G’day mate! We have waved goodbye to South East Asia and arrived down under in Darwin, Australia. I’ve never been particularly drawn to Australia but after deciding to incorporate it into our trip, I decided I wanted to gain two things from my Oz experience. Firstly to see Kate, one of my besties from home who moved to the East coast a few years back and secondly to get educated on Aboriginal culture; by far the oldest continuous civilisation in the world.
We headed off to Kakadu early the next morning with this lovely mob including our very funny and knowledgable guide Darren – ‘spear them suckers’!
After 50,000 years plus of Aboriginal civilisation, Captain Cooke ‘discovered’ Australia on the 6th May 1770, claiming it for king and country and irrevocably changing one of the world’s oldest and possibly most precious cultures. The British government declared that this land was ‘terra nullilus’; uninhabited land. This, despite the fact that Aboriginal communities had continuously inhabited this land for longer than any civilisation, anywhere on record. Although there are some stories of friendship and understanding between the Aborigines and Australia’s first immigrants, as time went on the indiginous people of Australia were generally treated unspeakably – the invaders valued them so little that they hunted them for dog food and for a long time it was legal to do so.
Over the past 200 or so years, millions of people have flooded into Australia, initially through no choice of their own, being a mixture of criminals, administrators and soldiers. Today it’s a desirable and thriving first world country that many now dream of living in and work hard to gain citizenship for.
Whilst meandering through Kakadu, Darren opened up about his indiginous roots and heartbreakingly explained his grandmother’s experience being part of ‘The Stolen Generations’. This was a scheme set up by the government to try to ‘integrate’ the contrasting communities and enlighten and educate the native people of Australia with ‘superior’ western ways and culture. What actually happened was indiginous children were kidnapped and taken to live hundreds of miles away with new white families. In many cases these children were badly abused by their new guardians and had every part of their identity and culture torn away from them. In aboriginal culture, history is passed from generation to generation through storytelling and song. Without this connection to their ancestors, huge damage was done to the children of the stolen generations and to aboriginal culture in general.
My first few days in Australia have been full of emotion. The indiginous situation is very real – native people are being discriminated against to this day. The government has tried to help them by giving them council houses and money, neither of which have a place in the way they have lived for thousands of years. Usually I like to believe that a middle ground can always be found, that some sort of compromise will work. However in this instance I’m really struggling to see how these issues can be tackled. The government is a huge factor – I am dumbstruck at the fact that most schools don’t educate children about aboriginal culture, it’s treated like a taboo topic.
In my opinion, Australia would be 100 times more incredible if the aboriginal culture had been valued, adopted and nurtured. Unfortunately we are now at the stage, ten or so generations down the line where alcohol and drug addiction is a big problem (indiginous people’s immune systems can’t tolerate alcohol in the same way that western societies that have drunk alcohol for hundreds of years can) as well as sexual abuse within aboriginal communities. It’s not surprising that indiginous communities can be dysfunctional when you compare their past with their present. They used to move around with the seasons, living off the land and following extremely rich (and completely fascinating) traditions inherited from their ancestors over thousands of years. Now they are expected to live in a building and work in an office and act in a way that is completely alien to them. Why should they?
A trip to Kakadu wouldn’t be complete without a bit of croc spotting.
We visited some pretty special Aboriginal art sites, these works of art mean so much to the indiginous community and educate generations about their ancestors, history and traditions that have been documented over tens of thousands of years.
The drawings also document which animals were present at the time they were drawn – some of which are now extinct. This can help date the paintings as well as giving us an indication as to what climate changes occurred at the time, including ice ages.
After our trip to Kakadu I still felt I wanted to know more about the Aboriginal situation today so we asked where the best place would be to learn more and were directed towards the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
I was disappointed at how little Aboriginal culture was mentioned – there are many examples of art works but very little about anything else. Strangely there was a huge section about South East Asia, stating the importantance of understanding the cultural differences in Australia’s neighbouring countries?
I found the map above the most interesting part of the entire museum. It illustrates the different languages spoken by indiginous people at the point of invasion. Looking at this, it’s hard to believe that this country was classed at uninhabited land. I’m leaving Darwin with a heavy heart in the hope that the rest of my travels throughout this beautiful country will offer a little more explanation.