Dan and Justy Down Under


February 18, 2005

Dan or Justy

What a strange world it must be for the aboriginal people here. Not even a generation ago, they were untouchable. Now the whites can't seem to get enough of them. Non-Australian whites, to be more specific. The Australian ones know a good deal when they see it, though, and money talks.

We spent most of the day in the Tjapuki Cultural Village. A series of activities and shows highlight the life, beliefs and history of the Tjapuki (Djabugangy) people. This park is unique, as they explain it, in that the park is owned by and run for the benefit of their people. None else are. The differences are apparent.

The aboriginals in Kuranda, a village given mostly over to tourism didn't seem as happy to see us. Why should they be? They are Djabugangy, but apparently are operating outside the system. The Tjapuki at the Tjapuki village work for themselves. This attitude is evident.

Both places are spitting distance from Cairns, the major entry point for tourists into Australia. I've heard more enter at Cairns than even at Sydney. They get enough foreign exposure to feature Miso soup and Dahl daily in the lunch buffet. We got to watch a guided group of Japanese. I will not soon forget the Crocodile Dundee looking Aussie guide speaking heavily Aussie-accented Japanese.

The visitors, even in this lowest of low seasons were quite varied. There were Germans, Japanese, other Australians (some obviously aboriginal). Even a Mennonite couple. That was pretty weird.

The confluence of cultures was itself a shadow of a clash. It is moving and even poignant when we see, for example, American and Japanese soldiers, now old men, meet on an old WWII battlefield and confirm their mutually suspected humanity. Here, there is only blood. A long-set stain across the land that cannot be soaked away, even with money.

Australia is a land remade in the image of the invader. There is no going back or even a way to make right. The only choice for the vanquished is to relish the spark of life left to them and see each day as an opportunity to live. Gone is the possibility that some kind of compromise might be reached and the two unreconcilably different peoples live in peace. Way gone.

But again the irony must be overwhelming. Here the white man comes again, this time speaking of partnerships and mutual benefit. Tourism is the one natural resource white people conserve. Surely we can all live together in harmony now, after all is said and done?

The aboriginals have been coopted, and now all is well. I've seen young aboriginals wearing Wu-Tang t-shirts, practising rugby and wearing shoes. Hell, I've seen more white men going shoeless. It's a thing here, though I don't pretend to understand it.

In the gift shop, we dealt with James, a young half-aboriginal man. He taught us the rudiments of playing the digeree-do. His father was Irish, and his mother from a people way down near Sydney. I was surprised to see he wasn't Tjapuki, but long gone are the days when whites recruited aboriginals from other parts of Australia to hunt down the locals. It took attempted genocide for the victims to band together.

It's hard to say who got the worse deal, aboriginals or native americans. I fervently hope no scale is ever invented in an attempt to answer that question.

Today is tourist day! We went to Kurunda, a small but VERY tourist oriented town. Where the skyrail (a cable ride above the rainforest canopy), the scenic rail (a quaint little railroad) and the Tjapukai (Ja-boo-gai) aboriginal culture park all converge. Needless to say, there are plenty of tour bus parking spots in the streets.

The Tjapukai aboriginal culture park was surprisingly enjoyable. There were a couple filmed or acted displays, a couple guided how-to's on digeridoos (did I mention we got one!), boomerang throwing (and hardly ever catching) and an intro to bush foods. Interesting, yes. Overall the park is balanced and offers windows into the past without rose-tinted spectacles.

In the afternoon we did some walks in the town. There was a simple 'jungle' and creek walk as well as a specctacular lookout over the Barron Falls and Barron Gorge. At this time the dams seem to be closed, so the falls look like mere strings. Yet when raging these falls appear trully majestic. We're entering waterfall country, so more reports and hopefully photos to come!

Itinerary Highlights
January 20: Winery Tour
21-23: Moreton Bay Diving
25: Australia Zoo
26-30: Lady Elliot Island
February 13: Diving the Yongala
15-17: Cape Tribulation + Daintree Rain Forest
17-20: Atherton Tablelands
22-28: Coral Sea Diving Liveaboard
March 11-13: OzTek Dive Conference: Sydney
14: Fly to New Zealand
20: Poor Knights Islands Diving
31: Mt. Cook
April 2-4: Queenstown
TBD: To Be Dreamed

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