Writer Bruce Pascoe is not convinced
I am not prime minister of Australia, and have no intention of running.
What don’t you read?
I don’t like anything with dragons or guns. Too predictable – I was over that sort of stuff by the time I was twelve.
You’ve written over twenty fiction and non-fiction novels, including the Convincing Ground and Bloke. What subjects haven’t you written on yet that you’d like to?
I’m working on a book now about aboriginal agriculture, looking forward to completing that. It’s non-fiction, and talks about the agriculture aboriginals were engaged in when the first explorers and settlers arrived in Australia, covering aboriginal housing, agriculture and clothing.
People assume aboriginal people ran around with no clothes, with no suitable housing, and I’m trying to dispel that myth, because the evidence is everywhere.
You’ve compiled a dictionary of an Aboriginal language from the state of Victoria called Wathaurong. Obviously this will be a little hard to explain, but can you give us an example of a concept that exists in Wathaurong language that doesn’t exist in English?
The word Barre in Wathaurong is the word for land. It’s a word that’s closer to god than it is to dirt… it is a reverential word for the land itself.
And there’s an equivalent for the sea – you respect the earth and the ocean as if they were god, and similar words exist all through the Victorian aboriginal languages I know of.
Your 2011 work The Chainsaw File, part of the Yarning Strong series, has an indigenous character suspended from school for arguing about Australian history with his teachers. What stories do you feel aren’t being told about Australian history?
I think the whole story of how Australia came by the land has not been told very consistently.
Too many people assume that aboriginal people gave up and left the land – in fact some of our novelists perpetuate that myth. It’s time we got real that there was a war that aboriginal people lost.
We’ve been recovering from that every day since, and as soon as we realise the war is over and reparation must begin, we’ll be a much better country.
You’ve got your upcoming Dark Emu with a publisher currently, but have stated that there are some problems. Why hasn’t it been published yet?
Yes, this is the book I was referring to earlier about Aboriginal agriculture. I think there are large number of academics that don’t believe aboriginal people did much, so there is resistance to the idea.
There are new books around though, Bill Gammage wrote a really good book which looks at the sort of work aboriginal people did to sustain themselves and preserve food, called The Biggest Estate on Earth.
There’s another one by a fella called Rupert Gerrickson (Australia and the Origins of Agriculture), which talked about Australian aboriginal agriculture, but had to be published in England, it couldn’t get published in Australia.
To me I think that’s really sad when a really profound idea can’t be accepted by a publisher here.
Finally, if you had to time travel back to any moment in Australian history, when wouldn’t you choose?
I wouldn’t travel back to the time when Batman stole Victoria.
People like John Batman and Charles La Trobe are revered in Australian history, but really they were just thieves. They stole the land without consideration or reparation. I think to be aboriginal in that era would have been heart and soul destroying.
La Trobe was an intelligent man, and that makes me so sad that he could see no future for the world other than that led by Europeans. Australia was in a position to strike a great confederacy between black and white.
It’s been a difficult thing to achieve anywhere in the world, but it was possible here at one point, and may be again.
Questions and transcription by Max Opray, interview by Carly Nason. Take a look at Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country and Bruce’s blog