• Bruce Pascoe at his home in East Gippsland, Victoria (Facebook)Source: Facebook
OPINION | Bruce Pascoe explores the West's success and talks about surviving on a threatened globe.
Bruce Pascoe

21 Sep 2017 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2017 - 3:26 PM

The West is best. Without the west, goes McClosky and Johns’ argument, the world would be impoverished. Apparently it’s the West’s genius that has enriched us all.

According to Gary Johns of The Australian, "The Australia that we know today started three centuries ago in places such as Holland and England, where talk and thought about the middle class began to alter."

Typically, the writers critique their own culture by comparing it to the culture they have usurped. As Christians, they have already rendered the Indigenous culture primitive, backward and without achievement of any kind.

"Their [Aboriginal People] leaders can argue “we” stole the land, but “we” could argue they are reaping the benefits of the intellectual property of modern Australia," Johns says.

In Australia, colonists had to describe Aborigines as hopeless losers or they wouldn’t have been able to explain to their fellow Christians and Democrats how they could murder, rape, steal and malign the incumbent culture.

Australians have been convinced that this is the case because our educational systems have insisted on this definition for 230 years. We had to take the land from the black buggers because they didn’t invent the wheel and they eat their children.

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The convenience of that myth for a Christian empire who were wanting to dominate the lands of the world should be obvious to all, but the greater part of the myth is to perpetrate the false truth that Aboriginal people were doing nothing with the land.

Johns and McCloskey are so confident that the west has produced Nirvana, that they ignore pollution, resource depletion and massive inequality in all parts of the globe apart from the West. Capitalism is on the point of implosion because, while it can invent great things like computers, brain surgery and sugary drinks, it does so by shitting in its own nest, and hoping apparently, that while the rest of the world collapses under the weight of inequality and waste, the West will survive in the happy bubble of its own Game Show.

While the rest of the world collapses under the weight of inequality and waste, the West will survive in the happy bubble of its own Game Show.

Aboriginal Australia, however, had extensive an architecture, agriculture and sophisticated social organisation. Recent archaeological evidence has pushed back the time of Aboriginal occupation of Australia to between 80,000 to 125,000 years. This is an incredible span of world history. The oldest human structure on earth and the oldest village on earth are found in Australia, which means we invented society and industry.

Johns will bluster about the impossibility of this, but that’s what those flawless Australian heroes, the explorers, witnessed. It’s what Lt Grey saw in Western Australia when, as the first white man to enter parts of WA, he came across fields stretching to the horizon so deeply tilled that he couldn’t walk over them.

The oldest human structure on earth and the oldest village on earth are found in Australia, which means we invented society and industry.

If you read anything but Grey’s original journal you won’t find these references because they were excised from subsequent editions. Editorial economy or prejudice?

Batey saw that the hillsides of Melbourne were terraced in the production of yam, microseris lanceolata, Sir Thomas Mitchell saw fields of the same plant stretching to the horizon, Sturt was saved from certain death by Aborigines who gave him fresh water and fed him on roast duck and cake. In the very centre of the continent, what we refer to today as desert or the dead heart.

Mitchell also rode through nine miles of stooked grain in Queensland. The word "stooked" alarms readers of my book Dark Emu because as educated Australians, it is information they should have come across before, but such fascinating witness of Aboriginal competence has been left out of 230 years of scholarship in this country.

Western science is ingenious, but what will we say about it if it destroys the globe? On the other hand what might we be able to say about an economy that was so sensitive to egalitarianism and conservative use of resources that it lasted longer than any other civilisation on earth?

We won’t praise this culture in the future because it was conducted by wise, spiritual, noble savages but because the hard wrought, hard nosed lore recognised the earth as the primary resource that had to be protected. I imagine Johns would scoff at the idea that Aboriginal people see the earth as 'Mother', but in a very few years Australians will be growing Aboriginal domesticated plants simply because they have adapted to a dry and relatively infertile land. These plants will provide us with food when water is as precious as diamonds and artificial fertiliser is as expensive as gold.

Don’t mythologise the brilliance of the West until it has gone past its 2,000 year history and heads toward 100,000 years. Don’t denigrate the Australian Aboriginal system until you know something about it. And so professors, how come the explorers’ evidence is missing from Australian education. An accident of oversight or poor scholarship?

Surviving on a threatened globe is not helped by promulgating a distorted view of the West’s success. Donald Trump is heir to the red button and Tony Abbot is in charge of the capitalist economy. If that doesn’t cause you some concern then you probably have a shrine to Coca Cola beside your bed.

Bruce Pascoe is an award-winning writer, author and anthologist and a Boon Wurrung, Tasmanian, Yuin man. His book, Dark Emu: Black Seeds - Agriculture or Accident? was awarded the 2016 NSW Premiers' Literary Book of the Year Prize and the Indigenous Writer's Prize.   

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