Bunurong man, Aboriginal language guru and jack of all trades Bruce Pascoe has taken out one of the country’s most prestigious literary awards with his latest work, Dark Emu.
The Victorian writer won Book of the Year category and shared the inaugural Indigenous Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards announced at the State Library of NSW in Sydney last night.
Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light shared the indigenous award and $30,000 with Pascoe.
Dark Emu, published by Broome’s Magabala Books, challenges the claim that pre-settlement Aboriginals were solely hunter-gatherers. Pascoe told the ABC’s Deborah Rice that there was much to be proud of when it came to the indigenous input to the development of the human race.
“Dark Emu talks about the fact that Aboriginal people were the first people in the world to make bread, 15,000 years in advance of the Egyptians, and this is something that we could be proud of,” he told the ABC.
“We’ve got the oldest art in the world, we’ve got the oldest tool manufacture in the world, these are important facts – we should all share in our pride that this country was a leader in human development.”
According to the judges’ official comments, “Dark Emu reveals enormous Aboriginal achievement in governance and agriculture, and restores these to their rightful place at the epicentre of Australian history”.
Queenslander Ellen van Neerven’s debut novel Heat and Light was described by judges as “a work of fiction by a born novelist”.
The judges said of Heat and Light; “It is as if Ellen van Neerven has held up three different lenses to the experiences of an Aboriginal family. The judges felt an urge to celebrate such aplomb and apparent ease in a writer who was born only a quarter of a century ago — to Dutch and Aboriginal parents.”
The judges were equally glowing of Dark Emu.
“Dark Emu injects a profound authenticity into the conversation about how we Australians understand our continent. Pascoe demonstrates with convincing evidence, often from early explorers’ journals, that the Aboriginal peoples lived settled and sophisticated lives here for millennia before Cook.
“Aboriginal democracy created ‘the Great Australian Peace’ on a continent which was extensively farmed, skilfully managed and deeply loved. The British colonist Cecil Rhodes outlawed any mention of Shona architectural achievement in Zimbabwe; Pascoe argues convincingly that a similar intellectual ‘disappearing’ of Aboriginal civilisations has taken place here. Dark Emu reveals enormous Aboriginal achievement in governance and agriculture, and restores these to their rightful place at the epicentre of Australian history.
“Pascoe’s thesis is not simply about what once was but, critically, it also informs a vision of an Australia yet to be.”