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Area 6 : News & Views


The longest journey starts with a single step .....................................................ancient Chinese proverb

Kathryn Watts reporting worldwide.


Sydney Opera HouseAustralia is the 6th largest country in the world. Its largest city stands proud with the famous Opera House dominating the view over the skyline.

I spent time exploring the ambience of Sydney, the beautiful Blue mountains, the famous beaches and sights of the east coast, and diving at one of the wonders of the world in Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier ReefIn Cairns I visited the rainforests and swam at the bottom of the waterfalls, the tranquil beauty surrounding me. I went to see Aborigines playing digeridoos, a hypnotising sound, and tried my hand at a touch of boomerang throwing.

I decided to visit the outback and to learn about a culture set apart from the white Australian - the Aboriginal culture and people. An indigenous people who were present at the dawn of history, before the arrival of colonists or invaders in the late 18th century. The European impact on the Aboriginal people has been described as "devastating" - at the time when they first came into contact with Europeans their population was 250,000 to 300,000, which by the late 1930s is said to have declined to around 40,000. Many Aboriginal people lost their lives through famine and the spread of epidemic disease - others in the defence of their homeland. At https://nga.gov.au/first-nations/the-aboriginal-memorial/ you'll find a Memorial of 200 painted hollow log coffins which is dedicated to all Aboriginal people who have lost their lives defending their country since European settlement.

[update: please see also article here re the relocation of the Memorial in 2022]

In recent years much has been done to restore the balance with a number of areas such as Uluru restored to the ownership / custodianship of the Aborigine people.

One is struck though by the total dissimilarity of the cultures, the new and the old. I was amazed by the modernity of Alice Springs - it was so unexpected with its tourist shops full of art souvenirs and its supermarkets, built in a town surrounded by traditional Aboriginal meaning. The Aboriginal people seemed to exist on the outskirts, living their lives in the timeless sequence they have always known, distanced from the hustle and bustle of "civilisation".

Yet there has been a softening of the borders between the cultures for now some Aborigine people have motorcars, use steel implements rather than stone ones and purchase some of their food rather than eating purely from the desert. Nevertheless those living in the desert need to have knowledge of where to look for many different animals and plants and where water can be found. Such knowledge of the bush is one aspect of their lives that does not appear to have changed. There is still a strong sense of Aboriginal identity in younger people, with knowledge still passed down through the generations. Such different ways of life and cultures are I feel important to understand.

UluruThe magnificence of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) is renowned worldwide. Climbing Uluru is against the wishes of the Aboriginal owners/custodians - there are plaques dedicated to those who have fallen to their death from it. There is a constant stream of visitors from all over the world -Uluru is the second most visited place in Australia, after the Great Barrier Reef.

In the distance Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) stands proud, surrounded by the immensity of the desert all around. We watched the sun setting over Uluru, changing the colour of it from a deep red to a shade of sublime pink. The naturalness of it was so inspiring. The next day we travelled on to Kings Canyon. This was another magnificent and beautiful place where we spent hours walking around and soaking up the immensity of it and the views surrounding it.

There appears to be no word for "time" as an abstract concept for Aborigines. Man and the universe are seen as "the Dreaming". This is a sacred term that relates to long ago when man and the universe first came about, although the words "history" and "time" are not involved in the meaning.

Aborigine peopleFrom the earliest times, groups of Aborigine people crossed the landscape, leaving their artforms upon hills, creeks, caves and other topographic features.

This area has so much interesting history to it which inspired me to learn more, each sign and marking they used, on the ground or trees, having a meaning of its own.

Even in the present day, Aborigine expression in art still continues. A wide variety of media are used, including sand sculptures. Aboriginal artists mostly use four colours in their creative work, being red, white, yellow and black, which are natural pigments which may be picked up from the ground, obtained through trade or from the quarries.

The Aborigines record the events of their lives and rules to do with their social life in rituals and song cycles called "inma". Aboriginal society is made up of small groups, united by ancestors. They have their own political, economic and religious obligations based on the Aboriginal law of the creation period.

"Modern Aboriginal religion in the desert is the inspiration of the desert people's determination today, to hold onto and respect their unique culture." (Layton R)

[please see footnote below]

After leaving this area I headed for another part of the outback, Coober Pedy, an intriguing mining town. The houses and churches are built underground because of the extreme heat, including the Hostel where I spent the night. It is a place that has attracted thousands of opal prospectors, and the unique landscape is the place where Mad Max 3 and WimWender's epic "until the end of the world" was filmed. We were told an amusing story about the outdoor cinema that used to be there. People would sit in their cars with the explosives in the back for the opal mining, watching the film. Each week there was an explosion due to someone throwing out a cigarette which came into contact with the explosives! The place is a desolate one with a barren and dry landscape. A deserted golf course had its place outside the town, not surprisingly empty due to the lack of grass!

From Coober Pedy I headed for Adelaide from where I took a trip to the famous Barossa Valley, the wine-making region. We visited chateaux and of course sampled many wines. From here also I took a four-wheel drive trip to Kangaroo Island which was a great experience. The island is a beautiful one and full of many species of animal including of course kangaroos.

Next I headed for Melbourne, another city that was just waiting to be explored. From there I took a ferry over to Tasmania known as the "little England". The countryside and lakes were so beautiful and in stark contrast to the rest of Australia. I was lucky enough to hire a car with another person, to visit Cradle Mountain and the peaceful area of Lake St Clair National Park. I explored the largest city there, Hobart, and left the laid back and slow pace of Tasmania to head back again to the shores of Melbourne.

On the flight back home after six months I stopped off in Bali, and headed over to Java, but that is whole new story which I shall write about in one of my next articles.

............................... Kathryn Watts

Footnote: a wealth of information about the Aborigine people is to be found at AIATSIS - https://aiatsis.gov.au/ - an independent Commonwealth Government statutory authority devoted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies. AIATSIS is Australia's premier institution for information about the cultures and lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and has a comprehensive range of links to other related Internet resources.

Our thanks to Michael Crowley, Principal Information Officer at Queensland Education for referring us to AIATSIS, to Nova Cavallaro in the South Australia Government for information provided,
and to Dr Geoffrey Gray, A/Deputy Director of Research at AIATSIS for kindly clarifying certain issues associated with this article.

Please note that Kathryn's perceptions of what she encounters in her travels are uniquely her own and are included on our site to give additional perspectives
on the lives of people in very different cultures. On this occasion because of a number of complex issues,
we wanted to include some more-detailed background information and accord our thanks to the people mentioned above, for providing this.

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