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Some thoughts from Centralia

July 29, 2009

With daughter and dog minding the fort, Mr Gums and I headed out last weekend to Central Australia where we are spending ten or so days escaping the wintry south.

It is an interesting place to visit, geologically, botanically and culturally; it is where we urban Aussies come across more indigenous people than we usually do in our daily lives. This rather makes us (re)think. Is it shame or is it guilt? Whatever it is, I feel a little sad wandering through Alice Springs and noticing the number of local indigenous people who seem to be at loose ends. It seems unreasonable that I, the newcomer, should be living a comfortable life while they, whose land it is, live a displaced life. Alice Springs is the setting of the central part of the recent Aussie film Samson and Delilah, about which I posted a couple of months ago. The Todd River, over which we drive a few times each day, is where Samson and Delilah “live” when they come to Alice after escaping the brutality of their own community. It’s not a pretty story. Alice, we are told – and we can see – is being “cleaned up”. In recent years, Dry Town Legislation has been enacted which applies strict controls on the sale of alcohol to white and black customers. And a couple of years ago there was the infamous “Intervention” instituted by the previous conservative government which rather ham-fistedly tried to “fix” violence and dysfunction in indigenous communities. Our tour guide on a day tour we did told us that these things have made Alice Springs a “quieter” place BUT the question is whether it has just pushed the real problem of displacement and dysfunction underground or is actually resulting in a better life for our indigenous compatriots? I don’t know. All I know is that I feel a little guilty and a little helpless. Should I buy some artwork from a street hawker? Or are there better ways we can help? What is better? Helping personally on the street, or impersonally through a “reputable” indigenous organisation? The problem is everyone has a different answer, including indigenous people themselves…more later.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2009 7:51 am

    A fine set of dilemmas there! I am sure you will be able to find a resolution. An article in the London paper The Times recently, pointed out the very abusive family relationships of the indigenous people of Centralia. A huge set of questions here I am sure.

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      August 5, 2009 7:58 pm

      Ah, Tom, as we understand it, there are some abusive relationships in these ocmmunities and the Government came in rather heavily last year with The Intervention. And there have been mixed reactions. In communities where abuse is rife, I gather women and children have welcomed the Intervention but in communities where this is not the case the people haven’t. Seems tough to have your rights trampled on when you don’t have a problem. We should be able to be more sophisticated than that I reckon.

  2. July 30, 2009 2:08 pm

    I think that we are confronted by issues like this wherever we travel, Sue. I remember reading some good advice from someone discussing how to handle beggars in places abroad, and she said, that if you were contributing to meaningful aid projects of one sort or another ( as I know you are) that it was then possible to move on guilt free. I think it’s also important to try to acknowledge the indigent as a human being at least by looking them in the eyes rather than pretending they’re not there (even though with beggars this is sometimes interpreted as a ‘sign of weakness’ and when really surrounded can be difficult to do).
    I like to buy small products if I can. Even if the stuff gets left behind at the hotel, the purchase dignifies with seller with work rather than pity.

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      August 5, 2009 8:01 pm

      Yes, I think that’s good advice. The thing is that the paintings sold on the mall are not small/cheap and so it’s not so easy just to buy some things that you don’t really need. However we did buy some things from the Cultural Centre at Uluru which ONLY sells products made by that community.

  3. July 31, 2009 6:36 pm

    It is very like travelling through a foreign land isn’t it? Treading softly and trying not to alter anything and wondering about your right to be there at all.

    Travelling with the eyes and heart of a reader such as yourself must inevitably add to the richness of the experience, and your appreciation of the cultural sensitivities.

    Wishing you sunny blue skies and warm mornings.

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      August 5, 2009 8:04 pm

      I thought again of your colours in your knitta project Steph – those blues and those ochrish-rusty-reds. This was our second visit – and I’d be happy to go back again. Love it…

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