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When I first landed in Australia, I knew very little about the Australian aboriginal people and their beliefs. In my “pommy” head they were the original ozzys, had great respect for the land and still knew how to live off it. They were the masters of bush craft, and the epitome of extreme survival. If I was ever going to be the stupid foreigner who gets lost in the outback, they were the ones who were going to rescue me, take me back to their camp, feed me emu eyes and water from what could only be described as a kangaroo’s scrotum. In some ways this was to be the truth, unfortunately for the most part it just wasn’t!
My own personal experience
When I first arrived in Australia armed with nothing but complete ignorance of Australian history and the indigenous population, I was a blank canvass, no solid experience that could have swayed my opinion at all. Don’t get me wrong I had an inclination that there was some racial problems but then where doesn’t!? So I’ve been down under for nearly two weeks and I’m staying in a hostel in Northbridge, Perth. This is where I got my first taste of “racism” towards the indigenous aboriginal population. I was just sat at the hostel bar, minding my own business drinking a toohey’s and couldn’t help but overhear two Irish chaps talking about an “abbo” they came across on the high street. Without repeating said conversation, lets just say it wasn’t very pleasant. Now myself being “ethnically challenged” (I gained the nickname “the Shadow” but that’s another story) is was too hard to resist firing the look of death across the bar. Anyways the next night I was walking alone down the high street to get some food and in the distance I could see one person harassing another, as I got closer, within earshot. Oh the profanities!! Next it was my turn. An aboriginal person turned to me, “Spare a couple of dollars?” I declined and the barrage of expletives rained down on me. As I jogged away in fear the same happened to the person walking behind me.
My second experience of the Aboriginal people was a couple of weeks later, after buying my first campervan and heading north after all Perth ain’t so warm in July. After traveling up the coast road for nearly 2 weeks I’d made it as far as Broome. A nice little peaceful town about 1400 miles north of Perth, in the centre is a large patch of grass with people sunbathing. I was there for 3 days and every single day there were around 20 Aborigines sat on the grass drinking goon (cheap boxed wine), again shouting abuse at anyone brave enough to pass by.
While free camping in a rest stop on the outskirts of Broome me and my friend Stephanie were sat table, chairs citronella candles out getting drunk on our own box of goon 🙂 another campervan showed up and out stepped an ozzy couple from Sydney who were on a road trip of their own. This being Australia, they came over and spent the night getting drunk with us. Just think a little over a month ago I was in the UK and bored with life and now I’m sat under the stars in the asshole of nowhere getting drunk with people I just met… Living the dream! Anyways back to the point, Andy was asking where I was heading to from there and when I said I was going to Kununarra his demeanor noticeably changed. “Watch out for Aboriginal women stood at the side of the road with the bonnet of their car up”. What? Why? He said they do this so people stop to help and their friend hidden in the bush hits you over the head and they steal your belongings and burn your car out. Yes I’d say you’re thinking the same as I was, What a load of S**t! Until a couple of days later I was on my way to Kununarra and drove down a quiet road littered with burnt out cars either side, just as Andy said there would be. Now I’m not saying that it isn’t a coincidence….. I’ll let you decide on that one.
Did I suffer from racism?
I have to say no. Maybe looking back, there could have been a few instances where I was given a funny look but in all fairness nothing to write home about. One thing I do remember is being parked up in my van on a busy street in Richmond near Sydney and after over a year in Oz the first person of Afro Caribbean descent I’d seen walked past with his young daughter. I was in shock, so was he! He even stopped to have a second look. So I’m guessing as multicultural as Australia is there ain’t many black people there. Another thing that’s burnt into my memory is after being in a hostel for 3 months, one Friday night we were all getting drunk on goon, the hostel managers son, who I spent many a weekend drinking with confessed to me that before meeting me he didn’t like black people. Well that’s one covert 😉
Problems the Aboriginal population face.
Traveling through the Nothern Territory, one thing became very apparent… Aborigines have a big drink problem! There are strict rules and many signs in the NT at the edges of aboriginal land that prohibits Aborigines from drinking alcohol but a mainly white suburb just minutes away is not governed by the same rules. Alcohol abuse accounts for 25% of all deaths in the NT. Drugs, domestic violence, rape and suicide are big problems within the aboriginal communities.
If I was indigenous, would I hate everyone else?
In 1788 when Europeans first arrived in Australia they brought with them much stronger alcohol than the indigenous population could make. They brought small pox and other European disease’s. Within a year, half the indigenous population in the Sydney basin had died from these new diseases. For over 65,000 years the aboriginals had lived in Australia and we managed to wipe out half the population of this area within 6 months. They “employed” the indigenous people as laborers and prostitutes and paid them in alcohol and tobacco, this shaped how Australian society developed for decades to come. More recent government policy even included forcibly removing children from their families orchestrate the demise of the Australian Aborigines up until 1970.
So after all that, my personal experience wasn’t the best if I’m totally honest with you. Although When you think what the invaders of their country did to the indigenous population…. How could they be any different!? In my opinion Australia still has many dark days to come in respect of the relationship between indigenous and European descendants.