ABC to continue documentary adaptation of Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ amidst critique

The book's factual accuracy has recently been challenged by two academics

ABC TV are likely to still go ahead with a two-part documentary based on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, despite controversies around the book’s factual accuracy.

Some of the claims made in the book – which details accounts of First Nations people at the time of white settlement, particularly in regards to food production and land management – have recently been disputed by two academics.

However, as The Sydney Morning Herald reports, sources close to ABC production have confirmed there are no plans to abandon the project. The spokesperson has assured the show will be produced in a way “that deals with what’s previously not been dealt with”.

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The Sydney Morning Herald further reports the shape of the Dark Emu documentary series is likely to be formed in conjunction with opposing material from Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers: The Dark Emu Debate, the book by anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe.

In this work, Sutton and Walshe accuse Pascoe of being “broadly wrong” in claiming Indigenous Australians were “practicing forms of agriculture at and prior to the arrival of Europeans.” Pascoe is understood to be currently working his way through their book, which will inform the creative direction of the new series.

Dark Emu, the two-part documentary, was announced in October 2019. Bruce Pascoe was slated as the series’ co-writer, with Blackfella Films producing alongside Jacob Hickey, and the ABC joining as the official broadcaster.

The show was only in pre-production when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year (2020) and, as such, no footage has yet been filmed.

The ABC spokesperson noted: “The production team is still determining the basics of the documentary, including its content, approach and tone, so we are unable to comment further at this stage.”

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Dark Emu was first released in 2014, through Indigenous publishing company Magabala Books. The publisher has reported sales of more than 300,000 copies of Pascoe’s book since then, with an additional 95,000 copies of the kids adaptation Young Dark Emu: A Truer History. 

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