Andrew Bolt’s boot-in-mouth, a new book, and a true icon of free speech

Mister Bolt was in typical form back in 2007 when he said this about writer Bruce Pascoe.

Indigenous writer” Bruce Pascoe, member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative, tells The Australian of the creation of his identity:

My life was a plane wreck when I got to know (now wife) Lyn. It was 1982 and I’d just moved from Mallacoota to Melbourne to work as a drama resource teacher. My relationship was imploding, I had no money and I’d just started the Australian Short Stories magazine. And at the same time I was trying to track down my Aboriginal heritage…

I tend to bite off more than I can chew and under pressure I blame everyone else but myself. So I grab my swag and take myself off walking or camping somewhere… It might seem like a Koori instinct to go walkabout, but I suspect it’s a human instinct.

Mine is only a remote Aboriginal heritage, going back to my mother’s grandmother. But ever since I was a boy, Aborigines asked me who I was. I always said, “I’m Alf Pascoe’s son.’’ It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realised that wasn’t what they were asking.

Ah, the romance of the Noble Savage. The reassurance of a tribal identity. The thrill of the superstitious.

As we know Mister Bolt became quite famous for such remarks, as a later court case established. We are still seeing waves from that washing up against our protections against vilification.

See Bruce Pascoe’s recent  Andrew Bolt’s disappointment.

I am one of Andrew Bolt’s disappointments. I didn’t know I had offended him until a friend sent me a copy of the column in which I was pilloried by Bolt for deciding to be black. People expect me to be outraged but my inclination is to wish I could have a yarn with Bolt over a beer. Except he doesn’t drink beer, I’m told, just good red wine. Sad, the impasse we have just because histamines play havoc with my arthritis.

I can see Bolt’s point, and the frustration of many Australians when pale people identify with an Aboriginal heritage. The people he attacked for this crime, however, had an unfortunate thing in common: their credentials were impeccable. Any good reporter could pick up the phone and talk to their mothers about their Aboriginality until the chooks go to roost…

I had to learn my Aboriginal history and I had to learn Aboriginal etiquette by making mistakes. It has not been a painless journey filled with the excitement of acceptance and inculcation into the mysteries of a secret society.

I reckon Bolt and I would have a terrific yarn. He came from Holland as a child and learned to be an outsider too. I reckon I’d be fascinated by his childhood, how he coped as an alien. But I’d be impatient to tell him how I was perplexed by my father’s mild acceptance of my discoveries. I’m sure Bolt would want the same question answered that I do: why had no one but a rogue uncle spoken of this before?…

[My dad] only told me one story and I’ve written it word for word in my novel, Earth (Magabala, 2001). It’s almost the only thing we know of that past. After uncovering the lattice of our Tasmanian days I have a few more questions to ask him. Like, how much did you know, Dad? Perhaps you and me and Andrew could sit together: me with my Boag’s, Andrew with his superior red, and you with your Lan-Choo because you and Mum were still saving the labels for the full dinner set.

Dad’s gone but I could talk to Bolt easily and without the least rancour because I think it’s reasonable for Australia to know if people of pale skin identifying as Aborigines are fair dinkum. No one likes an imposter. Of course we should extend the same rigour to the Irish, Jews and Christians.

What I’d like to say to Bolty – because surely we’d be on nickname terms by then – Bolty, I’d say, why didn’t you ring their mothers? Are you crook on them because they identify as Aboriginal or because they’re successful Aborigines?…

In that article Bruce Pascoe mentions the now published history Dark Emu (Magabala 2014).


I DIDN’T PLAN to write history. I’m a storyteller. I thought that literature, while not much use to a practical world, was the best I could do to honour my grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ legacies. But then, in telling stories, I discovered their hidden stories, and as they were already dead I had to ask other Aboriginal people. The rest is history.

There are a dozen or so Australian scholars upon whose work I rely and I dread to think what our country might become without their courage. These people have withstood disdain and ridicule for their opinions, for their wilful misrepresentation of the country’s soul. I’m a fiction writer so I’m expected to be deranged, but the others are academics and must have felt the isolation on the nation’s self-convinced campuses.

One young scholar complained to me that he had been warned not to quote the work of the heretic Bill Gammage. Gammage recently released a book, The Biggest Estate (Allen & Unwin, 2011), and in my dream every Australian would read it. After reading my next book, Dark Emu: Agriculture or Accident.

I think of Gammage sitting at a lonely university café table quietly reviewing his own work. He spends a lot of time in Estate anticipating the scorn of fellow academics and preparing his responses. No doubt some of his friends have leaned across tables, urging him to reconsider his heresy: houses, crops, sewing, sowing?

Another landmark scholar has become so disaffected that he has removed himself from the campus entirely and studies alone. His books are now published in plain covers in London. What a shame to let the Old Dart do our controversial publishing and thinking on our behalf.

I love my country. I am relieved to live in a place where we can go down the street to get milk and expect not to get shot at. And yet I am surprised that in a country of such gifts and intelligence we have edited our country’s history so that our children will never question our right to the soil and will learn to express surprise at the ingratitude of those we dispossessed. They will be astounded, confused and belligerent at the very mention of Aboriginal achievement. Houses, agriculture, sewing, baking!

Justice holds up the scales of judgement and wears a blindfold so that no partiality is allowed. In Australia we prefer our children to dispense with the scales of justice and make do with the blindfold. The rest of the world can see the donkey ears above our blinkers: it is only here we believe they are invisible.

The book sounds fascinating. You can hear Bruce Pascoe talk about it on Awaye — “Dark Emu challenges what can only be described as a startling lack of intellectual curiosity about Aboriginal agriculture” – and visit a special blog for the book.

Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the entrenched, centuries-old notion that pre-European Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers who did not farm the land they occupied.  This descriptor – so deeply embedded in mainstream Australia’s concept of Indigenous history – is refuted by Bruce Pascoe in easily-read and non-academic prose.

“The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag,” he says.

This premise is supported by scholars Rupert Gerritsen and Bill Gammage in their latest works, but Dark Emu takes it further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie promulgated by colonisers who ignored the possibility of prior Indigenous possession of the land.

Almost all the evidence comes from original records and diaries of Australian explorers —sources academic historians consider impeccable — and presents new material not covered by others.

Now to free speech elsewhere. I saw this in the China Daily Mail blog:

Activists in Hong Kong launched a campaign in support of Liu Xia, the wife of a jailed Nobel peace laureate who has been held under house arrest since 2010.

Supporters of Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo gathered in a busy shopping district to shave their heads in public to show solidarity with the couple, as the family requested permission for her to seek medical treatment overseas.

Lau Ka-yee, a spokewoman for the Liu Xia Concern Group, said the protest coincided both with Valentine’s Day and the traditional Chinese dumpling festival of Yuan Xiao.

“We want to send out our love and deepest respect to Liu Xia, but also to call the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party to account in the strongest possible terms,” Lau said…

As I mentioned on Facebook, I met Liu Xiaobo in Sydney when he was visiting in the 1990s, between Tiananmen and the 1996 Labour Camp experience. He is one feisty individual, I can tell you. See my blog entries Liu Xiaobo, Free Liu Xiao Bo and Lost in translation–and also in time!

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