When I was living in Austria in 2011-12, I went on a weekend trip to Salzburg and met two Australian girls in the bar of the hostel I was staying at. Over a discussion about our home countries and their natives, they became very animated whilst talking about Australia’s “Aboriginal problem”. They told me that the Aboriginal Australians lived on reserves, refused to work or send their children to school, were illiterate and had huge problems with drugs and drink because, the girls told me, they were simply bored. I was sure this could not be the case and went away determined to find out what the life of an Aborigine is like today.
I found this wonderful documentary by Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis. In a bid to preserve their native Australian culture, Aborigines have been banished to reserves which do not have enough resources and housing for their needs. They cannot integrate into Australian society because they feel it challenges their dignity – but the truth is that the two cultural values simply do not match. The higher powers of the Australian government, focused on money and development, means that they do what is most convenient for Australian citizens – forgetting that the natives, too, are citizens of the country in which they live.
Perhaps it is inconvenient for them to demand to be treated the same as other Australians, whilst wanting to upkeep their impenetrable culture. I like this film because it shows two sides of a battle in which both sides fight fairly. The film also addresses some of the issues which those two Australian girls in Salzburg mentioned, but gives the reason for those issues as two cultures which cannot combine. Obesity has become a serious problem, with parents allowing their children to gorge on cheap junk food and fizzy drinks. Disease is another. 60% of indigenous Australians are affected by trachoma, a disease which has been all but wiped out in other first world countries. Trachoma is an eye disease which leads to visual impairment and, with treatment, is curable in 94% of cases.
It is sad that the two Australian girls I met did not understand the issues facing an ethnic group so close to them. I hope that they grow to look on the Aborigines with sympathy rather than complacency, and see them as people rather than a problem.