Throwing it back to a blog written on a visit to the Australia Outback in 2008.
“The Alice” is what locals call it. Alice Springs is a town of about 28,000 people in the middle of the Australian Outback — known as the heart, the soul, and the centre of Australia. The Aboriginals in this area — a group called the Walpiri — were among the poorest of the native peoples of Australia. That is, if the words of the rancher who conducted an “Aboriginal Bush Tucker Tour” are worth believing. “These people”, he claimed, were pretty much wandering around the bush almost naked with nothing to do. Luckily, English-speaking folk showed up to give them blue jeans and plaid shirts so they could wander around the streets of Alice Springs instead.
Maybe this was supposed to pass for humour, but no-one laughed. Here’s to hoping things have changed since this description given on a tour in 2008.
Native tribal people the world over face these kinds of misrepresentations of their cultures. In Australia in 2008, the conciliation with the Aboriginals seemed perhaps 30 years behind where it was with the Navaho and Hopi of Arizona. Native American tribes hid much of their culture too, but now they have National Parks and heritage sites to share their stories.
On the tour in Australia in 2008, the rancher had picked up “a few welfare grandmothers” to paint in shade huts for the tourists. The women were not well educated, probably didn’t go to school as youngsters, so they fit the stereotype the rancher had of the aboriginals. The paintings were nothing close to the much better works sold in the town shops done by younger local Walpiri artists. Perhaps this was the beginning of a cultural renaissance. Some of the young grandchildren there and some of the young aboriginals in town had a light of intelligence in their eyes, a spark of rebirth mixed with a sense of rebellion. And in that spark perhaps a truth is revealed. The wanderers of the streets and the welfare grandmothers are more the remnants of the clash with “white” culture than the way the Aboriginals are naturally.
There is a sense of reestablishing a cultural heritage going in The Alice. The professional paintings in the shops, the resurgence of a musical identity, and the connection to the land — as many of the national parks are renamed with native words — all point to this revival. But some racist attitudes still prevail, and deeper spiritual traditions are misunderstood or kept hidden.
In Arizona, The Hopis have secrets still not revealed to whites. The Book of the Hopi refers to these secrets … prophecies and knowledge to be revealed at a crucial time to save all of humanity. Is this true? Or was this a clever effort at self-preservation when extermination seemed possible? “We have secrets that will save you in the future … if you kill us off as a tribe the secrets die with us … and then you die too.” The clash of cultures creates interesting questions about prophecy.
Alice Springs is a place where cultures are coming together. The tribal people are rebuilding their cultural identity and inviting others from all over the world to wander around and discover the Outback — the heart, the soul, and the centre of Australia.