for it to be re-printed I finally got my hands on my copy on Saturday and promptly went back to lie on my bed and read it, which didn’t take too long given it is only just over 150 excellent and thought-provoking pages.
The idea that Australian Aboriginal mobs were wandering around the bush, spear in hand ready to hunt and gather whatever they chanced upon is not only challenged in this book it is blown apart and named for what is was and still is – a white invaders narrative, a lie, a convenient agenda-driven mis-representation. Instead we hear first hand evidence of what was really going on in Australia at that time, ironically told through the journals of the early white settlers and explorers. The fact that the truth was out there all along but ‘we’ (the majority) didn’t go after it, didn’t question our own history enough, didn’t ask and didn’t think is shameful and deeply saddening but this book isn’t sad, angry or judgemental, those are my thoughts. Pascoe’s tone is curious and then proud, excited by what this means for the future of our country (and it is OUR country or rather it is a country for all of those who reach out and connect with it) and empowering in light of the challenges that the world is currently facing. We can do this, we can grow Australia but first we have to become the soil.
One of my favourite parts of the book was the story of how Aboriginal people thrived on land that us white fellas dismissed as barren, inhospitable, harsh, dead. Aboriginals were the worlds first grain farmers baking bread long before the Egyptians worked it all out and it wasn’t just bread, bush tomatoes, Daisy Yams and many more seeds co-evolved with humans making life not only possible but comfortable and culturally rich. Aboriginal Australia was a thriving, fertile place because the people learned about the land, respected it, cared for it, came from it and returned to it.
As someone who is about to dive into the world of farming I am holding this book up as a reminder to me and my family that before we do anything, plant anything, change anything we first have to return to the land, become the land, breathe with it, respect it and feel it running through our veins. Connection to the land can’t be bought or sold, these days we wouldn’t dream talking about owning our mothers, fathers, children, sisters or brothers – we never should have – so why would be talk about land that way? Why turn it into a commodity, a transaction? I am sure that I’ve been guilty of parroting out that old phase ‘we want to leave the land better than how we found it’ and thanks to Dark Emu I now have a reference point for what that really means. I doubt that we can achieve in ten, twenty, fifty years what it took Aboriginal mobs tens of thousands of years to do but we can at least start and like all relationships the best and healthiest mindset to approach that with is one of love.
So first I’m going to go out and give the land a cuddle.