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2 Jul 2021

What to read once you've read Dark Emu

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe is a unique and engaging non-fiction work and at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney we highly recommend the book. 

Dark Emu really challenges the conservative western view of Aboriginal life that many Australians were brought up with.  It has changed how many view the cultural and agricultural history of this country. It focuses our thinking and asks us to start with country and reminds us that protecting the land, should always come first.

Author Bruce Pascoe brings together historical journal entries of explorers, physical plant specimens from various Aboriginal lands, and insights from research experts. He includes Aboriginal Elders and community groups to bring thoroughly and thoughtfully established insights.

By shifting the lense of Australian history from unproven opinion to researched fact, Dark Emu abolishes what many have grown to believe since the First Fleet - that all Aboriginal cultures in Australia were ‘hunter-gatherers’.

Rather, Pascoe proves that the First Nations of Australia did have agricultural farming and sustainable land management practices intertwined within complex societal systems. 
Here at the Garden we are utilising many of the themes established in Dark Emu. The book has informed concepts presented throughout our Aboriginal education and community programs, plant species and knowledge referred to in Dark Emu can be found in our Cadi Jam Ora - First Encounters Garden. Through our Community Greening program we are increasingly shifting to traditional land management techniques and assisting Aboriginal community groups with native plant and seed collection.
Dark Emu is an intriguing and illuminating must-read book for all experience levels of Aboriginal culture. It is not only factually robust, but will encourage understanding of the many past and current issues facing Australian society today.

For those who have completed Dark Emu, here is a list of recommended texts to continue your learning and passion for Aboriginal culture. The idea is to always start with country first.

Book cover image courtesy of Magabala Books


Recommendations from Josh Brown, Project Manager - Aboriginal strategy

Talking to my Country by Stan Grant

A very honest and direct book that speaks to every Australian, not just about race but about shared identity and our potential as a nation. 

The Yield by Tara June Winch

A novel by Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch, talking about people culturally dispossessed and celebrating the act of reclaiming Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.  

Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta

How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. Sand Talk is a great book by academic and artist Tyson Yunkaporta. It is both engaging and philosophical. It introduces readers to Indigenous Knowledge, thinking, and methods of communication from a personal point of view.

The Australian Dream (Documentary)

This award-winning and moving documentary that is a must see for all Australians. It follows the journey of Adam Goodes and shows how racism affected him throughout his life and football career. It’s covers the extreme highs and the extremes lows exploring Australian Aboriginal identity and racism in modern Australia.

Written by award-winning journalist Stan Grant and directed by British director Daniel Gordon, and won the AACTA Award for best feature documentary in the 2019 series of the awards. The Australian Dream can currently be viewed for free on ABC iView

Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Now that you've read Dark Emu, why not share that knowledge with the young people in your life? Young Dark Emu is written for children aged 7 - 12 and has already been nominated for a number of children's book awards, since being published in June 2019.

Young Dark Emu (centre left) and a selection of children's books by Magabala Books

Book recommendations by Darren Charlwood, Aboriginal Education Officer

Fire Country by Victor Steffensen

How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia, Fire Country is a deep dive into the Australian landscape and our environmental challenges by Indigenous Fire practitioner Victor Steffensen. Victor teaches people in their own regions to read the country, understand the land, and to be able to see the indicators and the signs on how to manage the country so we prevent wild fires.

Hidden in Plain View by Paul Irish

While not written by a first nations’ author, established historian Paul Irish has often worked together with researchers from the La Perouse Aboriginal community. This gives a historic picture of Aboriginal connection to country by an archaeologist and historian.

Sydney’s Aboriginal Past by Val Attenbrow

Investigating Aboriginal Australia from an archaeological and historical record.

Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds

A 2013 book by Australian historian Henry Reynolds about Australian frontier wars, and conflict between the British Empire, settlers and Indigenous Australians.

Fire Country -  how Indigenous fire management could help save Australia


Book recommendations by Todd Phillips, Aboriginal Education Officer

The biggest estate on earth by Bill Gammage

A revealing account of the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people in pre-settlement Australia. 

Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton 

A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia.

Growing Up Aboriginal by Anita Heiss

An anthology showcasing many diverse Aboriginal voices and experiences.

Black Diamonds: The Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame by Colin Tatz and Paul Tatz

A book collating 129 Australians who constitute the inaugural Aboriginal and Islander sports hall of fame.

Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe

A great book showing how traditional Aboriginal stories and paintings were used to convey knowledge from one generation to the next, about the environment, law and relationships. 

Welcome to Country, A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia
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