travelling the seven parts of the world
Feb 25th, 2008

The aboriginals themselves are quite interesting people. They are Australia's original inhabitants and have been isolated from the rest of the world all the way until Europeans arrived and ruined the whole party. This is the oldest continuously maintained culture in the world, stretching back some 30,000 years.

Aboriginals are also, to my knowledge, the only people that have gone straight from stone age to alcoholism. But more about that later.

Nobody knows how aboriginals got to Australia. Most theories assume they somehow mastered the craft of ship making, sailed to Australia, and then immediately forgot what they knew, happily settling in some of the harshest environments in the world. We don't really know how many aboriginals were in Australia before the Europeans got here, because it took quite a long time (i.e. centuries) for white people to realize aboriginals are people too (and hence the need to count them), but estimates range from 300,000 to 1,000,000. Either way, they were obviously not very skilled at making babies, because that is very small population for the size of Australia no matter how you look at it. At present aboriginals make up 1,5% of Australia’s population – about 300,000 total, but in some places, like the not so populous Northern Territory, can make up almost 20% of population.

Aboriginals are almost like in a world of their own. They don’t look like any other race on the planet, and their language and system of beliefs is quite different as well. They are black, but they don’t look like black people. Their language has no words for “tomorrow” or “yesterday”.

Being a population of hunters and gatherers, they have a very close relationship with nature, and believe that the world was shaped by creatures that combined man and animals, with their creation stories being called “Dreamtime”.

Above you can see some aboriginal rock art we saw in the top end.

One of the most famous of aboriginal creations is the boomerang, a hunting weapon. Now, this has puzzled me since I was like 4 years old – how does the boomerang work, do you just throw it, hit a bird or something, and then it comes back to you? Well, no. There are many types of boomerangs for many purposes – one is a hunting boomerang, that is used to hit things with, and this boomerang does not return back. Then there are other boomerangs – long range returning boomerangs, boomerangs that make several spins before coming back, difficult to throw, easy to throw, lots of different stuff to pick from.

Another creation is the dijeridoo (lots of different spellings). This is an aboriginal instrument that looks like a long pipe. It is actually a tree branch eaten out by termites, and it gives off an awesome low vibrating sound that just really gets to you. We decided to just buy a boomerang as a souvenir as the dijeridoo was too big for us, but after hearing it played for us at the shop just couldn’t resist. Postage to Latvia was $126, but off it went.

These days’ aboriginals are doing much better than they used to, but still not too well. Most either live in their traditional communities where people have merely exchanged spears for shotguns, or live off of unemployment benefits given to them by the government. It was pretty rare to see an aboriginal actually do something productive; most of them appeared to just linger around doing nothing. This is mainly owed to the fact that having a 30,000 year old culture isn’t necessarily a good thing from all aspects – things get pretty stale. Now they have several thousands of years of social, economical and political developments to catch up to in just a few generations. Most aboriginal communities are quite isolated as well, leading to serious difficulties in getting a modern education, as parents are uneducated and can’t help with educating their kids.

Sometime around 1980s many aboriginal communities also managed to regain control of the land they live on and have owned for thousands of years. It looks like a nice gesture on part of white people, but I would call it a bit of a slap in the face, and anyone who looks at a map of Australia indicating where the aboriginal lands are would. It’s a bit like saying “We came here, we took your land, we nearly exterminated you, but you know what, we’re really sorry. And to show that we’re sorry we’re going to… yes, give you ownership of all the useless bits of land we don’t use anyway.” How nice of them, what a sacrifice it must have been to give away all of that desert. But at least it’s something.

Well, not all of it is useless. Australia’s most well known icon, the monolith of Uluru or Ayers Rock, is in the middle of one such desert, and hence has fallen to aboriginal ownership. And this was our next destination.