You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘aboriginals’ category.


On the morning of our last day together as traveling companions with Wayoutback Desert Safaris, we wake to the sound of birds. We are not much more than 100 kilometers from Alice Springs, but well and truly in the heart of the outback. There are no amenities here that we have not brought with us. To reach the nearest toilet, our driver/guide points to the shovel and suggests walking a good long way from camp, well away from the water that has attracted all the birds.

20121024-PA240533.jpg

Most of us are soon mesmerised by the aviary all around us. This is a wonderland for bird watchers and long telephoto lenses. A large, awkward-looking baby hawk sits on a branch nearby, waiting for his parents to bring his breakfast. Flocks of budgies dart and soar in the sky overhead, gradually joining in larger and larger numbers until the sky seems covered with them. It is hard to imagine these same birds confined to cages, perched in solitary confinement in sombre cities around the world. Out here we can see them for the gregarious aerial acrobats they really are.

20121024-PA240529.jpg

One of our number wanders back to camp from a short walk and describes a creature Tamara thinks may have been a wild turkey. We are immersed in rich wonderland within a very dry jungle. it is magical, the perfect morning for our last day together.

20121024-PA240540.jpg

We take our time over breakfast and slowly gear up for our trip back to civilisation. Most of us have exhausted our store of clean clothes. Our one and only rendezvous for the day is with a lady named Loz, the host and spokesperson for the Oak Valley Aboriginal Community, due south of Alice Springs.

20121024-PA243306.jpg

As scruffy as we are, she takes us in. We are the Whitefellas who have shown up to hear her stories and to listen to the land. She shows us a hill full of rare fossils to start with, remains of the last retreat of inland ocean. We walk together through scrub bushland which should be rich with bush tucker, but it has been too dry. We scramble up to a sacred site replete with rock art.

She is full of stories, personal family history and tribal stories that connect her people to the land as powerfully as glue. By the end of the afternoon we will all fall under her enchantment. One story that stuck with me was about her uncle, if memory serves. Years of writing have failed to improve my memory and I am without notes.

20121024-PA243309.jpg

He lost his leg after being thrown from a horse. Despite being flown to a hospital in Adelaide, they best they could do for him was a wooden substitute. That didn’t stop him from riding, swimming swollen rivers, doing anything the young man wanted to do. In time, he made himself a better leg, articulated at the knee and ankle. Sent the old one back to the hospital as an offering.

It is time to go. We clamber back into Snooty for the drive to Alice Springs, the gathering of luggage, the brief goodbyes. Later on, a handful of us who are staying close to the centre of town will get together at a pub to drink a toast to the group adventure. In the morning, we will climb on metal birds to head our separate ways. Five rich and wondrous days will slip into memory.

20121024-PA243303.jpg

20121024-PA243304.jpg

20121024-PA243311.jpg

20121024-PA243316.jpg


There are a number of myths which appear to have captured the collective imagination here in Australia. The idea behind the slogan in the title is that all newcomers get an equal opportunity to make something of themselves in this, the “lucky” land.  It is not dissimilar to the notion that drives the dreams of Americans.  Mark Watson, a historian from this country who spent a long time in America, found it deeply embedded in the psyche of just about every individual he met there. It amazed him that someone living inside a box on Broadway could still believe in the American dream, and tout the glorious opportunities at hand in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mythology is a little more mundane here.  Perhaps the lack of a Hollywood dream factory, Silicon Valley phenomenon, or “Horatio Alger” myth (Australian readers will have to look that up) dilutes the dream of the yellow brick road.  But the idea of equal opportunity does have a certain amount of credibility in this country.  A recent survey by the OECD gives Australia high marks for social mobility.  Surprisingly, parents’ incomes and education had little bearing on the success of their children, and the gap is actually narrowing between rich and poor.  That is not something Americans or Canadians can claim.

Australia funnels cash benefits for the disadvantaged to low income households better than any other country in the OECD.  It is not a good place to get old, however.  Half of Australia’s singles over the age of 65 are living in poverty.  That may be why is almost impossible to immigrate here if you are over the age of 40.  This is a land for the young and able.

Like many Australian television viewers, (albeit a distinct minority). I have been captivated by a new series on SBS called, simply, “First Australians.”  I read that it was patterned after an American series documenting our natives.  What astonished me was the surprise registered by reviewers of this fine series.  No Australians appear to have learned any of this history in school.

It is almost as if a collective denial has taken place in the educational system, along the lines of Japan’s denial of the atrocities of World War II.  It is understandable that descendants of the white settlers of Australia would want to absolve their ancestors of cruel, bloodthirsty behavior, but the atrocities did  happen.  What happened to the aboriginals of Tasmania was tantamount to genocide.

The treatment of natives in Victoria was no less cruel, simply more measured. The numbers tell the story.  In a very short time, the aboriginal population of Victoria dropped from 60,000 to 2,000.  The “Protection Board” had Orwellian implications.  Its purpose seemed to be tormenting the handful of aboriginals who survived.  You can download all the episodes of the series at:  http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/

Some years ago, when we were living in New York, an odd series of circumstances took me on a journey to Newfoundland.  I visited a band of Micmac Indians living a hardscrabble existence in the South of the island.  Their people had come from Nova Scotia.  The first people in Newfoundland were called Beothuk. It is believed their use of ochre to paint themselves is the reason we call native Americans “red” Indians.

They were hostile to the Europeans, and their encounters with fisherman from England, France, Spain and Portugal often led to bloodshed.  By 1829, the Beothuk had been wiped out.  I suspect that most people today would be as horrified as I to learn of the casual genocides that were conducted by our ancestors on the natives of these lands.  So, perhaps we have made some progress.  “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives,”  said Abba Eben.  I’d like to think we have come to that point.

We need a future that is no longer claimed by the past. The natives of our planet need a fair go from all of us.


The apology to the aborigines for the “stolen generations” may not have made headlines in North America, but it was a big deal here in Australia. We happened to be on the road when it happened, but I found a copy of “The Age” at a newsagent’s shop in Tasmania. The front page on Valentine’s Day was given over to five large photos of aboriginals, some in tears.

The headline read: Outburst of Emotion Echoes Across the Land. It was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s moment, as he made the speech acknowledging the pain of the native people caused by government policy of legal kidnapping graphically illustrated by the film–“Rabbit Proof Fence.” When I saw the film I assumed that since the film was set in the thirties, the policy that formed its central conflict had disappeared years ago. Not so.

The policy was in place from 1910 until 1970. It affected up to 100,00 aboriginal children who were removed from their families and placed in church or state institutions or foster homes. According to verbal testimony taken for the 1995 inquiry “Bringing Them Home,” many of them were subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse.

The main motive seems to have been assimilation. Undoubtedly there were altruistic caregivers who were primarily concerned with the welfare of the native children, but the instant orphans were discouraged from speaking their own language or getting in touch with their families. The best of intentions could not compensate for that emotional amputation. Rudd’s speech carefully avoided the promise of monetary compensation, but he did declare the need to “remove a great stain from the nation’s soul.”

The apology may have been nothing more than a symbolic act, a way of assuaging the guilt of the white population of Australia, but it is a beginning. Even coming from a country with an awful history of native subjugation and despair, I have been shocked by media reports on conditions in aboriginal settlements here. Let us hope that Rudd’s vision will be translated into effective action that will trigger the changes that are so necessary to restore the pride and self-sufficiency of the aboriginal population. There are no easy solutions.

Treatment of the native population by the early English settlers is a sad story, horrific in the case of Tasmania. Arthur Phillip’s instructions were “to endeavor by any means to open an intercourse with the natives and to conciliate their affections….” But Phillip had come to settle “terra nullius” with ships full of convicts and soldiers, not the most enlightened of people. Early contact between natives and newcomers often led to conflict, sometimes to bloodshed.

Before the first year was out, even the thoughtful Captain Phillip had sanctioned kidnapping a native in order to learn the language and customs of the aboriginals in the area.

At least Arabanoo was a grown man.

Flickr Photos

P6110011.jpg

P6110010.jpg

P6110009.jpg

P6110005.jpg

P6110002.jpg

More Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 40,416 hits
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 141 other followers

Top Rated

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Categories