Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Day He Was Stolen...

We packed up the Troupie and were off before Mother Sun reached her highest point, the day promised to be a scorcher.  After an hour we left the main road heading towards Alice Springs, though without Uncle Bob as a guide, we surely would have missed the slight break in the grass and the almost invisible red road snaking off through the scrub brush.  We came to a copse of unusual variation and we spotted wild emu and two kangaroo, though I doubt the different trees were out of the ordinary to these native inhabitants.  Our modern beast was entering a surface world largely untouched by time, but a landscape immersed in tragedy.

As the road became rougher and the washouts forced us through untrodden Bush we would alternately slow to a crawl through the spinifex or go almost gangbusters through the soft sand.  If you stop in the soft sand, you stay stopped.  After a most harrowing moment where the truck stalled on a jagged ravine inches from a 6 foot drop we arrived at our first stop, the shell of an outstation manned in the 30s by a Scottish man, Bill Liddle, the man unable to stop authorities from taking away his son, Bob Randall.

We stood on the ground where his Mothers and Aunties created a safe and loving home, connecting him to the land forever, which was his birthright as an Anangu boy.  When young Bob was somewhere between 6 and 8 years old, Constable Bill McKinnon came by on his camel to carry out the White Australia Assimilation Policy, which literally stated the mandate to "breed the black out of them".  "Them" being the First Australians, "Them" being Bob Randall and his family.  Half-caste babies were sometimes covered in ash or charcoal to try to make them darker so the law wouldn't take them, but the day the policeman came by on his camel rained.

Constable Bill McKinnon arrested a number of Bob's Aunties and Uncles, and put them in chains, for cattle killing.  Before the white man came there was plenty of food for the Anangu people, but then cattle were introduced.  Fences cut off Traditional food gathering routes, and the new beasts soiled all the water holes and drove the indigenous game out of reach of the local families.

The way I've been told is that Anangu way means we are all connected.  If a family is hungry and they find a bull, they takes only what they needs for his family and there is no such thing as "ownership".  Little Bob Randall's family was only taking care of their own, and they were punished for it.

I've put together a very amateur video of the journey from Angas Downs, where Uncle Bob was taken, to the water hole where he and the other prisoners spent the first night.  It was a sixteen mile journey, and only the very first step in the heartbreaking and inspiring story of Tjilpi Bob Randall.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Letter to the Prime Minister

Brian just sent this letter to the Prime Minister of Australia and cc'd the White House:

Prime Minister,
My name is Brian Loftin. I am a US citizen. 
On a recent visit to beautiful Australia, and specifically to Uluru, Mutitjulu, and Alice Springs I saw things that made me question the place of your country in the pantheon of "Great Nations," namely, the way your government is treating the Aboriginal People. 
As an American, my complaints about the treatment of indigenous peoples are admittedly a bit like the crow calling the raven black, but we now live in the 21st century--not the 19th. Before my trip I acquainted myself with your policy of "Strong Futures" as well as much material relating to the past and current situations of the First People--including the virtual holocaust of the Stolen Generations. Seeing what is happening now in the wretchedly poor communities I listed above, seeing how the white people live comfortably nearby, seeing no equality in exchanges with the people, seeing the patronizing and condescending attitude of the government in its interventionist and racist ways (I'm from the Southern US; I know it when I see it), hearing things told to my own ears that I know to be patently false is simply abhorrent. These people are living as 3rd class citizens. If you doubt me, go live in a corrugated metal shack with 20 other people for a week, and then write to me about equality and "Stronger Futures." 
Unless your government changes its attitude towards the First People, it is going to get embarrassed; it is not a question of if but when. In this day and age of social media, it's not too far fetched to get powerful people and other countries involved--just like what happened with the film "Brown Skin Baby" and what it did to your Assimilation Policy of 1937 in the early 1970's. I will do everything in my power to shine a light on what your country is doing to the oldest living culture in the world, a culture yours should be proud to have within its borders! And make no mistake, Prime Minister, the current situation of the Aboriginal People is your government's fault. This point is not rationally contestable. 
If you want the First People of Australia to succeed, as your Aboriginal Affairs Minister claims, work WITH them! Work directly with the remaining Elders, who have been making their recommendations repeatedly known, and have spoken through films such as Our Generation and Kanyini, and DO what they recommend. 40,000 years of wisdom deserve to taken into account. Do not let their cultures become extinct! Give them what they're asking for to reinstate their cultures. My government failed in this, because it thought it could parent the American Indians without any effort to understand things from their perspective. Learn from history! Do not make the same mistake we did. Leave a legacy that shows you want Australia to be taken seriously. If you were to form a true and equal relationship with ALL of your people, you would have achieved what America never really did. 
And then Australia would truly be a Great Nation!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where to start?

I have so much to say that I don't even know how to begin.  Should I start with the overwhelming amount of work to do that keeps getting interrupted by other things to do?  Or the devastating government legislation and their "stronger futures" that will only have the effect of decimating a culture?  The local land council's ignoring of protocol and lack of communication with the people they are supposed to represent?  And the huge amounts of money thrown to "Aboriginal affairs" which really goes to white "administrators" and their travel, housing, new car, stipend...because you've got to pay those people extra for working in such a remote and hostile environment?  Wow, it is really  hard to not be cynical.

O.K., then let me balance that with the brightness of the Milky Way last night and it's sharp, glittering band of starlight, or the wedge-tail eagle we saw on the way back from Alice Springs surrounded by a sunset of fuschia and orange...there are extremes here and a juxtaposition of miraculous on top of horrific.

Just like any journey, the microcosm of all I'm experiencing is happening inside of myself at the same time.  Inner demons and terrible judgement, right along side of perspective gained only by completely surrendering to that over which I have no power- which is everything.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Our Welcome to Country

After 36 hours of traveling (three planes and lots of layovers) we have arrived at Uluru.  The tiny Ayers Rock airport was the last vestige of air conditioning before stepping out into the 98 degree heat.  The stillness of the landscape is juxtaposed with a palpable vitality and living history, and our first stop from the airport was Anangu homelands of Uncle Bob Randall and his family. 

Driving along the red track Uncle Bob was telling us the hopes and dreams for his family's land.  "The marker starts here, and then goes for as far as your eye can see."

We then arrive at the spot where I learned how to cook a kangaroo tail three years ago, and now they've added to toilets and a little shelter for Grandmother Barbara to use when she comes out to teach.  Johnny, Uncle Bob's son, has been clearing  insidious non-native grass and the place looks amazing.  This is the spot where hopefully more groups will have the chance to experience the Anangu stories and ways of living on country.  It's not as easy out here and the politics are sometimes a confusing morass, but the family is building a place for Indigenous teaching that is truly inspiring, and Brian and I are so honoured to help!

On the way out to the homelands Barbara said, "there it is, stop!" 
and we all piled out into the crazy heat to see certain branches of 
the Mulga tree glistening with sticky droplets of sap.  The looked 
like diamonds in the sun and Uncle Bob said, "go ahead, 
break one off, this is how we used to do it."  

Outback candy store!
The Sap tastes a little like tapioca, but also rock candy.  It was a wonderful way to get reacquainted with the land out here!

This morning we woke up to birds as our alarm clock and the sun kissing the side of Uluru into a bright and deep orange/red and the deep silence of the land is incredibly grounding.  We will get to the work and the stories and the documenting soon enough, but for today, it is incredible just to Be.