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Young Dark Emu - Book Review

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Published June 20th 2019
Discover a truer history of Aboriginal Australia
Young Dark Emu offers a fascinating and compelling glimpse of pre-colonial Aboriginal life in Australia for younger readers. It is based on the award-winning, and best-selling book, Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe.

Young dark emu bruce pascoe book review


For many years we have been taught that before colonisation Aboriginal people lived in hunter-gatherer societies, where they foraged and hunted for food, did not farm the land or build permanent dwellings, but led a simplistic and nomadic life. However in reading the early journals of explorers and colonists Pascoe has found repeated references and numerous examples that show us a very different picture.

In Young Dark Emu Bruce Pascoe uses the descriptions of early explorers and colonists to show a truer history of Aboriginal Australia. He shows us that Aboriginal people did build houses, did farm the land, build dams and wells and store food. In this 80 page, illustrated edition Pascoe considers a number of different aspects of pre-colonial life in Australia including : Agriculture, Aquaculture, Home, Food Storage, Fire, Sacred Places and Sustainable Futures. By reviewing the historical documents with a new perspective Pascoe asks younger readers to consider this different view of how Australia was before the British arrived.

The book features first-hand accounts, including diary entries and illustrations, from early colonial settlers, farmers and explorers. It is fascinating to read descriptions of Aboriginal agriculture in the form of cultivated fields, crops and hayricks of harvested seed grass. According to many colonists and explorers in different parts of the country the Australian landscape had a "cultivated appearance". In the diaries of colonial farmers there can be found a wealth of written evidence to suggest that Aboriginal people cultivated yams and tubers in coastal areas and grains through a vast area of central Australia.

In contrast to what we have always been taught about Aboriginal people leading largely nomadic lives, the evidence of fixed housing and villages found in explorers journals is significant and surprising. It is an aspect of Aboriginal culture we have heard very little about until now.

In his diaries in 1839 Major Thomas Mitchell describes the Aboriginal houses and villages that he sees as being large and well built, "the buildings were of very large dimensions and capable of containing at least 40 persons and were of superior construction", in a village with a population of over 1000 people.

It may surprise you to learn that this description was not confined to one location, in fact houses and villages were described in all areas of the country. Houses were built with a variety of materials including grass, mud and stone to suit different climates and the materials available. Unfortunately with the arrival of the British the destruction of the houses was rapid and Pascoe states numerous accounts can be found of "how substantial villages were burnt, the foundations stolen for other buildings".

Pascoe also looks at the Aboriginal use of aquaculture, fish farming, which was observed in all parts of Australia. Aboriginal people used sophisticated fish traps which were perfectly adapted for the particular conditions of the area and the species they intended to catch. Evidence of Aboriginal groups storing their harvests is also found in explorer journals, as well as the practice of using fire for managing the land. Finally Pascoe suggests the benefits Australia would see from growing indigenous crops and grazing indigenous animals which are more suitable to our climate and less damaging to the environment.

Young Dark Emu is aimed at an upper primary school audience, of children aged 10 years and over. It covers the same areas of interest as Dark Emu, but in a simplified and condensed version. It is well laid out and easy to read with illustrations or images on every other page. The tone of the book is moderate with a very considered style of writing perfectly suited to school aged readers.

Young Dark Emu is a surprising, fascinating and absolutely compelling glimpse of pre-colonial Aboriginal life in Australia. It is essential reading for all Australians, children and adults alike.

Bruce Pascoe has Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin heritage. He has had a varied career as a teacher, farmer, fisherman, barman, fencing contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and editor. He is the author of many books, including Mrs Whitlam and Fog a Dox for young readers.

Young Dark Emu is available to order from your local bookstore.

Young Dark Emu
ISBN: 9781925360844
Published by: Magabala Books
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Why? Discover a truer history of pre-colonial Australia
When: From June 2019
Where: Available from your local book store
Your Comment
I haven't seen this new version but Dark Emu should be on every Australian's reading list.
by May Cross (score: 3|4858) 26 days ago
I agree May, this would be a great book for children.
by Amanda I (score: 2|819) 22 days ago
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