Memories of Down Under and visiting the “real” Australia today

When I was in Australia, over ten years ago now, aboriginal Australia seemed largely absent from the coastal cities of the south and south-east.  Not an uncommon sensation for newcomers and visitors, I suspect.

It wasn’t until I visited Darwin and other parts of the Northern Territory that I felt I had arrived in the Australia of my preconceptions, as well as the Australia of certain desires I perhaps held at the time.  I had heard accounts of horrific events and read about the chronically dislocating effects of colonial and other incomer changes wrought on the aboriginal people of Australia.  I had witnessed a couple of saddening sights first-hand too.  But I felt that at least here I was closer to Australia’s soul, where people’s connections with their environment were “real, deep and distinctive”, as in steeped in ancestry and a profound understanding of the land.

Then again, I might have been “place dreaming”.  You see I was also aware that those Australians who helped impart all this to me were in fact white descendants of Europeans, particularly a remarkable friend of my parents, the late Lance Brooks.  They too had intimate connections with this part of Australia.

I had also, by that point, really enjoyed participating in other distinctive aspects of generally White Australian culture such as a VB-soaked day at “the ‘G”  and sprinting down a dry river bed at the Henley-on-Todd Regatta.  I hadn’t, on the other hand, taken up the offer from an aboroginal gentleman to go for a bush walk, fearing it would take days, I’d get very thirsty and I’d have to eat witchetty grubs (plus, snags on the barbie were in the immediate offing).

So why all this memory invocation of a 12-month spell “down under” nearly 12 years ago!?  Well, a brief feature on the BBC website is responsible.  I was interested to read that in the urban landscapes of Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, descendents of aboriginal Australians are parting the concrete and steel, and peeling back layers of colonial and post-colonial modernity, to reveal rich meanings held for heaven knows how many generations to visitors on walking tours and suchlike.

It’s good to hear that viable tourism initiatives can be based on both this knowlege (and maybe spirituality) as well as the curiosity of visitors.  I wish I was Down Under to try the tours out.

From the BBC’s Travel section: Australia rediscovers its urban indigenous heart.


One Comment on “Memories of Down Under and visiting the “real” Australia today”

  1. I hope many ‘White Australians’ go on these urban, walking tours and not just tourists and visitors from outside the territory! What would they learn? I make that comment with the late, great Lance in mind. He knew a thing or two about his fellow countrymen and women.

    Where does a sense of ‘ownership’ come in when thinking of ‘sense of place’? I can’t help think of that word when someone mentions the aboriginal Australians, the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, the American Prairies, Gibraltar, etc. When tourists visit a ‘place’ whose place is it, and how does that affect the valuing, protecting it, or even politicising the ‘exchange’ between visitor and resident?

    I well remember the only time I visited Australian I met an Australian citizen (of Hungarian descent) who informed me, with much indignation, that he had to pay to enter the designated aboriginal area when visiting Ayer’s Rock/Uluru. As he put it ‘I had to pay to visit a part of my OWN bloody country!’ Interestingly loaded with meaning…


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