Peter Sutton

Few books have had as decisive an impact on the history of Indigenous Australian land management as Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. And yet, as Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe argue in Farmers or Hunter-gatherers?, the foundations upon which Pascoe builds his account of Indigenous agriculture may be shakier than first thought. In his review of Sutton and Walshe’s book, writer and anthropologist Stephen Bennetts assesses not only their criticisms of Pascoe’s claims, but also the surrounding controversy that has turned a scholarly debate into another theatre in a culture war. What this political furore threatens to obscure is the long tradition of Australian anthropological research that has been essential to the legal restoration of Indigenous land ownership.

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For anyone who has spent substantial time recording Aboriginal cultural traditions in remote areas of Australia with its most senior living knowledge holders, bestselling writer Bruce Pascoe’s view that Aboriginal people were agriculturalists has never rung true. Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate – co-authored by veteran Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe – has already been welcomed by Aboriginal academics Hannah McGlade and Victoria Grieve-Williams, who reject Dark Emu’s hypothesis that their ancestors were farmers (like Pascoe himself).

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More Than Mere Words edited by Paul Monaghan and Michael Walsh & Ethnographer and Contrarian edited by Julie D. Finlayson and Frances Morphy

by
December 2020, no. 427

Anthropology, in my experience, is commonly confused in the popular imagination with archaeology. ‘We study live people, whereas archaeologists study dead people,’ I have sometimes explained half-jokingly to the perplexed. Although public understanding of anthropology’s engagement with living human societies and cultures is at times sketchy, Australian anthropologists have in fact made significant contributions since the 1970s to the recognition of prior Aboriginal land ownership over vast tracts of the Australian continent. The essays in this two-volume Festschrift celebrate the multifaceted life and legacy of anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton, perhaps the most significant exemplar of this ‘applied’ branch of Australian anthropology.

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