Now I’d seen a handful of aboriginal people on our travels (mostly in Alice Springs), and I’d heard on tours and things about how the British had treated them so unfairly during colonisation but it was a real eye-opener to actually interact with aboriginal people.
I’m sure not all aboriginal communities are the same, but in Laramba it seemed like many of the old aboriginal practises were being forgotten with each new generation, but people were still struggling to adjust to a completely new way of living.
It’s not possible for them to live in the bush now, so they must integrate. The government has clearly tried to help make it easy, by providing houses, power, running water, free health care, schools and weekly allowances for food, clothing and other necessities. Some things are readily accepted (like cars, shops, water). But, many seemingly basic constructs of society as we know it are simply unimportant to people who have lived for thousands of years with nothing but the land around them. Many don’t speak English, some routinely miss medical appointments and children often skip school. But, why send your child to school when you got on perfectly well without it?
One of the most troubling aspects of all this is their view of money. It is a totally foreign concept and, because it just appears in their bank accounts in the form of government support, many don’t have a true understanding of what it’s worth. As a result, I saw many aboriginal people try their hardest to spend every cent because it was pay day – nothing was saved. Fortunately, Laramba is a dry community but for some aboriginal people a lot of money ends up going on ‘grog’ or even drugs (which is currently a growing problem in other areas).
Acceptance of the society they live in now will eventually come I’m sure, but in the meantime they will continue to misunderstand and misuse what they are given to survive (much to the disgust of many white Australian people, who can come across as openly racist by overgeneralising a minority, calling all aboriginal people lazy benefit abusers).
While we were in the area, we met many very nice people from Laramba who spoke very good English, had excellent manners and also held down jobs. There were also many qualities that I admired in these people – including the strong sense of family and community. For instance, one young couple came into the shop one day and asked to spend more than $100 dollars on fuel. When I questioned it (that’s a lot of money to fill your car!), they explained that half was for their car, half was for a family that had broken down on the highway. No one ever went without – food, money, fuel – someone would always be there to help.
It might seem like I’m saying they have a lot to learn, but I think we have a lot to learn from them too.
I won’t forget one young girl who asked me where I came from and, when I said ‘England’, she said ‘How long does it take to drive there?’. She was shocked when I told her it would take months to drive and that it would take a whole day on an aeroplane. Her eyes widened in surprise and she said; ‘but don’t you miss your family??’