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In Conversation Bruce Pascoe

In Conversation Bruce Pascoe

We got to know a little more about our Farm2Plate Exchange 2021 special guest Bruce Pascoe­, the man behind the award winning book, Dark Emu, at the recent Wakool Agri-Innovation Forum.


An author and University of Melbourne Professor of indigenous Agriculture, Bruce is perhaps better known as Australian’s most influential indigenous historian, but in a conversation which continued over a roast dinner of salt bush lamb – cooked by Rose – to question time at the forum, Bruce spoke to us about his other passion, love, and its power  to end violence and create “more civil” civilisations.


Rose also spoke to him about the announcement of his literary award for Young Dark Emu for primary and high school children. Bruce will be joining us for Farm2Plate Exchange 2021 in Scenic Rim, this May.


Rose Wright: Bruce, I’d love to know why you do what you do? What gets you out of bed every morning? What drives you?


Bruce Pascoe: It’s all about love. You know, I’m my father’s son, so I’m a workaholic but the sun gets me out of bed in the morning, cos I allow it into my room. My dogs get me out of the bed because they’re 12 years old and they’ve got weaker bladders than me. All of those things get me out of bed. When the kookaburra calls I know it’s time, I am a Yuin man there’s a ceremony we do for the rising sun and it might sound quaint and useless but what happens is I’ll face the rising sun and I have to acknowledge the fact I’m alive. You’ll be amazed at the impetus that gives you during the day. Just the consciousness for being thankful for being alive is a wonderful thing. Not about putting coins in a plate or saying psalms, it’s about looking at our country and responding accordingly. And I’ve said it before, Rose, It’s the earth, I respond to her love for me by trying to return that love. If it sounds corny or pathetic well, too bad, yeah, that’s just the way it is.


Rose Wright: That’s beautiful, that rings true in everything you’ve said, in conversations we’ve had so far. I’m like a kid in a lolly shop. Had you with us yesterday afternoon, had dinner with you last night and now you’re here today, so feeling very grateful and blessed.

The other thing I wanted to ask you, is you come across people all the time who have different opinions. The knowledge you’ve got and the ideas you have and the information you share is quite confronting to some people. How important is it to have a diversity of views in the room and how important is it to bring those diversity of minds together through discussion?


Bruce Pascoe: I think we always need diversity because we need different opinions. You know, where would we be if Hitler was right? We needed diversity of opinion around him. Unfortunately in Germany we didn’t have that diversity but we had it in the world. If we put all our eggs in the one basket politically it would be a dangerous thing.

We do have that diversity. We have to be prepared to be opposed by people but we do have to expect the opposition will be civil. That is what a civilisation is. The word civil, that we behave toward each other in a civil fashion, and we put up with disagreement and we counter it in a civil way, not by shouting and screaming and violence but by putting forward another argument…and you know I’m trying to remind myself to mention the roast lamb you cooked last night that was fed on saltbush and how beautiful that was.

But. Everything we do has to be civil, has to be polite and I’m talking to young Aboriginal people every day of my life. I’m saying don’t put your dukes up, don’t raise your voice when you’re in trouble, drop the level of your voice, drop your hands, act in a civil way because that’s what your great, great, great, great grandmothers and grandfathers did. It was a civil society. Not without argument, not without fighting, not without violence but it was still a civil society. That’s what we should do, we should call out violence, wherever we see it, for whatever cause, not glamorise it, for you know some benefit, usually to men. We need to eradicate unnecessary violence out of our communities and  you know, replace it with corny words like love.


Rose Wright: Love’s a good word. I like the words that you use. Love. I’m going to use the word respect and you know, that gratefulness and I think there’s a need for more of that in this world, definitely. And it does make a difference to your day to wake up and be grateful to be on the planet. I’ve got another question which you might need to think about a little bit. I’d like you to share with us one moment, or a person, or an experience in your life’s journey that has influenced you up to this point in your life. What is a pivotal moment in your life…a change in direction, one of those light bulb moments that have changed your life, or an experience.


Bruce Pascoe: There’d be plenty of them. One I’ll never, ever forget was,  I do a lot of work with a fellow called Uncle Max Harrison, who lives in the  South of Sydney, but he’s a Yuin and Marrago man. When he was a little boy, 11 years old, his uncles and grandfather drew a shape in the sand and said, “This shape is very important to you, we want you to be able to find it later on in your life.” They said, “Look very carefully at this shape , can you remember this shape?” Being 11 years old and full of himself, Max said, “Yeah, I can remember,” and he rubbed it out. Well go and look for it. When he was 83 years old I was with him when he found that shape, and it was the shape of a whale. You know, you think, oh, Aboriginal art the shape of a whale, wacko, who cares? But. The whale was symbolic of sea level rise in Australia. And that whale was on the top of a mountain in Tasmania when he found it. His grandfather had never been to Tasmania but knew the story, because that story had been part of, had lasted in Victoria for 11,0000 years, the length of time when Bass Strait was inundated with water. That moment was really important to me, because we’re learning about stories that are 11,0000 years and older and they’re being revered by people today because, what the whale did in this story was say to the people “You’re gonna lose your land because the sea level is gonna rise. You will have to leave that land because you’re not a fish, you will have to rise up the escarpment in Tasmania to avoid the water and when you get there you will find people who are your cousins and you will be asking them to share their land with you. And they will share their land with you, but you must do it without violence.” That’s what the whale said. You can imagine the big whale going “nah nah nah…” (laughter) But, the story is about sharing, about caring, grace, and about respect. It’s a really important story. The importance for me, was that man learned that story when he was 11, looked for it all his life and found it when he was 83 –  and I was there! So, that really, it was  talking about the incredible age of the earth, the incredible age of story, but the stories are all rooted in love and respect and care. Care for the ground. I could tell you dozens of stories about my mother and how on King Island, the windiest place on earth, and how if you didn’t catch your washing quickly enough it would end up in the ocean. How hard it was for a woman in that era, having to do all that kind of stuff  in such a hard climate but with such grace. I could tell you all those stories but the one that most recently affected me was old Uncle Max, 83, end of his life, and leading us up this mountain and jumping around like a kid so excited, to see it, and gammy leg and gammy arm, cos he was excited and in love with his world still. I’m trudging up the hill behind trying to keep up…well that’s my inspiration, your happiness, your zeal, that’s my inspiration.


Rose Wright: I have one more question, Tell us a little bit about the new book you’ve got coming out.


Bruce Pascoe: Yeah, we’ve got Dark Emu which is the adult book that came out in 2014,  and last year, sorry start of this year, we brought out Young Dark Emu. Tomorrow it’s going to be announced as the Children’s Book Council – um, their award winning book for 2020  (applause). It’s just about the story, not about the writer.  It’s about the story. The story is really strong. The thing I’m loving is the kids will be able to read this story. The book doesn’t tell kids anything, it tells the story and virtually asks the kids what they think – you investigate this, what do you think about this? It doesn’t say kangaroo grass is god, it says Aboriginal people are growing grass in this way, what do you think? So kids have to think about this for themselves. That’s very pleasing for me. I’ve got a novel um, coming out start of next year, it’s going to be real page turner. It talks about the preponderance of violence in the world, you can imagine what a thrill it’s going to be to read it! Um, but that really goes to the heart of what I’ve learned in my life, violence is so destructive, world wars are so destructive. Hate and selfishness are really destructive. What is it in humans which leads us to that kind of behaviour? You can read about it in the newspaper every day, but what was it in Aboriginal society?  And ,you know, of course this is debatable – but you know that a society that’s lasted 120,000 years without a land war had something going for it. They’d kill for it in Lebanon, Syria, today. What is it when people decide not to steal each other’s land or house? That is going to be Australia’s greatest export.


Rose Wright: Thank you so much.

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