Editor’s note: Tasmanian Times takes no position regarding the identity of Bruce Pascoe. As he is a public figure of quite some interest now, we decided to publish in full Michael Mansell’s statement below. We will be happy to publish a response from Bruce Pascoe if he provides one.
‘Bruce Pascoe Is Not Tasmanian Aboriginal’
It is understandable why people have leapt to defend Bruce Pascoe’s in the face of attack by the likes of right-wingers Andrew Bolt and Peter Dutton. People are suspicious about the motivation behind this pair. However, instead of Pascoe’s supporters dealing with facts they too have responded politically, muddying the waters around Pascoe’s claiming to be Aboriginal.
Pascoe’s defenders have rolled two separate and distinct issues – Aboriginality of the author, and what he writes – into one. The result is a smokescreen. Anyone who challenges Pascoe’s bona fides on identity- is he an Aboriginal or a white man?- is labelled a right-wing opponent of his books. Pascoe himself took this line in an interview with Sunday Age (19 Jan 2020) with journalist Jewell Topsfield: “Yep, I think it comes down to (an attempt to discredit the book).”
Take Rick Morton, senior writer of Saturday Paper. He wrote in his Paper Ed. 281 that “Bolt has purported to catch Pascoe in the act of faking his Aboriginal identity, as if to cast doubt on the book itself through the use of a skin-tone chart.” This was, Rick Morton, argued, a culture war.
Morton wrote “But Pascoe has long grappled with the necessarily murky past of his own identity. This murkiness speaks to how such relationships on this continent progressed for so long – disguised by violence, shame, lost records and stolen children”, a view Marcia Langton also took.
Leaving aside Pascoe’s books, is he a white man fabricating his Aboriginal claims?
Bruce Pascoe openly admits he grew up as a white man. When it comes to providing real information on his family, Pascoe is always suggestive. According to an interview with ABC on Monday 13 January 2020, Pascoe grew up on King Island. “If I didn’t have my community, my law…we will survive Peter Dutton who walked out on our apology.” This suggests Aboriginal law from his Aboriginal community. But he then added the community he talked about was the community at Eden with whom he’d been fighting fires. He has been searching for 40 years for his family.
He became interested in Aborigines and began writing about the topic. He said he felt a ‘connection’ with Aborigines. How many white people have we heard that from? That connection led Pascoe to originally claim he was an Aboriginal from Tasmania.
On what basis did Pascoe claim this? In Griffith Review #66, Pascoe wrote “both my mother’s and father’s families had an Aboriginal connection. I was amazed to find that the families knew each other in Tasmania years before my father met my mother at a Melbourne Baptist church.
But was it an accident? The two families lived close to each other in Melbourne, in the same street in Tassie, and had Aboriginal neighbours in both places. Aborigines signed as witnesses to their weddings, and various members of the families went back and forth across Bass Strait to marry back into the other family, including some first cousins.”
No mention there of his parents being Aboriginal, nor does Pascoe name who these Aboriginal friends were. This begins the pattern of Pascoe’s elusiveness on challenges to his identity claims- no names, no direct statement about from whom he gets Aboriginal heritage, all general and vague- but powerfully suggestive, leaving the reader to conclude there must be something there. Not only does Pascoe not name the Aborigines so his version could be checked out, he does not explain how he knew about this (presumably he was not at the wedding).
Anyway, having Aboriginal friends does not make a white man an Aboriginal.
Subsequent to his ‘coming out’ as an Aboriginal, Pascoe was confronted by a group of Tasmanian Aboriginal women at a language conference in Victoria. He could not explain to them how he was in any way connected to Tasmanian Aborigines. In Griffith Review66 Pascoe drops the Tasmanian connection altogether and says he “is of Bunurong and Yuin heritage and a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative of southern Victoria.”
In response, Josephine Cashman, whose ex-partner is Yuin, denied Pascoe was at all Yuin and in the Sunday Age of 19th January, 2020 Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council says it does not accept Professor Pascoe “as possessing any Boonwurrung ancestry whatsoever”. Pascoe told ABC radio on 13 January 2020: “I’ve said that all along that these are distant relationships…” There was his chance to be specific. Instead he was vague and evasive.
Like Ms Cashman and the Bunerong Land and Sea Council, the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania would never flippantly challenge someone’s Aboriginality without a solid foundation. For people to suggest we would deny a person their bona fide Aboriginal identity for political reasons is grossly insulting to we three particularly, and to the Aboriginal people we represent. To imply we are motivated to fall in line with a right-wing political attack on Pacoe is a disgraceful attempt to undermine our integrity as responsible representatives of our people. The claim by outsiders to know better than Aborigines about who is Aboriginal is as low as it gets.
Those who conveniently ignore Aboriginal communities stating that Pascoe is a white man do so for their own political reasons and in doing so are content to reduce Aboriginal community-derived information on who is legitimate to a byline. That is precisely what many have done here.
Marcia Langton ruled Pascoe is Aboriginal. Langton admits she does not know exactly what the circumstances are, but because Pascoe says he has papers (she hasn’t seen them) and Pascoe says he has a community acknowledgment, the whole matter, she adds, is settled. She is not alone with such a shallow declaration: New Matilda boldy stated on January 7th, 2020 “Pascoe is Aboriginal.”
Professor Marcia Langton rejected Josephine Cashman’s view that Bruce Pascoe’s Aboriginality is fake. By necessary implication, Langton also disagrees with both the Bunerong and Tasmanian Land Council’s denials of Pacoe’s claim. How Langton, from Queensland, operating from the bowels of Melbourne University all these years could know more than local Aboriginal groups is hard to understand.
There has to be integrity in the search for truth. Just because two hard-nosed right wingers publicise a fake claim does not convert a fake claim to a genuine one. People may not agree with Bolt or Dutton, but what happens when what they publicise is true? But this where we are. ABC in Hobart has on record that Tasmanian Aborigines knew for years that Pascoe is a white man. But no one cared to listen. Not one of the journalists contacted me or any other relevant Aboriginal group to check the facts. The complete ignoring of communal knowledge on identity is at odds with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that we have the right to determine our own identity or membership in accordance with our customs and traditions.
For political reasons, journalists of the left wanted to believe Pascoe was genuine and put up the blinkers to any contrary view. Now they must eat humble pie and admit they got it all wrong.
Chair, Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania
22 January 2020
August 9th, 2019 SMH Indigenous author challenges Australians on our ‘fraudulent’ history
– from Griffith Review, Andrew Bolt’s disappointment, by Bruce Pascoe
January 24, 2020 at 8:49 am
Despite Michael Mansell’s denial … I believe Bruce Pascoe is aboriginal …
February 1, 2020 at 8:58 pm
Is your belief evidence based, or word of mouth, or just a feeling, or … ?
February 2, 2020 at 6:14 pm
I’ve worked in the Aboriginal community, researched and delivered a paper on Tasmanian Aboriginality, and considered many points of view over this.
I’ve seen a lot of heartbreak and I’ve also personally met a lot of frauds. It’s an exceedingly difficult topic.
Yes, it’s difficult to prove you’re aboriginal if you’re not one of the thirteen families which George Augustus Robinson took to Flinders Island, or you’re not a descendant of Fanny Cochrane Smith/Dolly Dalrymple, and you aren’t one of the women who sealers kidnapped and took to the Bass Strait islands or Kangaroo Island.
But it is not impossible.
February 3, 2020 at 8:26 am
There are some in the community who do not descend from the above-mentioned families, and they are still known by their communities.
So if somebody wants to turn up out of nowhere and claim Aboriginal grants whilst gas-lighting those who question him, as Pascoe has done, then he needs to cough up the goods.
This is harsh, and I’m not saying that Pascoe is not Aboriginal, because Mansell is right; Pascoe is quite evasive.
I’m simply saying it’s not fair to others who work their guts out, and miss out on grants to somebody who ostensibly grew up white, like he says.
February 3, 2020 at 5:40 pm
Sarah Taylor, there is a serious charge here from within the Tasmanian aboriginal community that Bruce Pascoe is an impostor, and you seem to be contradicting the Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, who speaks for his people.
Do you consider your expertise and standing to do so as sufficient? You don’t mention being Tasmanian aboriginal yourself. Are you being anything more than flippant?
You suggest Pascoe’s extraordinary claim ‘is not impossible’. Can you outline how Pascoe would be Tasmanian aboriginal without descending from those survivors, and how he could know? You need to bring that to your opinion.
February 3, 2020 at 8:02 pm
Yes, well, there are silly new rules with 100 word limits, and a four comment limit.
Also, you seem to have to wait about 12 hours before you can continue, so if you search the comments you will find 2/3 of my comments are now posted.
Sarah, TT’s Moderators access this site numerous times daily, and several times at night, for the purpose of approving Comments fast.
Editing mainly takes the form of grammar correction.
Occasionally, extremely brief incoming Comments may be edited and published within three minutes.
We aim to process all Comments efficiently, promptly and well.
February 5, 2020 at 4:04 pm
Actually I’ve realised that your first comment demonstrates that you are not yet another screeching Pascoe apologist, so please forgive my terse wording. But it really would be good if somewhere on the Web we could get an assessment of Pascoe’s options and probabilities for tracing the evidence for his claim.
Basically, just how likely is it that Pascoe would ever be able to back up his claim with actual evidence? It seems you might be in a good position to make that assessment. It certainly would be interesting technical information.
(And a note of appreciation to the hardworking TT moderator)
Chief Editor TT
February 5, 2020 at 4:16 pm
Chief Editor TT
February 5, 2020 at 4:15 pm
The article comments are for brief replies on specific issues in a post. If you require more space you may write a Letter to the Editor, or have a long-term discussion within our Forums.
Thank you for your contributions.
April 7, 2021 at 6:53 am
I’ve met ordinary Aboriginals and they’re proud to tell you who their mob is, yet Bruce Pascoe is very evasive – and this rings alarm bells for me. It takes a lot more than a supposed “connection” to make one a true aboriginal.
Too many people today are more than willing to jump on the Aboriginal bandwagon claiming Aboriginal heritage, but when you press them as to the veracity of their claim they get all defensive and usually call people like me a racist for not believing them.
It will do the reconciliation cause no good at all if people can just claim Aboriginal heritage without any proof whatsoever. Just because you “feel” you’re an Aboriginal doesn’t mean you are one.
June 16, 2021 at 7:58 pm
The simple truth is that any good genealogist can easily trace every single branch of Bruce Pascoe’s family tree back to England.
Bruce is always vague when asked about this because if he gives any name of any of his forebears it can easily be proven that their ancestry is English.
I’m not a right-winger and I dislike Andrew Bolt intensely, but I do believe in the ability of facts to prove the truth, and in this case the facts are not on Pascoe’s side. I don’t understand why his past is “necessarily murky”… as the records are available for all to see.
Bruce’s genealogy is listed on this website: https://australianhistory972829073.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/bruce-pascoe-how-aboriginal-is-he/
If you are into genealogy, it’s pretty easy to verify that it’s correct.
As for the criticism of Dark Emu, I think it’s all silly semantics. The truth of the matter is that the indigenous people of this land survived for millenia in a sustainable way. It doesn’t really matter what label you put on that.
June 21, 2021 at 11:05 pm
The central issue that is existentially significant is that Bruce Pascoe’s outing of his identification with Aboriginality has, using the work of others as foundation stones, created and popularised a powerful constructive narrative of first nations competent management of this land.
Contrast that with the 200 years of the mining of soil and the water cycle degradation of colonial agriculture and forestry – a long overdue contemporary ‘restorying’ of country, a story that honours the 40-60 thousand years of sustained bounty by our Aboriginal Australians – a bounty now plundered and burnt.
A benchmark contemporary Australian agriculture will have to transform itself to achieve regeneratively as it draws carbon from the atmosphere to the soil.
The facts or otherwise of Pascoe’s genealogy is trivial for this purpose, or for any constructive purpose.
June 22, 2021 at 12:56 pm
Disclosure: I know and like Bruce Pascoe, though we haven’t caught up for a few years.
I’ve never seen Bruce be ‘evasive’ on this or any topic. If he doesn’t know something, or isn’t sure, he’ll say. I’ve never seen or heard Bruce be anything but open, honest and direct. If you have a legitimate disagreement or concern, he’ll engage.
In contrast to Bruce’s openness, I see people with various agendas tackling the man rather than the ball. If anyone has an issue with Bruce’s pedigree, he’d be the first to point to and acknowledge the missing information.
It’s disappointing that Michael Mansell chooses to side with those who hold ideological viewpoints (eg Cashman’s) that focus on attacking and discrediting Bruce rather than engaging with him. An honest argument is one that engages, and does not take a zero-sum black-or-white approach. An honest argument doesn’t attack, deride or attribute false motives.
Michael, if you read this, talk to Pascoe rather than bag him in this fashion – it does you no credit, mate.
January 3, 2022 at 3:42 pm
I met a full blood aboriginal on the north coast of NSW. He wasn’t the stereotypical aboriginal who’s unemployed and lives a life of crime via a bottle of alcohol.
No, he was a team leader/supervisor of an all-white road crew. He worked for the RMS and had an RMS supplied car – which you don’t get if you’re a drunk. He told me that his parents said to him that “your aboriginal heritage is important to you – BUT it’s not the be all and end all of being an aboriginal!”
He asked me to call him Darkie, and when I asked “why?” he said “well look at me, I am a Darkie!” He said that his parents told him when he was young that “we live in white society and white society isn’t going anywhere, and to succeed in white society you need to get an education and work hard!”
When I asked him about aboriginals living in central Australia in broken houses with rubbish strewn all over the ground while they are sitting on the ground under trees doing nothing, he said “that’s how they want to live for it’s far easier for them to blame white society for all that ails them when it’s they themselves who are responsible for all that ails them.”
When I asked about aboriginal activists like we see on the TV he said that they only represent themselves they don’t represent the broader aboriginal people. They never asked the broader aboriginal communities if they could represent them. They just took it upon themselves, and in doing so they give aboriginal people a bad name.