top of page

Dark Emu

Semester 01, 2020

In first semester, Creative Writing, Creative + Digital Arts and Music students within the College of Indigenous Futures Arts and Society (CIFAS) turned their attention to Bruce Pascoe's groundbreaking text Dark Emu (2014).

Reading and engaging with the key ideas in Dark Emu and the questions Pascoe poses to the silences and erasures of the Australian historical record, CDU students responded creatively.

Through music, poetry, writing, photography, painting and sculpture, students articulate a deepening engagement with Truth-telling, the importance of listening and the demand for setting the record straight.

The following is a selection of CIFAS student responses.

Image: Megg Kirk, Cover Art, 2020, pastel, acrylic, chalk on paper.



I've wanted to approach the subject of colonisation and the horror of what happened here many times previously but haven't known how. ​What is my part in it? How do I educate myself without falling into a black pit of despair? How do I personally honour and respect indigeneity and this land? What is cultural appropriation and what does it mean to be Australian? What does "home" and "history" mean and how does my own ancestral lineage fit into the larger canvas of being human? Where do I belong? 


​I met an Indigenous woman a few years ago and shared a little of my hopelessness and asked her some of these questions. ​How should I, as a white Australian acknowledge the past and walk in this country?​ She said something that gives me goosebumps still: know the stories of the land you live on, know the names of the waterways and where they come from and where they're going to and learn the stories of the hills, mountains and valleys around you. Learn the plants and the animals that live there. That's the only way. Maybe I can add writing a song to that list too.

Barefoot and Silent


You see a dark emu running across the sky but I see only stars
you see the law of the land and food for everyone but I see only burning grass


You said anyone
can visit here and climb the mountain but do it barefoot do it barefoot and silent

You see abundance in the red sacred earth but I see only highways and dirt
you see the winding path the serpent laid down but I see just a pretty photograph


You said anyone
can visit here and climb the mountain but do it barefoot do it barefoot and silent

(you whisper) Fences in the ground make fences in the mind this land’s been a victim of the lies they tried to hide
but you don’t need my tears you don’t need my shame and guilt You just want me to look beneath this square world that we built and I wish that I learned in school the truth about your race

but they taught me you were nomads with no right to this place but you pounded grain you willowed you were ingenious engineers and you’ve been baking bread for 50 000 years


You said anyone
can visit here and climb the mountain but do it barefoot do it barefoot and silent

You see a dark emu running across the sky but I see only stars



Creative and Digital Arts students researched and designed bush food graphics, responding Dark Emu's challenge to recognise the long ark of Indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices that shaped the land.

Picture 1.png

From “Aboriginal Fisheries, Darling River, N.S.W.” by K. Henry, c.1880-1900 (



Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu (2018) and the children’s version Young Dark Emu (2019), were the inspiration of the preceding story. Specifically, the creation and management of a complex, sustainable system of aquaculture (Pascoe, 2017; Osborne, 2019); used to process and preserve a large volume of captured river species (Builth, 2014). Brewarrina is the name of one such system of ponds and traps, reported to be at least 40,000 years old (Pascoe, 2018); and was the inspiration for both the title and the setting of the story. 


The void, referred to in the beginning of the story as a place, makes reference to Pascoe’s poignant description “European astronomy uses constellations of stars to tell a story, but sometimes Aboriginal Australia uses the darkness between the stars. Dark Emu is a shape in the dark areas between the stars of the Milky Way. It’s a different way of seeing.” (Pascoe, 2019, p. 7). The second iteration of the void, used when describing the alienness of the invading forces, was included to move the audience to view the newcomers as shockingly different from the traditional inhabitants of the land and waterways. 


Furthermore, Pascoe’s description of an alternate perspective, is at the core of the story and the main characters incarnation as a fish. The protagonist is a Birrngi, an extinct type of bony bream (Pascoe, 2018), that before Australia’s settlement, was plentiful in the Darling River (Pascoe, 2019). It was chosen to represent the extinction of the untouched Aboriginal land, culture and way of life.



Creative and Digital Arts students designed cover art for music produced by the Centre for Youth and Community Music (CYCM). Musical themes explored concepts of land ownership and responsibility to the land.



In response to Bruce Pascoe’s work Dark Emu I chose to write a piece that recognized the Indigeneity of where I live. Centuries before I arrived with my family and too many pets my backyard was betrothed to the Menang people of the lower Great Southern Region of Western Australia. 


My muse is an enormous Marri tree that stands in the driveway to my house and if it were to blow over it would easily crush our shed (see pic). The Marri tree’s dominant physical viewpoint led me to wonder at what the surviving behemoth had witnessed in it’s one hundred plus years of life. I am convinced there is much that tree has seen. Each evening when walking the dogs along the river’s edge beneath the remaining Marri tree’s, I am reminded of my position of privilege. I can never shake the feeling of shame and remorse. I have directly benefited from what transpired here, on the very ground I walk on. In a century of anglicised presence and farming practices the once pure waterways filled with fat brim, untouched old growth forests and native grasslands have been replaced with overfertilized barbwire fenced paddocks inhabited by domesticated European mammals and foreign tuba’s (potatoes).

You may notice that I have used Menang words, with the English in brackets – instead of the other way around. This was to focus on how easily it is to alter our language to be more inclusive and respectful of Menang and to also recognise that objects, animals and places were identified and named long before European’s arrived. 



Through agricultural practices, the hand is the interface between the the body and the land. Well, one at least. As Creative and digital Arts students read Dark Emu, they explored the presence of hands in the text. Visible and invisible hands that articulated an enduring presence and connection to the land of its Indigenous People. The marks these hands have made were observed by the earliest explorers, marks that were overlooked, ignored and erased. 

The Hand Series offered students an opportunity to investigate story telling through the lives of hands and the different marks they make.