A deep gap in the society of Australia

Europeans were not the first humans to arrive in Australia: Aboriginal people arrived in Australia many 10’000 years before the European settlers did. This creates a conflict that is still present up to now. Aboriginal people did not receive basic rights like voting up to the 2nd part of the last century. The probably last aboriginal family living a traditional lifestyle was contacted only in 1984 (https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30500591) and it’s assumed that most Aborigines (as they are called in Australia) have only been living a Western lifestyle for a few generations.
In my daily life in Sydney, Aboriginal people and their descendants are not very visible. However, they form an important part in many aspects of life here in Australia, especially politically. Often the traditional owners of a place are mentioned and acknowledged, for example when starting an event or on an information sign in a national park. In many of the official documents their special status is somehow mentioned: For example, in many national parks, Aborigines are exempt from rules like access bans for traditional reasons.

In Alice Springs, the Red Centre of the continent, it was a different story to me: It was clearly visible that some Aboriginal people don’t cope well with the dominating Western lifestyle/society. Many live on social welfare, and alcohol with all its impacts is a big problem. Personally, I saw many people hanging around the whole day, drinking and sometimes fighting. Criminality is a problem, and there is an overproportion of Aboriginals in prison.

In daily life in Alice Springs, Aboriginal and White Australians seem to largely ignore each other. There are no greetings on the street and generally people seem to act like the others are not here. It seemed to me that there was often a tense atmosphere in the street and it felt like there was an invisible border between the groups.

I personally think the situation is very unfortunate for both sides: The aborigines, especially those that have lost their roots and purpose of life, have no real chance, ability and maybe also will to integrate into the Western lifestyle. On the other side, Australians with European roots feel like the Aborigines just take advantage of the system and don’t do any work.

So far in my life, I have never had to face a “traditional owner” or process crimes that past generations and probably relatives of mine did to other humans. There is a fine balance between remembering and forgiving and it seems like Australians are often struggling with this. I think the traditional welcomes and acknowledgments are a good start to keep that balance, however it’s not just me that is wondering how to unite the society.

To me, this conflict is a reminder that we (as in Western culture) much too often put us and our lifestyle/society (including system, politics, religion) in the first place with no room for other ideas. Here I can make the link to Conservation biology: Nature or humans living another lifestyle often have no choice but to make space for our civilization, no matter what the cost. The displacement of Nature is clearly not over, not even in “advanced” countries like Switzerland, and even the displacement of humans is a problem in many places of this word.

I would like to think that the solution is easy – it is not. From an outside perspective, I would love to see a little melting of cultures in daily life – affordable traditional “bush foods” for example, shaping the identity of the continent and contributing to a changing Australian culture. The Western society in this country is very young, and many people immigrated only recently, so the distinctive culture of Australia is still growing – why not merge the two cultures and create a truly unique, Australian identity?

Valentin Moser



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