When it comes to sharing knowledge about indigenous culture and aboriginal land management practices, author, Bruce Pascoe, is a bit of a guru … despite his rather humble and unassuming manner. Bruce was on the road for a series of speaking engagements in Melbourne and rural Victoria this month, and I caught up with him at the indigenous EEL Festival at Lake Bolac, and also in Daylesford.
The Hepburn Relocalisation Network hosted a special day of events on April 7, entitled ‘Land Cultures and Permaculture Futures’, featuring Bruce Pascoe and David Holmgren, co-originator of ‘Permaculture’ (a method for ethically producing food and living sustainably). The afternoon’s activities opened with a visit to the Daylesford Museum, providing an opportunity to view an exhibition of tools and artefacts from the local Dja Dja Wurrung people and to learn more about their indigenous cultural heritage from local historians. Visitors then headed over to the Daylesford Library to hear Bruce read some of his young adult fiction and talk about life as a writer.
Bruce Pascoe is a born storyteller, with an engaging manner. He explained that sharing stories was an everyday part of life when he was growing up on King Island, in Bass Strait. At that time his family didn’t have a television – which was a bit of a blessing really, as they would sit around the table of an evening and talk and share stories. Looking back, Bruce realises this was an upbringing that has served him well in his later life as a writer and storyteller.
In addition to writing fiction and editing short stories, Bruce Pascoe has also worked as a teacher of English and history, and he has applied his considerable research and communication skills in the non-fiction genre as well, focusing on topics close to his heart. Bruce, who has Bunurong (South-Central Victorian) and Tasmanian indigenous heritage, was a historical advisor and presenter on the groundbreaking SBS documentary series ‘The First Australians’, and his research into early indigenous culture and agriculture at the time of colonisation is well documented in his books ‘Convincing Ground’ and ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?’
With his long standing interest in native bushfoods, an important stop on Bruce Pascoe’s Daylesford itinerary was the local community food garden – originally a guerrilla gardening initiative established on a vacant block of land in the town centre. There, a small but supportive crowd awaited to hear Bruce speak about growing native foods.
Patrick Jones (local artist and author, member of ‘Artist as Family’, permaculture advocate and co-founder of the Daylesford Community Food Garden), invited Bruce to plant the first of the new native seedlings, in the creation of a little bushfoods garden at the front entrance.
There were many volunteers who were willing to lend a hand with the planting of the bush tucker plants – compliments of Frances Cincotta of Newstead Natives, a local indigenous nursery. The species selection included:
- Native flax (Linum marginale) – a slender plant that grows up to 1 metre high, with edible, oily seeds and fibre that can be used as string
- Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) – a common but beautiful tussock grass which produces seeds that can be ground and baked, and fibre from leaves and stems that can be used for string and fishing nets
- Chocoloate Lily (Arthroodium strictum) – an attractive perennial with tuberous roots which can be roasted and eaten
- Bulbine Lily (Bulbine bulbosa) – with bulbous tubers that can be steamed and eaten
- Yam Daisy or ‘Murnong’ (Microseris lancelota) – once a staple food for indigenous people in south-eastern Australia, with radish-like tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked in baskets in earth ovens
With his lovely wife, editor Lyn Harwood, Bruce Pascoe was happy to stay around after the planting session, to sign books and chat to people. His books have proved popular amongst the general public and they have especially resonated amongst those interested in sustainability, permaculture and gardening, as well as indigenous culture.
Sustainability education officer for the City of Port Phillip and contributor to The Plant Hunter online magazine, Belinda Evans, was one of the guests who enjoyed catching up with Bruce Pascoe and documenting the event. Belinda recently wrote a good review on Bruce’s book ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?‘, which can be found at: http://theplanthunter.com.au/culture/dark-emu-book-review/
With the new bushfood plants watered in to their new home in the community garden, that concluded the day’s events in Daylesford – a prelude to the evening forum featuring presentations by Bruce Pascoe and David Holmgren. But that will be the subject of another blog post …
- ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?‘
In Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe argues for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. An accomplished author, Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.
- To order copies of ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?‘, download comprehensive teacher notes or visit the official Dark Emu blog, go to Magabala Books:
- To listen to a recent conversation with Bruce Pascoe and Richard Fidler on ABC Radio National, discussing ‘Dark Emu’ and Aboriginal agriculture:
- For more information about Bruce Pascoe, visit:
- Sowing the Seeds of Change. To learn about ‘Gurandgi Munjie’, a group of Aboriginal men and women (inlcuding Bruce Pascoe) determined to recover the traditional food plants of their culture, and the crowd funding Pozible campaign that is helping them achieve their vision, visit:
- To learn more about the local Dja Dja Wurrung people of Central Victoria:
The beautiful healing hands of Suz and Em, advocates for sustainability.