The First People of Australia

April 2, 2019

March, 2019, Australia — When we were kids, didn’t Australia qualify as a continent? Nowadays, it’s part of Oceania, which is comprised of Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia — one huge island surrounded by thousands and thousands of islands, some so small, they disappear at high tide.

 

If I had traveled around the world in 72 days with Nellie Bly in 1889, I doubt I would have learned much about Oceania’s first inhabitants. But Viking is ‘the thinking person’s cruise,’ and our onboard lecturers and off-board tour guides all told us something about Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines. Here’s some additional history I’ve picked up since my earlier dispatches...

 

The Aborigines are the oldest living culture in the world... archeological remains have been dated back 60- to 65,000 years, and DNA tests show they came here from Africa. There are between 150 and 300+ Aboriginal languages — sources don’t agree.

 

The 2019 census counts 650,000 people of Aboriginal origin (including Torres Strait Islanders, from off the northern tip of the mainland), or 2.6 % of the country’s 25,000,000 inhabitants. Aborigines distinguish themselves between ‘fresh water’ and ‘saltwater’ people, depending on where they come from. They do not belong to ‘tribes,’ but to ‘clans,’ and refer to themselves as ‘mobs.’ One tour guide said it’s perfectly correct to ask someone, ‘Where’s your mob from?’


The last full-blooded Aborigine died more than 100 years ago (dates differ). They were not recognized as citizens until the 1960s.

 

I’m not a sociologist, but here’s what I’ve pieced together about a tragic part of modern Aboriginal history. (It’s something that happened to Native Americans in the U.S. as well.) This is a synopsis of the complicated story of the Stolen Generation, also called the Stolen Children. Between 1905 and 1967 (as late as the 1970s in some regions), federal and state governments and church missions removed what they derogatorily called ‘half-caste’ children from their families. The numbers ranged from one in ten children to one in three, depending on the region. Depending again on the region and the powers in charge, this ‘child removal policy’ was carried out either to prevent the Aboriginal blood line from becoming extinct [How was that supposed to work?] or to do ‘everything necessary to convert the half-caste into a white citizen’ (Northern Territory Chief Protector of Aborigines, Dr. Cecil Cook). For the past 50 years, the Australian government has been coming to terms with this, first refusing to ‘accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies’ and finally apologizing to their country’s original inhabitants. On 26 May 1998, the first ‘National Sorry Day’ was held and it is held annually.  

 

Two movies I saw long ago touch on this, especially Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), based on Doris Pilkington’s book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence. It’s the true story of her mother and two younger cousins who were ‘stolen’ from their families and put into a ‘native settlement’ camp far from home. They escaped and followed the rabbit-proof fence for 1,000 miles back to their family. Kenneth Branagh plays ‘the evil Neville whose job it is to remove the children.’

 

Walkabout (1971) is the clash-of-cultures story of two city-bred white children whose berserk father abandons them in the Outback. They are saved by a young Aborigine boy who has the skills to keep them alive in that unforgiving environment. It starred a very young Jenny Agutter. 

 

Other Australian movies on my Watch List include My Brilliant CareerThe Wave and Oscar and Lucinda. Not to overlook the Mad Maxes.  

 

A ‘saltwater’ fisherman on the wharf in Fremantle...​

An Aboriginal ‘dot painting’ from a small art show at the Fremantle Prison museum... ​

When early European explorers landed on their lands, the Aborigines ran off. They were not interested in these aliens, and they did not attack them. Unlike other native groups I’ve talked about in other countries. Altercations — and war —came later.

 

Theirs is a culture based on song and art, the power of the ancestors, and especially dreams. This explanation is from the small museum in Albany. Noongar are the Aboriginal people of southwestern Australia.

 

 

On our first of two nights in Sydney, we enjoyed an onboard ‘destination performance’ of music and dance by a local Aboriginal troupe.

 

The ambient light was low and I never use flash, so many of these photos are quite ‘painterly.’ 

The didgeridoo player. If you’ve never heard one, go to youtube — the sound is haunting. My friend Mavis was so taken with it, she bought a 3-foot one in Sydney. The didgeridoo — and their dance moves — are otherworldly. 

 This dancer is interpreting a kangaroo...

 

 

When we reached Fremantle, we were entertained by members of the Wadumbah Aboriginal Dance Group (top photo as well). Here they are imitating a flock of emus hunting for food.  ​​

I love this one: a member of the oldest culture in the world using a microphone! 

Next up: Life Around the Ship. #


 

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