by Bruce Pascoe
reviewed by Margaret McKay-Lowdnes
Young Dark Emu is the latest offering from prolific indigenous author Bruce Pascoe of the Bunurong Clan, Kulin nation. This non-fiction picture book is an adaptation for young readers of the award winning Dark Emu, published in 2016. In both books, Pascoe argues against the notion that indigenous Australians were nomadic hunter-gatherers in the era before European Settlement, painting a picture of a sophisticated society of savvy farmers and ingenious fishermen living in cleverly engineered dwellings organised into orderly villages and towns. Even in the harshest of desert conditions, Aborigines were able to maintain crops and store food. The reader cannot but be impressed, and feel saddened by the decay of indigenous civilization at the hands of colonialists.
Pascoe’s approach is systematic and convincing. In chapter after chapter, he presents primary sources which bear witness to his argument. The primary sources are derived from diary entries, letters and sketches of European settlers. In one instance, the reader can clearly see that the white man’s observation is tainted with a negative interpretation, when an ingenious system of fishing is described as indolent. Using these contemporaneous observations, Pascoe addresses in turn: farming methods, fishing systems, dwellings, towns, food storage, fire and sacred places. As each topic is covered, the argument builds in strength until the reader is left in no doubt that the prevailing idea of the Aborigine as a hunter-gatherer is flawed.
One aspect of the book that is not flawed, is the design: warm oranges and browns are teamed with black throughout and a variety of fonts depict quotes from primary sources to aid the young reader. Each primary source is meticulously identified in the captions and original sketches serve to illustrate the text in the richly patterned pages. The glossy paper adds to the luxurious feel of the book. The inclusion of a contents page, bibliography, picture credits and index mark this as a non-fiction book of high quality suitable for young readers whether they are reading for pleasure or learning.
Magabala Books 2019 Hardback $24.99 80 pages ISBN: 9781925360844