Were Indigenous Australians hunter-gatherers prior to colonisation? Author Bruce Pascoe thinks not. In 2014, Pascoe, an Indigenous Bunurong man born in Victoria, published a non-fiction book called Dark Emu: Black Seeds, Agriculture or Accident? which challenges the widely held notion. Instead, he put forward evidence that they cultivated domesticated plants, built permanent dwellings, and developed sophisticated systems of governance and sustainable land care for thousands of years across the country.

The book struck a chord with Stephen Page, Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, who is using it to inspire the company’s major new work for 2018, Dark Emu. Page has worked with playwright Alana Valentine as dramaturg – a role she played on Bangarra’s sold-out 2017 production of Bennelong – to create a loose storyboard. He then invited senior dancer Daniel Riley and Bangarra alumna Yolande Brown to join him in creating the work, with the dancers.

Dark Emu, Bangarra Yolanda Lowatta and Daniel Riley in Bangarra’s Dark Emu. Photo © Daniel Boud

“[The book] is really factual. There’s a lot of amazing information in there. So, then it’s how to bring the heartbeat of the land, the people and the spirituality into...