Australia, an afterword
01.11.2012 - 16.11.2012
Australia blows you away. It's full of amazing stuff to see. The flora and fauna are breathtaking - all sorts of superlatives are needed for the trees, birds, animals, butterflies and plants. Everything is larger than life and/or at least twice as strange. And the vivid landscape in north Queensland - red earth, turquoise sea, silver beaches, intense green jungle. So many times I found myself saying 'Wow, that's the most [adjective] [noun] I've ever seen'.
After the technicolour intensity of Queensland we had a couple of days seeing friends in Melbourne, a city whose cool climate and urban culture we could feel instantly at home in as Londoners. (Several people told me I would really like Melbourne, so I was quite annoyed to find I actually did). It was a good opportunity to reflect on the past couple of weeks and to analyse what had been bugging me about the Australia we had seen so far, much as I enjoyed the whole experience.
The biggest thing was what I saw of and heard about how the indigenous people people have ended up living. They are largely invisible, under a virtual de facto apartheid arrangement. In two weeks I saw a guy playing a digeridoo in a shopping precinct to the interest of no-one, four people sleeping in a disused petrol station forecourt, some kids eating McDonalds in park, some shoeless people in dirty clothes and and a couple of women working in the gift shop of the visitor centre celebrating the natural beauty spot that had been stolen from them and concreted over. The invisibility alone is disturbing, but add to that for example: being denied the right to vote until the 1960s; being officially listed as part of the native flora and fauna before then; the Stolen Generation children forcibly taken from their families to be 'brought up as white' by white families; language and history erased; culture shattered and its remnants theme-parked. And so, so much more - the list of crimes over the last two centuries is unspeakable. The recent formal apology by the government was seen as an irrelevance by many whites apparently. According to one Australian friend, a lot of people felt that the atrocities committed by their forebears had nothing to do with them so what did they have to apologise for? She viewed this as analogous to seeing someone who had been attacked lying unconscious on the ground, and taking their wallet. I have to agree.
In my simplistic and under-informed view, a good start would be reversion to traditional place names, as a very visible recognition of the ancient history and land ownership that preceded the British prison colonies and fortune hunters of very recent times. Ayers Rock is now rightly known by its traditional and far more evocative name of Uluru, but why stop there? We visited the Daintree rainforest, Mossman Gorge, Townsville and numerous other victims of British imperial renaming. Messrs Daintree, Mossman,Towns et al have enjoyed their moment in the sun - now I think the original names should be revived. I would especially recommend starting with the suburbs of Melbourne, which were alarmingly named after some of the most unlovely areas of South East London - Camberwell, Croydon, Eltham. Camberwell! Come on Australia, you can do better.