Across Continents

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Societal developments

October 22nd, 2011

It made sense. The degree and distribution of intelligence amongst a given society must surely be largely constant. Independent of its environment. But it was the latter that determined the rate of development. Food surpluses, competition from neighbouring peoples, all fuelling advancement. Which seemed to explain why Australia’s Aboriginal hunter-gatherers had remained firmly in the Stone Age until the arrival of European settlers.

I’d been lent a copy of a book exploring societal developments. Unfortunately unable to read the entire text before I’d be heading off, back on the road. Instead settling on reading the first and last chapters. An articulate, engrossing treatise. But I’d have to return to it later.

Earlier in the evening I’d been discussing the treatment of Australian and North American indigenous people by European settlers. Suggesting that whatever the answer was, the only certainty was that nobody had got it right. Found myself wondering about Africa, where the colonists had pretty much withdrawn. Resolving to go and see for myself.

[The book referred to is "Guns, germs and steel" by Jared Diamond]

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Acceptable Apartheid

May 10th, 2011

"At least we haven’t killed all ours" she quipped. Referring to the indigenous peoples. Bit blunt. But she did have a point. Instead, until not so long ago, imposing restrictions on them. Quite a few. Exclusions that bore an uncanny resemblance to Apartheid. But a more "acceptable" form. Avoiding the wrath of the international community. Condemnation of others.

Curious why Australia ever got away with this sort of behaviour. Perhaps because most early settlers were of English descent. Supposedly bringing with them a sense of fair play. Surely imposing restrictions – controls – because they were necessary? And then there’s numerical superiority. Far more immigrants than indigenous peoples. Much easier to keep Aborigines out of sight. It’s a big country. Which helps.

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A lost people?

March 30th, 2011

Story so far…. Struggling what to make of Aborigines. The indigenous people. Encounters haven’t exactly been encouraging. Sitting around. Often drunk. Not infrequently rude and abusive. But not stupid. Collectively very capable at playing the system. Knowing which buttons to press. And how hard.

Formulaic. Start with the premise that the wider society owes you something. Stick doggedly with this. Doesn’t matter if the injustices you rely on to assert your case for positive discrimination are now just historical footnotes. Actually, it helps. Much easier to distort faded memories in your favour than fresh recollections.

Dissenting voices are easily dealt with. Play the Race card. Or, better still, recruit a "do-gooder" from the same ethnic group as the opposition. A misguided apologist. Get them to do it for you. Gives accusations of racial discrimination, of prejudice, much more credence. No matter how unfounded.

Tongue-in-cheek? A little. But if there’s one place you can be sure of finding those harbouring prejudice based on race, then it’s amongst race relations practitioners or supposedly dispossessed minorities. Usually so blinkered they’re unable to see the irony…

For my own part, I’m sticking to some simple principles in my efforts to understand the Aborigines. Everyone an individual. To be judged on their own merit. But not a soft touch. Hard facts rather than emotional fiction. And never an apologist for history. The search continues…

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Sitting around money

February 12th, 2011

Sitting around money“. Aboriginal English expression for State handouts. Telling. But, for the work shy, at least a refreshing ring of honesty. Wander around the centre of Cairns and you can’t but notice mostly small groups of people laying about. Doing nothing. Appearing to be strangers. Aliens. Ironic. For almost – but not quite all are Aborigines. Indigenous.

I’d made the mistake – at least I hope it is – of seeing these people as Aborigines. Before realising that this is, strictly speaking, coincidental. Whether they be best described as unemployed, dispossessed, or plain lost depends as much on your generosity and their point of view. There are a few characters of European descent to be found drifting around. And they’re the ones to watch. Especially around the ATMs.

[Author’s note: I’d love to have included a photo of the malingers laying about in the centre of Cairns. But no. Not because I fear it may steal souls from the indigenous ones amongst them. Besides, seems to be used as an excuse to demand money. Rather, a much more practical and humane reason. Given a couple of unprovoked verbal altercations, don’t fancy running the risk of what Aussies terms a ’bashing’. Which, as a particularly descriptive term, is up there with their use of ’home invasion’ for burglary]

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Difficult questions

February 10th, 2011

Two things intrigue me about Australia. The continent’s flora and fauna – stinger trees, kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, possums, brown snakes, deadly spiders, even penguins – a pretty unique ecosystem. And the Aboriginal people. The indigenous race. And it’s understanding the latter, their place in today’s society, that’s proving to be particularly tricky.

Need to get past the digiridoos. The drunks slumped about in the centre of Cairns. The altercations. The alcohol restrictions imposed in the indigenous reservations. Even the telling nature of Aboriginal English. Expressions such as sitting about money to describe State handouts. Objectivity is playing hard to get.

Searching for the positives, allowing me to put together a suitably balanced piece, isn’t, I fear, going to be that easy. But hardly surprising. For, societal structures and cultural heritage aside, technologically the unescapable fact is that, prior to the arrival of the first British settlers, the Aborigines were just shy of the Stone Age. Problems inevitable. Unavoidable. An uncomfortable truth? Or just an unspoken one?

If this seems a little harsh, consider how one generation in the West invariably struggles to come to terms with the technology of the next. Multiply that by a thousand or so and you can perhaps see why difficulties must arise. We shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised. Issues Australia has been wrestling with since the first settlers arrived. Adopting various approaches. Some pretty abhorrent by today’s norms. Much to mull upon.

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Selling his soul

January 27th, 2011

At first I ignored him. He was lying prostrate a few metres away. Sheltering, as I was, from the fierce afternoon sun. An ambassador for the Aboriginal community he was not. He’d decided I was attempting to photograph him. Which wasn’t the case at all. Just using the shade to look back through the images I’d just taken of nearby fruit bats. Deciding whether or not I needed to run the risk once more of being peppered with guano. Thankfully not.

Fruit bat - web

Perhaps others had photographed him without the decency to first ask. As I would always do. Not least because I suspected that true Aborigines might be fearful an image might somehow steal something of them. But, in this instance, you quickly sensed the only spirit he cared about came in a bottle.

His tone became increasingly aggressive. Enough. Advised him to mind his own business. Robustly. Very. A little road trick. Picture how a Westerner is expected to respond – what I call the script – then do something quite different. Surprisingly effective. So far. I wandered off. When I was ready. His parting words. The offer of a photograph for a dollar. Selling his soul.

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