Australia has shocked us for being the most segregated society we have come across. We saw scenes here that could have been 1960’s Mississippi.
Whilst the current generations and descendants of the white Europeans, Chinese and Japanese migrants enjoy a first world lifestyle, health and longevity expectations, the Aboriginals (3% of the population) lead a third world existence, together with the associated bad health, domestic violence, lack of education and opportunity. And to make things even worst, they are not resilient to alcohol, and diabetes is rife in their communities because they converted too quickly from a sparse nomadic diet to “white man’s sugared diet”.
We sat at a bus stop in Darwin, whilst the Aboriginals left us to sit on the pavement. We drank alcohol in bars that the Aboriginals can’t drink in. We saw in the Northern Territory towns dozens of Aboriginals standing around in groups, shabby, smelly, wearing no shoes, with nothing to do. Nowhere have we seen interaction between Aboriginals and the descendants of the First Fleet, except for aggressive policing.
The great shame is we never got to speak to any Aboriginals except those that were hassling us for change in Darwin and Katherine. Smile at them and there is a blank stare. And ironically, as we travelled into the Outback, we actually saw less Aboriginals, as their communities are off the main highways, down unsealed tracks that you need permits to enter.
It’s an incredibly complex issue, that we clearly only have superficial knowledge of.
Successive Australian Governments have spent a lot of money on Aboriginals, trying to assuage the guilt of taking their land, righting the wrongs of “the stolen generation”, and the harming of their original way of life, with alcohol and a new diet. There was a full apology by the Prime Minister in 2006, but the problems carry on and many tell us that progress has stalled.
When we ask many white Australians about the issue, every sentence starts with: “I don’t want to sound like a bigot but….”. They simply feel the Aboriginals are culturally not capable or willing to integrate. One Aussie in Katherine said “The Government pays them lots of sit-down money and the kids only go to school on hot days for the air conditioning”. Our Airbnb host in Darwin, said there were a number of hard-working Aboriginals in his company, but they were unreliable because “They just go walk about”.
So despite being given their citizenship fifty years ago, most arboriginals it seems still live in a segregated world; and if we step into their shoes we can maybe understand and appreciate why.
Saying sorry, the constant expressions of guilt, and the building of “aboriginal cultural experiences” don’t seem to have helped much. We can only hope this is still early days and things will improve, but it needs commitment on both sides.