Philomena and I are in the Cairnes, Australia Airport waiting for our flight to Melbourne then transferring to a flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. We’ve spent a little less than a week here in summer tropical weather. The two trips we took were out to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef and look for wildlife at the Daintree rainforest. We didn’t go swimming at the beach here – man eating 15 foot crocodiles and stinging jellyfish make that impossible. Still, a delightful place to stay, relax and eat too much.
We didn’t rent a car here because we could take the bus where we wanted to go. A good portion of the people we were riding with were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This stimulated my curiosity about them. When I explored what Australian television was like, I discovered an interesting television channel: National Indigenous Television (NITV). It was formed in 2007 and became part of the national broadcast system Channel 34 and is available to 95% of Australian homes.
The moment I landed on the channel, I heard a narrator describing the experience of being colonized and managed by a long sequence of colonizing entities. That first started by encouraging them to form councils that could represent them in dealing with the colonizing governors. Then the missionaries came to do cultural exchange. Some were willing to learn their language and teach reading and writing. At each step of colonization they were moved away from living on their land and into supervised living situations. The government was happy to give them a pension but built only one store they could use to spend their money. The government stocked the store with what it wanted to sell them. No alcohol of course but abundant junk food and soda.
The documentary talked about the problems that come from radically different cultural assumptions. Aboriginal culture has no concept of private property. Everything comes from the bush that a person might need. When you are done with what came from the bush, it just goes back and decomposes. That isn’t true for plastic and glass bottles that come from the store. Our society creates so much trash, that now there is a need for a place for it.
Money is a real problem. The idea of saving money is difficult for many. If someone needs money you give it to them just like sharing food and water for mutual survival. This makes it very hard to save up money for something big like a car. And if you do get a car, you share it with everyone until it is used up and ends up in the trash dump.
The documentary focused on two old men. They were quite talented artists who spoke five indigenous languages. Unfortunately the market for indigenous art is flooded right now which makes it pointless for them to work as they can’t afford the materials they need. Their skills with languages aren’t needed by the colonizers. So these wise souls go unappreciated by the larger society in which they are captive.
The contrast was striking as I channel surfed because it was “Australia Day,” the national holiday. I saw all the celebrations around the country and some protests by indigenous people.
We have the same conflict back in the United States between indigenous cultures in conflict with colonizers. Australians haven’t been quite as effective at killing them as Americans have been over the years. The Aboriginal presence is much stronger and the television channel amplifies their voice.
Stepping out of my culture and environment and exploring another helps me understand myself and our culture with a fresh perspective. There are parallels with problems back home but also struggles I’m glad we don’t have. If we go walking in the woods back home, we are unlikely to walk through what looks like a clearing and run into a spider the size of your hand. Also there are some incredibly dangerous plants here that can kill you. We are grateful to be leaving without getting bitten or stung – just a little bit of sunburn.
Thinking of Albany UU, though it is hard to monitor my email and think about budgets and meetings while we are away. We’ll try to bring as much as we can back … and I’m posting pictures on my Facebook account if you want to follow our adventures.