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The Forum > General Discussion > Peter Sutton's

Peter Sutton's

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Just finished reading "Farmers Or Hunter-Gatherers", must say an excellent book. Did it change my mind as to what I perceived pre-colonial life was like for Aboriginal people, no more than did Bruce Pascoe's "Dark Emu". Why Sutton and Walshe had to evoke Pascoe's book into theirs is a bit of a mystery to me, maybe to boost sales. I think their book is a well researched stand alone publication on its own.

The first paragraph of the 'Conclusion' sums up a lot for me;

"If non-Aboriginal Australians become enamoured of works like "Dark Emu" in a search for forgiveness, or reconciliation, or the undoing of the colonial crimes of their forebears, this is understandable. In the case of the crimes, most of them cannot now be undone, although recognition of native title has been and will continue to be a welcome reversal of at least some of the dispossession the Old People suffered during colonisation."
Posted by Paul1405, Tuesday, 27 July 2021 3:26:25 PM
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Seems to cut off part of the title of the thread.

Peter Sutton's "Farmers Or Hunter-Gatherers?" debunked.

Well I don't wise to debunk Sutton and Walshe's work at all. What their research does is take a different approach to the question, relying far more on contempery accounts by present/recent Aboriginal people as to what were the practices of the "Old People" far more than Pascoe did in his book.
Having read both books, I don't see any real conflict. Other readers might have a different view.
Posted by Paul1405, Tuesday, 27 July 2021 5:35:58 PM
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Dear Paul,

Sutton and Walshe's critique of Pascoe's book
is measured and fair. I think that Pascoe's book
will continue to be given recognition because
he invited us to look at the Aboriginal people in
a different light. I think that Sutton and Walshe's
book will be acclaimed. Because -

As Christine Judith Nicholls
of ANU tells us:

"On the basis of long-term research and observation
Sutton and Walshe portray Australian Aboriginal people
as highly successful hunter-gatherers and fishers.
They strongly repudiate racist notions of Australian
Aboriginal hunters-gatherers as living in a primitive
state."

"In their book they assert there was and is nothing
"simple" or "primitive" about hunter-gatherer fishers'
labour practices. This complexity was, and in many cases,
still is, underpinned by high levels of spiritual
cultural belief."

Their book is worth a read (and Bruce Pascoe started it all).
Posted by Foxy, Wednesday, 28 July 2021 9:40:55 AM
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Here are two balanced assessments of Dark Emu, one before and one after Sutton and Walshe's book was published.

Tom Griffiths
http://insidestory.org.au/reading-bruce-pascoe/

Bill Gammage
http://insidestory.org.au/the-great-divide-pascoe-sutton/

A lot of the debate revolves around different definitions of 'agriculture'. Is is genetic change of plants and animals by human selection breeding? Extension of the range of plants and animals by human action? Can this be done by people who move seasonally, or does it require sedentary living? Does pastoralism, where people are continually or more commonly seasonally on the move with their flocks of goats, count? If so, is it agriculture if people move seasonally between areas where they have previously planted root crops, and areas where they have built, say, fishtraps. Elsewhere in the world these sorts of resource management are called agriculture. As Griffiths says, a lot of research over the last 50 plus years has been building up to this story, and Pascoe has just pulled it together in a readable, if debatable, form.

To quote Griffiths:
"A scholars reaction to Dark Emu can therefore be mixed. First there is surprise that large sections of the reading public are still unaware of scholarship that has been brewing since the 1950s, but there is also gratitude for a book and a voice that awakens people. There is concern that archaic evolutionary hierarchies should be revived just when we thought that such a northern-hemisphere mode of thinking had been transcended in Australia. There is criticism of hyperbole and of evidence being simplified or overblown. And there is admiration for the sheer bravura of a man on a mission, a gifted Australian writer whose work has struck a chord with the public and whose words written and spoken are inspiring and empowering Australians, black and white."
Posted by Cossomby, Wednesday, 28 July 2021 5:07:24 PM
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Hi Cossomby,

Thanks for the two links, both very good reads from two so well qualified. Both books are excellent reading and should be in every school library. I didn't see the need for Peter Sutton to cash in on the 'Dark Emu' story.

I like what Bill Gammage has to say in his last paragraph, it seems appropriate."

"What of our children? What will they be told? For them this is not just whitefella bisnis. This is their heritage, this will shape what they think about their country and people. The present brawl wont do. We must move on. Perhaps Pascoe and Sutton should write a school text together, Pascoe to restrain his claims, Sutton to curb his possibles and alternatives, both to learn from Aboriginal elders how to break down the madhouse. What an Australia that would be."
Posted by Paul1405, Wednesday, 28 July 2021 8:19:28 PM
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Here is another assessment by Michael Davis in the
Sydney Morning Herald. Michael David is an independent
historian, researcher and writer specialising in
Indigenous heritage and environment, and an honorary
research fellow at Sydney University. He writes:

"Dark Emu" achieved great popularity, and also
generated interest across other forms of media, including
dance and film. This indicates a public hunger for more
information about Indigenous peoples and the
extraordinary diversity and resilience of their cultures
and societies. It is to be hoped that "Farmers or Hunter-
Gatherers?" appealing to different audiences, and offering
a richly textured alternative interpretation, will add
to this conversation and similarly stimulate interest."

He adds that:

"This quest for knowledge about Indigenous cultures is
vital in the journey towards reconciliation, and a deeper,
more meaningful inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the
nation."

http://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/forensic-critique-of-bruce-pascoe-s-dark-emu-presents-a-different-view-20210719-p58ayt.html
Posted by Foxy, Thursday, 29 July 2021 11:46:37 AM
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