Australia: Cairns – the Good and the Bad (Really Bad)
After World Sprints near Brisbane, crew mate Audrey and I flew off to explore. We landed in Cairns – a popular destination for setting off to the Great Barrier Reef. Barry, John, and I were there about 13 years ago and spent three days on a boat over the reef. The experience was fantastic! Tour boats – but in greater numbers – still go out.
The Cairns harbor has developed with an esplanade lined with outdoor cafés, up-scale restaurants, and galleries. Now some boats serve great seafood feasts on board. I barely recognized what had been a touristy, but small town on the mangrove coast. We had fun then – and we had fun now. This time, I learned more.
The Cairns Esplanade is especially wonderful: you’ll see playgrounds for children, fitness equipment for adults, two public swimming pools, bike and walking paths along the beautiful waterfront. You’ll even find quiet spots for anyone wanting to stop and strum a guitar.
Cairns has birds and fish and marine life to enjoy. If you are there at sunset, thousands of birds swoop down to roost, somehow missing everyone – but not by much. 🙂
For me, one of the best experiences in Cairns was going to the Tjapukai Cultural Center.
It’s a 20-year old site, but Barry and I didn’t know about it when we were there years ago, and Audrey and I wouldn’t have found it this time except that Tom and Denise and some of our other Kihei paddlers had gone. Tjapukai seems to be advertised only in conjunction with the crocodile feeding experience – which is not something I fancy. When you go to Cairns, do the dives and zip lines and all the activities, but also find out about the rich history of the original people. I highly recommend the Tjapukai cultural site.
The indigenous Aboriginals of Australia have one of the oldest living cultures on Earth.
However, when British Captain James Cook arrived on Australia’s shores in 1770, the country was described as uninhabited, despite the fact that an estimated 700,000 people were living there. Like many other colonized places, the original culture was not respected for its rich practices that allowed the local people to live in harmony with their land.
Tjapukai celebrates some of the knowledge and skills of the Aboriginals. After a Cirque du Soleil light and sound show about the Aboriginal history, our friendly guide, who is proud of his heritage, shared some of their practices. We saw a “bayngga” – an underground oven – much like our Hawaiian “imu” that allows meat and vegetables to be steamed; we got to sample them later: delicious. Also, much like our Hawaiian “ʻaumākua” spirit guides, Aboriginals have special names connected to nature. ʻ”Dingo,” the young woman who helped us make bracelets out of seeds and other found objects and showed us symbols we could use in painting boomerangs, was given her name by her father.
Audrey and I also took the medicinal/herb tour and were introduced to plants that have helped Aboriginals survive and thrive in what we consider a very harsh land. Australia, you probably know, is infamous for its deadly animals, including the Box jellyfish, Irukandji jellyfish, the European honey bee, bull sharks, Eastern brown snake, saltwater or estuarine crocodile, Sydney funnel web spider, and the Blue-ringed octopus. The plants in Australia can kill you too. But the Aboriginals have learned how to use them well.
For instance, the Aboriginals make use of the “Stinging Tree” or “Suicide Tree.” If you get close to it and happen to touch it, your skin will burn for months! Its stinging hairs cover the whole plant and deliver a potent neurotoxin. Incredibly, the Aboriginals discovered that its fruit is edible if the stinging hairs that cover it are removed.
We were given pointers about the circular breathing necessary to create the haunting music of the didgeridoo.
The boomerang was fun too. Again, we would have gone hungry if it were up to us to use a boomerang to hunt.
We were impressed by the Aboriginal skills, art, and knowledge.
The overal message of the Tjapukai was about the Aboriginal expertise in living in harmony in a sustainable way – for over 50,000 years. We saw the richness of their art and myths and saw examples of Aboriginals who have become famous in politics, art, music, sports, and business.
Art at the Tjapukai Cultural Center:
Although the atrocities were mentioned, they weren’t the focus of the cultural center perhaps because many of the tourists coming to Tjapukai would not know the Aboriginal history at all.
Our Aboriginal guides at the Tjapukai are proud of their art, their culture, and their survival.
Going to the Tjapukai Cultural Center made me curious for more information.
I learned that Aboriginal culture in Australia has almost been destroyed.
Immigration to Australia was restricted almost exclusively to whites from the country’s founding in 1901 until the mid-1970s.
It wasn’t until 1962 that Indigenous Australians could vote in Australian federal elections. Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on Indigenous voting in state elections in 1965.
Colonial Australian ships scuttling from island to island brought back tens of thousands of people to toil on sugar and cotton plantations. Aboriginals and South Pacific Islanders were taken against their wills. Although some were released after three-year contracts, many went unpaid and toiled for decades.
Since the first colonists arrived, Aboriginal life has been difficult. “The Aborigines of Australia were faring little better than immigrants of color and slaves during the latter half of the 19th century. Sometimes hunted like animals, and often taken prisoner for minor offenses (both real and contrived), they were treated like chattel. . .
It wasn’t just people who identified as Australian who were trafficking in slavery during this period. Some of the most ruthless and successful enslavers were Americans who sold people (again under the guise of “indentured servitude”) to plantation owners who needed cheap or free labor in Fiji, Queensland, and New South Wales.”
Another Australian practice against its Indigenous people involves kidnapping the children.
See the documentary/drama: The Rabbit Proof Fence that tells the true story of three aboriginal girls who are forcibly taken from their families in 1931 to be trained as domestic servants as part of an official Australian government policy. They make a daring escape and embark on an epic 1,500 mile journey to get back home – following the rabbit-proof fence that bisects the Australian continent – with the authorities in hot pursuit.
Between the 1890s and 1970s, thousands of Aboriginal children were kidnapped from their parents by the Australian government and religious missions. Why? The two major reasons seem to be: for cheap labor and to breed out the black! 😦 😦 Many [Most?] of those children suffered terrible abuse and never saw their parents or relatives again.
Well, you might say, at least it stopped in the 1970s.
However, according to a 2014 news report in The Guardian, “The mass removal of Indigenous children from their parents continues unabated” –
“In 2012 the co-ordinator general of remote services for the Northern Territory, Olga Havnen, was sacked when she revealed that almost A$80m (£44m) was spent on the surveillance and removal of Aboriginal children compared with only A$500,000 (£275,000) on supporting the same impoverished families. She told me: “The primary reasons for removing children are welfare issues directly related to poverty and inequality. The impact is just horrendous because if they are not reunited within six months, it’s likely they won’t see each other again. If South Africa was doing this, there’d be an international outcry” . . .
Today, the theft of Aboriginal children – including babies taken from the birth table – is now more widespread than at any time during the last century. ”
For the whole article, go to –https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/21/john-pilger-indigenous-australian-families
Australia may be a good place to live or visit if you are white, much like in the U.S.
However, its Indigenous people still suffer, and the future does not seem good for them.
But, it’s easy to criticize other countries.
Wherever we are, we can celebrate diversity; we can learn from each other. So, when in Cairns, be sure to go to Tjapukai; you will have fun while learning about the Aboriginal culture that has lived in harmony with the land for 50,000 years!
And if you are not in Cairns, look around. Inequality and injustice abound.
Who seems different from you? Find out about that person and his/her culture – then repeat. You will enjoy an enriched life, and the norm can/does change.
We are all a part of the whole.
Sad but hopeful, Renée