• Australian writer Bruce Pascoe. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Australian Federal Police dismiss allegations made against the popular author of Dark Emu that he "financially benefited" by identifying as Aboriginal.
Brooke Fryer, Jodan Perry

24 Jan 2020 - 5:52 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2020 - 6:17 PM

The Australian Federal Police on Thursday dismissed an allegation disputing the Aboriginal heritage of author and historian Bruce Pascoe.

Last month, businesswoman Josephine Cashman accused Mr Pascoe of financially benefiting from incorrectly claiming to be Indigenous.

Ms Cashman, a vocal critic of Mr Pascoe, first made the allegation in an email to Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton on December 11. The email alleged the Dark Emu author had fabricated his heritage and had falsely received government grants and literary prizes intended for Indigenous Australians.

On December 24, Mr Dutton referred the email to the AFP and on January 10 they commenced a preliminary investigation into the merits of the allegations.

In a response to Ms Cashman on Thursday afternoon, an AFP commander in the criminal assets, fraud, and anti-corruption unit said a preliminary inquiry did not identify any "Commonwealth offences" had occurred.

“Your referral provided details of a number of allegations of fraud by Professor Pascoe," said the letter.

"Based on the information provided and inquiries undertaken no Commonwealth offences have been identified.

“The AFP now considers this matter to be finalised.”

The letter was first published in a blog post by NewsCorp columnist Andrew Bolt. 

Ms Cashman, who is a government-appointed member of the Minister for Indigenous Australian's voice co-design senior advisory group, first questioned Mr Pascoe’s identity in a Twitter post in November, following several blog posts on the matter by Mr Bolt.

Ms Cashman also appeared on Sky News’ The Bolt Report in late November and revealed she made the formal complaint after being contacted by numerous Aboriginal people questioning the legitimacy of Mr Pascoe's ancestry.

"My motivation is from my people, those people who are voiceless or who don’t have access to a voice and aren’t heard," Ms Cashman said on the program.

Ms Cashman, who claims to be of Worimi descent, continued to be vocal in regards to Mr Pascoe's Aboriginality on social media platforms throughout the AFP's preliminary inquiries. 

On Friday, Ms Cashman tweeted that the AFP's determination "did not make sense".

Support for Pascoe

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Mr Pascoe, 72, identified as Indigenous at the age of 32, and has claimed to be of Tasmanian, Boonwurrung and Yuin descent.

However, the chairman of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council, Michael Mansell and the chairperson of the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council, Jason Briggs, have gone on record stating that Mr Pascoe is not a descendent of their respective communities. 

Mr Pascoe's identity as a member of the Yuin has since been confirmed by three Yuin Elders.

On Thursday, The Australian newspaper reported that Yuin Elder, Ossie Cruz, defended Mr Pascoe.

Mr Cruz said that Mr Pascoe had “done a tremendous job” for Yuin culture.

In an interview with NITV News in November, a second high-profile Yuin Elder, Max Harrison, said he also confirmed Mr Pascoe's Yuin connection.

“Look, he carries Yuin law, right. He’s initiated into Yuin. That’s all you need to confirm,” said Mr Harrison.

A third Yuin and Budawang Elder, Noel Butler, also told NITV News that he recognised Mr Pascoe's identity.

“As far as I am concerned he is my cousin. I identify him as my cousin ...  if someone tells me they’re a horse, ok then, I’ll treat them like a horse,” said Mr Butler in November.

“If somebody tells me their identity and I’ve know them for quite a while on that basis, then I have no reason to doubt someone’s identity or connection to my family, none at all.

“I don’t believe anybody has the right to question anybody on your identity. You are who you are and unless somebody has walked in your footsteps, as I said to Bruce, how can they tell you more about you than what you know?”

A fourth senior member of the Yuin community told NITV News on Friday that some members of the Yuin nation are “disappointed” with Ms Cashman's social media campaign.

“To launch such personal attacks on anyone is not okay. I’d like to think we can have an intelligent and constructive conversation,” said the community member.

“I accept Bruce Pascoe as an Aboriginal person and I’ve never had any doubts…I certainly do not approve of public attacks on some people."

The Yuin senior said Mr Pascoe "had stood his ground extremely well".

“He has confidence and security in knowing who he is and where he is from. That is such an important part about our resilience. How we deal with identity issues within our own community is a conversation we need to have, but it needs to be done with respect,” she said.

Earlier this week, The Sunday Age reported that Mr Pascoe was not concerned about the allegations contained in Ms Cashman's email when he first learned about them.

Mr Pascoe said he was confident in his identity and place within the community. He also said it was important to have his family behind him because “we are all in it together”, The Sunday Age reported.

“I’m sure a lot of non-Aboriginal people think that pale-skinned Aboriginal people shouldn’t identify, especially when it goes back to great grandmothers and great-grandfathers and I understand that,” he said.

“I think Australians have the right to know that Aboriginal people who claim to be Aboriginal are actually Aboriginal but I think that conversation needs to be a decent conversation.”

Defining 'Aboriginality'

The official criteria for defining Aboriginality in Australia comprises of three parts: self-identification; recognition within community; and documents that confirm descent.

Professor Bronwyn Carlson, head of Indigenous studies at Macquarie University and author of The Politics of Identity, told NITV News on Friday that the issue of Aboriginal identity is a complex one, but the three-step criteria is a useful starting point. 

“[The three-step criteria] is obviously not going to work for everyone but has been largely accepted by communities since the 80s,” she said.

Ms Carlson said that cases of identity can often become difficult and tracing decent can often be challenging, due to a range of issues like the stolen generations. Ms Carlson said that due to these complex factors community recognition becomes critical when identifying as Indigenous.

“In the Bruce Pascoe case we can see Indigenous people right across the country have claimed him as being a part of their community,” she said.

“I do know that people down the south coast speak very highly of Professor Pascoe and he has worked with communities all down the line there. "                                                         

Speaking exclusively with NITV News last week, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Community and Cultural partnerships, Professor Marcia Langton, described Ms Cashman’s campaign questioning Mr Pascoe's Aboriginality as "unconscionable".

“I don’t agree with running a campaign against an individual like this,” she said.

“I think most Aboriginal people would agree, it’s not something Aboriginal people would do, knowing what our history has been.

“We all know that it is very difficult for some Aboriginal people to prove comprehensively they are Aboriginal because of lack of records, because of members of the family lying, because of shame about having Aboriginal ancestry, because of the hatred of Aboriginal people.”

DNA Proposal                                                            

In March last year, the far-right political party, One Nation, released a policy proposal suggesting anybody identifying as Indigenous should be made to undergo DNA testing to confirm their claims of ancestry.

The party also proposed to abolish self-identification and introduce a qualifying benchmark of 25 per cent Indigenous DNA ancestry before Aboriginality could be accepted.

Leader of the NSW One Nation party, Mark Latham, told NITV News in March 2019 that the 25 per cent quota was “minority heritage”.

“It is equivalent to a full grandparent,” he explained.

Mr Latham also claimed that many “blonde hair and blue-eyed” people are claiming to be Aboriginal for government benefits, such as identified jobs.

“It takes away this whole argument that’s out there in the suburbs and the regions of the nation that you’ve got all these blonde hair, blue-eyed Indigenous and they're not genuine. It just puts it all on a scientific, truthful, knowledge, evidence base,” he said.

“With the technology that’s available now, it’s good to know whose Indigenous and whose not.”

However, Dr Misty Jenkins, who leads the Division of Immunology lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, clarified that the ability to test DNA for Aboriginal genealogy does not exist.

Since Ms Cashman began her social media campaign, the sales of Dark Emu have continued to sell at a high rate.

Gleebooks in Sydney said they sell an average of ten copies per week and described the number of sales as "impressive for a non-fiction Australian book".   

“We sell tonnes of it and have for as long as I can remember,” he said.

Dutton refers matter of Bruce Pascoe's identity to Federal Police
The Australian Federal Police will reportedly look into an allegation that Bruce Pascoe has benefitted financially by falsely claiming he is Indigenous.