Yesterday’s blog had a poem I wrote about staying in a friend’s house in Auckland. Their back section had a large spectacular jacaranda tree. It reminded me of my visit to Toowoomba, 125 kilometres inland from Brisbane and 660 metres about sea-level. When I visited that city the jacaranda lining the streets were in full bloom - beautiful.
To the west lies one of the richest farming areas in Australia – the Darling Downs. Further west the plains become increasingly arid until the great dry deserts of central Australia begin. From this harsh country, Aboriginal families leave to live in urban centres like Toowooma. The fourth student, I visited when I wrote my Australian text-book for New Zealand schools, Bill was one of these.
Darby McCarthy, a retired famous jockey, worked for the Queensland Department of Education to help boys like Bill adjust to city life. Darby said, “we’ve lost our traditional culture. Maybe for some out west but for most of us help has come too late. We have to adapt now and rebuild.” He and his friends explained how their language has gone. “Up in Arnherm Land, they’ve written it all down – ours was never recorded. A few words left, that’s all. They teach the dream time to our kids with legends that were never ours. Bill’s generation – that’s a lost generation. It’s not till they get older that they start looking. Like us. We’re late starters. Look at our surnames – McCarthy, Kelly, Riley, Rose, Martin, McKellar. We’ve got no record of our aboriginal names, that’s vanished like so much else. The Murri people never used the didgeridoo. Now our students study texts that say it was part of all Aboriginal culture.
He went on. “It’s no good dwelling on past injustices. In places like Toowoomba these kids have more opportunity. Bill wants to be a mechanic. Maybe his son will be an accountant. Maybe not, it doesn’t matter, but the opportunity will be there. It’ll take time. Education is our main hope.”
I asked Bill and his mates what they thought. “I know we need a good education to get on but sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the hassle.”
I asked an old man at the community centre what were the characteristics of being Aboriginal. “We are the land, the land is us. That’s a very hard idea to get across. Even our young pretend to reject it. Deep down it’s there. They can’t escape a sense of belonging.” And “we look after one another.” While he talked – I had a tape recorder running, I half listened to a nearby animated discussion about the best place to buy Christmas trees. ‘How do you celebrate Christmas I asked?’ ”Just like you do. Except we have more relations. More food is needed.” The old man picked up the subject of food. “We looked after it. In drought times we killed the weak and the male. We never took more than we needed. If we could we avoided killing the female. We never took all the eggs from a nesting emu.”