Academics generally do not like outsiders trampling through their patch. Angry people are prone to missing irony. Semantics can be tricky when translating between very different cultures. These three factors seem to explain a fair bit of the vehement critique of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu in the new book Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate, by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe.
As an academic who has done a bit of trampling in others’ patches myself, I recognise some common defensive responses. ‘That’s not original, we’ve known that for decades.’ ‘You haven’t cited all my favourite sources.’ ‘You didn’t investigate this or that possibility.’ Yet sometimes an outsider can bring a fresh and stimulating perspective that carries some significant truth, even if it has its flaws, and certainly an outsider can be accorded some basic respect.
[I am involved in organising an unusual local festival that combines Arts and Activism, the Two Fires Festival in Braidwood, NSW, 12-14 April – soon! That’s the main reason there hasn’t been much posted here lately. I’ll put a few more festival things up over coming days. Here is the blurb on the session I care most about.]
The challenge for our generation is to create an enduring way of being, in Australia and around the world, so that our children may look forward to an indefinite future of healthy life in a healthy landscape. Our agricultural and other direct involvements in the landscape have a key role, and the search for enduring systems has been under way for some time.
Historian Bill Gammage’s remarkable recent book The Biggest Estate on Earth teaches us that if our descendants fulfil this aspiration they will not have been the first. For millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Australian landscape was managed comprehensively, intimately and enduringly to be productive, diverse, and safer from fire, flood and drought.