Required re-education readings: Dark Emu

An abridged version of this review has been published by Green Left Weekly

As a kid the way I was taught about Indigenous people was terrible. For one thing, the understanding of the Indigenous economy and technology was non-existent. I had this picture of people living in homes basically made of a bit of bark and maybe grass and sticks leaned up against a tree trunk. Kind of like I often now see kids doing  to make cubby houses. The impression was they spent their time wandering around and occasionally spearing a kangaroo or goanna for dinner.

Over the years I picked up bits and pieces of a more realistic and less insulting picture of Indigenous life, but it wasn’t really until I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe that it all fell into place such that I can maybe imagine in some detail how people lived.

The original inhabitants of Australia built comfortable huts of various materials, including stone in some areas. They farmed grains and root vegetables as staple crops in many areas. They created dams and weirs and canals to hold and move water. They traded valuable products like axeheads and smoked eels and fabulous possum-skin cloaks.

I don’t know if the valley here was a settlement, but I will guess what it could have looked like. Perhaps on the higher edges of the broad floodplain there were villages of huts made from basalt blocks and bent-over wattle trees and bundled reeds, comfortable insulated shelters in winter rain or summer sun. Earth ovens would cook feasts maybe of the bustard and mallee-fowl that used to live around here, and the yam daisy (from which the town Myrniong takes its name) which was probably farmed, maybe on the rich alluvial soils. Continue reading


When sheoaks take over

I recently had an opportunity to go for a few hours’ wander on the Queen’s Domain in Hobart, a huge park covering a hill near the city, which still contains some great native vegetation. Having often walked and played there as a kid in the 1980s I have a little historical perspective on the place, and the recent domination of former grassy woodlands by thick stands of drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata, previously known as Casuarina stricta) saplings really stood out.

I recall a family outing on the Queens Birthday firecracker night, for which we walked up onto the western side (above the Brooker Highway) and let off our fireworks while enjoying the view across the suburbs where everyone else was doing likewise. We spent the evening sitting in the grass in an open woodland environment with some trees and shrubs around. It was easy to walk through. Some areas on the north side still look a bit like the west side did in the mid 1980s. Continue reading