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.

Michael Mansell
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