There is something weird when a family living in a house with lounge and bedrooms prefers to stay in the yard, day and night, around a bonfire. Naked kids run around with large crucifixes in necklaces. Teenagers who spend every day of their lives in almost isolated communities in the Australian outback wander around with Nike t-shirts and listening to heavy metal from portable cd players.

Many of the native people of Australia still live in islands and areas of the desert and bush, trying to have as normal way of life as possible. The reality is that the geographic place may be the same, but definitely not the environment. And who choose not to adopt a European style of life and adapt themselves in the ‘civilised cities‘ are left with not many choices. Almost, none.

Besides the material progress and facilities brought by the western civilisation there are problems imported too. But probably the biggest damage caused by this conflict is the destruction of something that can’t be recovered, refurbished or fixed: culture.

Many aboriginal communities that survived the historical killings and persecution are now obliged to live among cities, roads, airports, farms, stations, bases and others signs of ‘progress’. Often, the consequences have been disastrous, with the resettlement of large groups and the inevitable separation of communities and families.

In many cases, the ‘solution’ found by governments is the installation of towns, with urbanised streets, houses of fibre or bricks, electric energy and canalised water. Living in these places are groups with different costumes and languages, under stranger laws and systems of social organisation.

The more accessible way to most of those places is by air. The small airport is the main connection by which the habitants have they supply of industrialised food, medicine, clothes, fuel and others necessary things that come with the cultural assimilation

The few jobs are in reality substituted by the social security, which becomes the main source of living. But there are no many things to do with the money. There are possibilities like of an artistic carer, motivated by the local art gallery that offer the material to any one, artist or not, willing to earn a commission for works sold in the big cities.

There are the representatives of christian religions offering the usual form of help or salvation. The church is a centre of activities, beside the services, teaching of prayers and reading of religious books, all under the supervision of missionaries.

The consequences of all that are communities with conflicts – deadly, sometimes – and health destroyed by junk food, alcohol and petrol sniffing. The strategic presence of health clinics and councillors is not very successful, given the evident unhappiness of the population in most of these places.

The isolation doesn’t come from a fence or wall. These ‘towns’ are surrounded by an immense space of desert or bush. The people in there are absolutely free. Physically, at least, because the impression is that there is the constant search for a way to get out of the hopelessness and absurd situation.

Some material things are there, but no necessarily the right ones. The spiritual, obviously not. May be it’s a matter of space and time. Or ownership. But after all, are the habitants responsible for such a situation just because they are the ones in charge of the general administration of the place? The responsibility seems to be bigger than that.

 

© Jorge Bechara
STU Magazine, June 2002

 

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