Wednesday, September 8, 2010



        At Tjapukai, outside Cairns, the North Queensland coastal Aborigines have a center they own, dedicated to educating visitors about their social organization and culture. The tribe appeared to have Maori blood since they are lighter skinned, and have smaller noses than the Aborigines we saw elsewhere.
        When I was at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in northeast Australia with a group an Elderhostel group, we saw a movie about the British treatment of the native population that hit me like a punch in the gut. They were hunted like animals, starved, given poisoned bread, introduced to diseases and generally mistreated. Their sacred places were defiled, and the countryside was ruined by the introduction of cattle and the cutting of trees. This malice reduced the population of aborigines in Australia to about 30,000 individuals.
        We started our day at the center learning to throw spears at kangaroo targets using a spear thrower. Everyone in our party was somewhat short of inadequate. Our instructors in natural lap-laps - loincloths - with appropriate body paint spoke with a distinct Aussie accent. After years of having their native language repressed they are now relearning it and speaking it as a matter of pride.
        Our group also practiced throwing boomerangs. When others were throwing, the rest of us were wisely ordered to stand in an enclosure covered with netting to protect us. Some of the group, including my wife, Carla, showed some talent, but she decided it was too dangerous to bring one back for our 11-year-old grandson. Boomerangs sell for up to $200 if they are handmade by an artist who goes into the woods to cut the special trees needed. Chinese-made plastic ones go for $10.

Our group took lessons in spear and boomerang throwing.

         At one of Tjapukai’s four theaters, besides the movie I mentioned above about how they were mistreated by the British, we saw a marvelous performance combining actors with projected visual effects. I was impressed with how smoothly the actors interacted with the multi-media surrounding them.
         At an outside theater, we saw native dancers and heard their music, mostly banging and blowing on tuneless didgeridoos. Their dances were preparations to hunting animals such as the emu, cassowary and kangaroo.
        The dances the aborigines at Tjapukai demonstrated had elements of the Maori dances we had seen in New Zealand and their aggressive way of greeting strangers to their territory was similar.

Native dancers demonstrate preparation to hunt animals.

        In this area having the opportunity to create museums, relearn their native language, and educate visitors has increased the Aborigines self esteem and the people appear to be doing well. This is in contrast to the borderline adjustment of many of the individuals we saw in the Alice Springs area.


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