An Aboriginal Journey

Posted by on 29/11/2010 at 2:27 pm

Yo yo yo (three times)!

The last night at the ‘backpacker’ had been full of hugs and adios. Me and the Australian girl Heidi would leave the next day; both going to Perth, with the difference that I would endure many hours on a bus while she would poshly take a plane. The next morning I went for a swim at 6:30, then met a few early birds at the hostel (among which Heidi herself) and finally left for the bus station after breakfast. The Greyhound vehicle showed up shortly after I got there.

The bus journey was horrible: I couldn’t sleep due to a cute Aboriginal baby whose lungs had been replaced by a Marshall guitar amplifier, and, what’s worst, the air conditioning was at galactic level! It gave me a bad headache and somehow pulled out a lot of bad feelings, so that I was pissed off throughout the 6 hour journey. Once in Perth, I spent some time walking around and getting back to see my favourite building, the Swan Tower, then took the bus to the airport, another hour of pleasure due to the driver, whose dream as a kid was obviously to be a Formula 1 pilot.
My plan was to spend the night at the airport as my flight was somewhen around 6 the next morning, so once there I began looking for a nice spot to sleep. But I also noticed that the flight was actually at 11 am! I was just metabolizing the news and wondering how could I fill 16 hours in an airport, when somebody pulled my backpack from behind: I turn around and there’s a laughing Heidi! Such a funny coincidence, she had actually worked in Geraldton during the day and had just flown to Perth! That airport is clearly a coincidence catalyzer, as she also met another friend of her; the three of us spent a few pleasant hours in the airport café, so the time I had to kill had already been reduced!
Once they left, after a quick peek to the internet, I felt it was a good time to go to bed. I had slept in airports quite a few times before (the first one in Liverpool’s John Lennon), but this time I decided to enter full camping mode, using the inflatable sleeping mat and the sleeping bag as blanket.

The next morning, the crowd woke me up around 5:20, and few hours later and I was sitting on the plane. As usual, I had planned to read & sleep during the flight; as usual, none of that was going to happen. I sat next to a lovely, 60-something lady from Perth, and we spent the whole flight talking! She is the first white Australian person that I have talked to whose knowledge about the Aboriginal people went beyond the “oh yeah, so sad”.

She explained to me their interesting concept of time, and how it’s related to the “walkabout”. Their time management is completely different than ours, and so are their priorities. For instance if one of their relatives in a town 400 km away has a problem, they wouldn’t hesitate to just disappear for three days, putting any prior commitment into the background. Their time culture is all about taking all the time it takes to accomplish their tasks. Same applies to reaching compromises and solving problems: they would sit down and discuss till a solution is found. All this obviously doesn’t match our Western patters, and the term “walkabout” has thus long matched ideas of unreliability and frivolousness.

They had never known the concept of property nor fences. Like many other peoples, they would ask permission to kill an animal and then honour and mourn it before eating it. When the colonizers arrived and started the first pastures, Aboriginal people would just ask their sheep if they agreed to be eaten, and after the granted positive reply, they would simply take it – which of course made them immediately be seen as thieves.

A recent-history, tragic mistake was made in the sixties. By the time, most Aborigenes were not treated by the employer with equal rights as white workforce: for instance, they would be paid in goods (like flour) but not given a salary. With best intentions, a law addressed this inequality and employers were obliged to pay the Aborigenes exactly like the white men. What happened at this point though, was that many employers didn’t have enough money to pay all of them, with the result that they kept the 2 or 3 best workers they had and sacked all the rest. This triggered a massive shift towards unemployement, homelessness and alcohol abuse.

What then is probably the worst of all modern-day Aboriginal tragedies is the Stolen Generation. Kids were removed from their families and brutally thought white principles, possibly in Christian schools. From the website,

Children were removed because the Aboriginal race was seen as an embarrassment to white Australia. The aim was to strip the children of their Aboriginality, and accustom them to live in a white Australia. The tragedy was compounded when the children, as they grew up, encountered the racism which shaped the policy, and found themselves rejected by the very society for which they were being prepared.

Still nowadays there are Aborigenes who don’t know who their parents were. Even more importantly, they don’t know which land they belong to, when the geographical coordinates of their tribe and birthplace is an essential part of their spirituality. This generational disgrace is what the Sorry Day is about.

Why is it that for every country I visit, be it as rich as the United States or as poor as Nepal, I have to learn about the atrocities that Europeans committed to the indigenous populations? It’s a truly FUCKED UP feeling.

The Road to a Roadtrip

Posted by on 12/11/2010 at 9:07 am

Yo mates!

One evening, in Sydney, I packed my stuff and took the train to the airport. Destination Perth, Western Australia – the other end of the continent, that is! Back in Europe, any flight takes some 2-hour-ish, I said to myself, ha!, this is going to be easy. What I didn’t take into account was the hugeness of the country. It turned out that the flight would cross three time zones and take 5 hours to do so. Not only that: positive that we’d receive a meal on the plane, I hadn’t eaten anything before, not remembering that I was flying with cheap-ass company Jet Star, which is the equivalent of the European Ryanair: food was sold at Apple Store prices. I chewed a mint gum for 5 hours.

…which also had another purpose, actually: during my last days in Sydney, maybe due to the bad weather, my right ear began to feel funky. I went to a doctor and he gave me some anti-sinus spray, and advised me to chew on the plane to avoid pain.

Once arrived in Perth, I met my friend Becky again! She was living in Amsterdam in 2007, when we shared many happy hours at Coco’s, many hours with my band in a mouldy basement, many parties and one single dinner at a Thai resturant as I found that I don’t like Thai cuisine.

I stayed a couple of nights at her place: she would work during the day, which I would use to go around the city. On the first day I followed a suggested walk in the center and, for the first time in Australia, I felt like I was walking in a relaxed town! The streets were quiet and little was going on. Here, check this funny statue in the middle of a shopping street!

Finally the weather was good with a lot of sun and just a touch of humidity, and I even had a fantastic nap on the grass in front of the Swan River!

Once Becs was finished with work we went to eat something at the Swan Festival Of Lights, next to the fascinating Swan Tower, a very modern and slim structure that contains very old, heavy church bells from the 14th century. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a most random coupling, but ok.

The next day I walked up to Kings Park, or actually I ran to make it for the free walking tour. I hoped it would be more about the nature, instead I learned that it’s the only park with more war memorials than trees, and we had to visit them all.

At least I was able to spot some interesting new plants on my own (this is becoming a tradition of Australian blog posts!) and a fantastic view on downtown Perth.

On my third day, Becky’s holiday began, and we spent the entire day on a wine tasting tour, organized by one of her friends for her friends (complicated sentence I know, but it does make sense). Some twenty people loaded on a mini-bus which took us around to three different wineries in the Swan Valley around Perth! It was really a jovial atmosphere and I was impressed to see the endless vineyards: maybe only the Cantine di Tollo, next to where I was born in Italy, would compare.

We managed to go to bed early, motivated by what is going to be the leitmotif of the next two weeks: an epic roadtrip! Becky has a 4WD van, Fez, which will take us all around in Western Australia! You are going to read heaps of adventures, guaranteed! The first leg of the journey took us to Esperance, in the South, and included a stop at the Wave Rock, which is something I have been wanting to see since Becky put some pictures of it on Facebook!

Very cool what water erosion can create – but I’m not sure all those flies were mentioned in the package I purchased. Becky was indeed worried that bugs & heat might be central in my posts, and I actually can see why, now: these fu**ing flies are there all the time as soon as you leave the cities, they come in swarms and fly around your face to the point that even standing still for a picture becomes a challenge!

One of the stops was at the gas station of a little town that holds the “Dog in a Ute” queue record. Basically, these guys are crazy about carrying dogs in their utes (from “utilitarian cars”), so in 1998 they put together 699 cars and 699 dogs and drove all together to the next town, 7 km away. Just when you believed that such things would only happen in the US!

We drove on highways, which sometimes narrow down to a single lane, involving some dusty driving if another car is coming across!

At the end of the first day we reached Esperance, on the southern coast. When I arrived I had no idea of Australian distances and spaces. Well, such a roadtrip is the ultimate way to gain a proper awareness of what it’s all about. A car is the only way to travel around: you cruise through kilometers and kilometers of bushes and desert zones and some places are simply impossible to reach otherwise.

I always say that walking is the best way to “make the territory yours”, kind of  becoming part of it. Cruising on a car is indeed different and the feeling you get is more of “estabilished dominance”, nature has been modified to meet our needs. And seen the dimensions, here this is the one and only way to be able to hear the breath of the land.