It is close to 6pm and the sunset viewing area in front of magnificent Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) is full of families and independent travelers. Some are standing on the roof of their rented caravans, bottle of beer in one hand, camera in other. There are those who arrived equipped with small folding tables and chairs.
The rock – easily one of the most beautiful natural sights in the world, UNESCO world Heritage Site and most importantly one of the sacred places for Aborigines people – becomes bright red as it embraces last rays sent by descending and exhausted sun. Sunrays also penetrate bottles and glasses filled with wine. Viewing area erupts in cheers and laughter. Somebody blasts fusion didgeridoo music from the car stereo.
If one watches the crowd carefully, what becomes obvious and striking is that apart of few Asian visitors on organized tour, almost everybody else is white. On the sacred land, in front of one of the mightiest symbols of original Australian culture, there is not one single Aboriginal man, woman or child.
Official Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park brochure is boasting about joint management involving Anangu people and Australian bureaucracy. It states proudly: "After many years of hard work and negotiations, the title deed to Uluru-Kata Tjuta land trust was handed back to us (Anangu) by the then Governor General of Australia Sir Ninian Stephen in 1985. In turn we leased the land back to the Federal Government for 99 years. Since 1985 we have been managing Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, together with the Director of National Parks. This process of working together has come to be known as ‘joint management.’"
This soft and perfumed version of the past is exactly what Australian establishment wants the world to believe: few unfortunate irregularities here and there, joint soul searching and finally mutually satisfying solutions.
Nothing about brutality of British colonizers, nothing about killing or theft, about ‘civilized’ laws employed to protect looters and further humiliate the victims. And nothing about under which circumstances Anangu people actually leased the land to the government. This is how Australia’s own guidebook – Lonely Planet – sees the events:
"The Land Rights Act (NT) of 1976, which operates in the Northern Territory, remains Australia’s most powerful and comprehensive lands rights legislation. Promises were made to legislate for national land rights, but these were abandoned after opposition from mining companies and state governments. The act established three Aboriginal Land Councils that are empowered to claim land on behalf of traditional Aboriginal owners."
"However, under the act the only land claimable in unalienated Northern Territory land outside town boundaries – land that no one else owns or leases, usually semi-desert or desert. Thus, when the traditional Anangunangu owners of Uluru (Ayers Rock) claimed traditional ownership of Uluru and Kata Tjula (the Olgas), their claim was disallowed because the land was within a national park and thus alienated. It was only by amending two acts of parliament that Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was handed back to the Anangu owners on the condition that it was immediately leased back to the federal government as a national park."
Northern Territory (NT) is home to the greatest cultural centers of Aborigines culture in Australia, including Kakadu National Park with its rock art that dates back thousands and perhaps even tens of thousands of years. Alice Springs hosts dozens of art galleries exhibiting magnificent art techniques developed by Aborigines people. Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are arguably some of the most beautiful rock formations anywhere in the world, surrounded by ancient legends and secrets that can never be made public, known to just a few selected ones who are passing them, verbally, from generation to generation.
But Aborigines people became nothing more than shadows in this paradise that Australia promotes all over the world.
Tour guides to Kakadu wetlands jump in excitement when spotting alligator or bird, but they don’t feel obliged to mention the plight of the local people who were inhabiting this land for millennia, before being brutally expulsed, often gradually destroyed.
"For centuries we meant lesser than fauna and flora to Anglo-Saxons", explains Urle McAdam, one of the leading Aborigines painters whom I interviewed for this article at Aboriginal Australia Art & Cultural Centre in Alice Springs. "There are many people abroad who are appreciating our art – they are discovering that it has power of history and knowledge. But for centuries, until now, white people were treating us like dirt. ‘I am sorry’ by our Prime Minister is simply not enough. It will not undo all injustice from the past. Things will change only if ‘I am sorry!’ will be just a beginning."
Bright lights of Alice Springs galleries and cafes are for whites only. Of course it does not say so anywhere, but one would have to be blind not to notice it. There is hardly any place on earth (including present-day South Africa) more segregated than this city in the heart of Australia. Patrons from east coast sit cross-legged on comfortable chairs, sipping foamy cappuccinos and flat whites, munching on biscuits and tiny chocolates, while Aborigines people occupy public benches or roaming aimlessly along wide sidewalks of the city, barefoot, sad and lost. In one entire day I did not spot one mixed couple or one single café table occupied by friends from two different races.
Yet everything Aborigines sells – is tremendous business in this part of Australia. Enormous hotel complex with virtual monopoly around Urulu charges 160 dollars for motel-style room that would never go for more than 50 dollars in the United States or Canada. Fuel pumps beef-up prices to over 2.2 dollars per liter (around 8 dollars per gallon) while prices for paintings skyrocket to obnoxious heights (one wonders how much goes to the painters).
There is plenty of booze on hotel premises, while booze seems to be one of the sore points – the issue causing confrontations in Northern Territory and the rest of Australia.
Arrive at Ayers Rock airport, pick up your luggage from conveyer and you will be faced with huge sign warning you that there is no consumption of alcohol allowed beyond this point.
Last year bans on alcohol and pornography were introduced along with strict controls on how welfare payments should be spent. "The intervention" became one of the most controversial acts of John Howard’s conservative government. Government allegedly acted in response to a damning report about widespread child abuse. Troops, police officers and medical teams were sent to more than 70 indigenous communities.
Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he remains committed to the initiative.
In the second half of June, protests shook several Australian cities. Many Aborigines leaders described government policies as racist and threatened to ban tourists from climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) or shut down the traffic to the rock all together.
"I can understand the frustration of people there as the men have all been depicted as pedophiles and the Australian government has instituted a regime that has suspended the Racial Discrimination Act," wrote Professor Jon Altman Director Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research College of Arts and Social Sciences at The Australian National University. "Aboriginal people have limited avenues to protest and threatening to close access to Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park is one lever that they have. However, I suspect that under the lease back arrangement that they have with the Australian government this would not be easy, they do own ‘the rock’ but have leased it back in 1985 for 99 years. I think that there is room for a much more consultative approach by the Australian government and one that accord better with international human rights standards. To date they are clearly indicating that the range of measures introduced have not worked at least according to some of their local spokespeople. Even though some of the measures are draconian and blanket, there is no doubt that sections of communities, especially women, are supportive of elements of the intervention like reduced access to alcohol and income quarantining to ensure welfare is spent on food and other basics. The NT Emergency Response is extraordinarily complex, political and contested and while it is to be reviewed independently in the next three months, international scrutiny of Australian government policies is probably warranted."
It is obvious that Anglo-Saxon colonizers terrorized Aborigines people for centuries, later treating them as second-class citizens. It is also well documented that Aborigines people did not invent alcohol and they did not invent pornography. Booze and porn were part of the package brought by white settlers. Now deciding who should be allowed to use it – which race should be allowed to drink and watch porn – is insulting and patronizing. But it is also symbolic, because it is showing who is firmly in charge "down under".
To use the same logic implemented by Australian government against Aborigines people, white mates should be immediately barred from even coming close to any weapons, given their track record of violence: they were (and in some ways still are) colonizing almost entire planet, triggering genocides, world wars, plunders and rapes and organized theft. We – the whites – should be also prevented from holding any decision-making positions at the United Nations. It is obvious we have very serious problem. Majority of people on this planet would breath the sight of relief if the white race would be permanently disarmed.
This is how renowned Australian artist George Burchett reacted to the events:
"25 years ago, I was a naive and idealistic ‘balanda’ (white fella) who landed in the Aboriginal community of Maningrida, in Australia’s top end. I was quickly adopted by the local tribes and very kindly, very gently, very patiently shown the proper polite way of interacting with fellow humans and nature, based on respect and true understanding of the ways of the world. After six months in Maningrida, I left to learn the ‘balanda’ way of the world. I learned that ‘true blue’ Australians are expected to embrace something called the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) spirit. This ‘spirit’ was born when Australia tried to invade Turkey at a place called Gallipoli in 1915, for the British King and Empire. The Turks naturally defended their land and killed thousands of Australian soldiers. From this terrible and pointless massacre Australian nationhood was born and her manhood forged. Because of Gallipoli, all Australian males are ‘mates’ (even some females can be ‘mates’ if they behave like ‘blokes’). Although some Aborigines did fight with the Anzacs in various wars, most Aborigines still refuse to recognise and accept the noble beauty of the ANZAC spirit and the necessity of invading far away countries like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few, to spread the noble ideals of ‘mateship’ and ‘fair dinkum’ (Aussie for ‘freedom and democracy’) and help Australia’s best mates, America and Great Britain rule the world. 25 years after I first landed in Maningrida, former Australian Prime Minister and ANZAC fundamentalist, John Howard , sent Australian troops to impose the ANZAC spirit on the people of Maningrida and other remote ‘indigenous’ communities and save them from their evil ways. Today, the traditional Aboriginal owners of Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia’s most sacred monolith (and prime tourist destination) are threatening to ban tourists from climbing it to protest John Howard’s military ‘intervention’. This shows they haven’t yet absorbed the sacred ANZAC spirit and still cling to their obsolete ancestral ways — just like Iraqis and other lesser peoples cling to their obsolete religions and customs. Not only that, but Aboriginal taboos and superstitions prevent mining companies from digging precious yellow cake (uranium) from ‘traditional’ Aboriginal lands and exporting it to evil Chinese, Iranians, North Korean and other evil doers, who will all be dealt with in due time. That’s the ‘balanda’ way of the world: submit or else, mate. And no apologies."
For Aborigines people it is really time to stand up. To block the Rock is correct: nobody is supposed to climb it anyway, as it is sacred. They should also remind Australian government about famous slogan Tupamaro sprayed on the walls of posh nightclub which they ransacked decades ago in Montevideo: "O bailan todos, o no baila nadie!" ("Either everyone dances or no one dances!").
Good old slogan could be then adapted to Australian cultural milieu: "Either everybody drinks or nobody drinks!"
Andre Vltchek: novelist, journalist, filmmaker and playwright. Presently resides in Southeast Asia and South Pacific. Can be reached at: [email protected]