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Aboriginal Literature – Overview

The trip to Australia was as I expected, simply wild. It was different from the United States in that everything was backwards or upside down. The plants and animals were of different species, which are not found in the states. In the United States there are a multitude of homes being foreclosed whereas in Australia homes are scarcely hard to find and expensive to live in. But through all of the differences in Geography, the issue of Aboriginal land is universal in these two countries. Still to this day the lands of aboriginals have been robbed, stolen and without compensation or chance to assimilate with foreigners in their own land. One thing that I did notice was that the issue was of greater concern in Australia than it is in the United States, or maybe it was because I was taking this course and was really concentrated on only aboriginals. Regardless, the subject matter had me learning about another culture that I normally do not come into contact with.    

 

Prior to the course I was expecting to see and experience what local tribes around Australia were doing. From videos around the Internet I saw that there were still in fact aboriginals living away from society and have never truly stepped inside of a reservation. The idea of seeing aboriginals in their land and learning up front and personal about their land and traditions was what I pictured. Though the walkabout on the last day of the course was about as close as I ever got to truly experiencing the lives and stories of traditional Aboriginals, as told through a guide on a hike through unmarked trails in the Blue Mountains. This was a very spiritual and at the same time cleansing walkabout. The scenery was vast and full of greenery with constant water flow throughout. It was a special time during the time in Australia.

 

Overall the trip was unforgettable and not without its lessons learned. A week of full immersion in Aboriginal study is enough to revaluate the culture that I choose to exercise when I live in the U.S. or any place for that matter. There were flaws in the program, and setbacks, but not without lessons and in the end I am glad that I went along on the trip because there would be nothing better to do in my life than to study, and travel at the same time. It is something that I am fortunate to take part of and really enjoyed the course. 

Australia and Back Again

Home Again

 

Since returning to Denver I have spent much of my time recovering from jetlag, adjusting to the (extremely) warm weather, and reflecting on my experience in Australia.  The trip was over the course of about 10 days, but it went by in blur of traveling, exploring Sydney, meeting new people, and learning about Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander culture. While there was certainly not enough time to do justice to the diversity within the indigenous community, I believe that we received a fairly accurate look at many aspects of the culture of the native people.  It was great spending time with people who identify as Aboriginal and hearing their perspective on current events in Australia as well as on issues such as racism, oppression, and assimilation. I bring up these issues because they are reflective of what we spent a majority of our time discussing.  It was saddening to hear how Aboriginal people have been historically treated in Australia and the Torres Straight Islands. The discrimination, oppression, and marginalization that the native people face on a daily basis is truly disheartening and it shows how there are still many injustices in our world that need to be addressed.

 

Something that I found myself doing very frequently when having conversations with some of our Aboriginal friends and acquaintances in Sydney and Canberra was comparing how the native people of Australia have been treated to how the native people of the United States have been treated by the dominant culture.  Both groups are have been history ignored and considered “uncivilized”.  In addition, the practice of dominating groups continually take land from the native people is something that is seen in both American and Australian history.  While I don’t mean to say that both Native American and Aboriginal people have the same experience, I just find it interesting that both groups were treated very similarly after their countries were colonized.  It is a sad history for both groups of people and it is important that we educate ourselves and other about it and work to promote the rights of native people everywhere.

 

In addition to the great academic experience that I had while taking this course, I really valued the experience of traveling to Australia.  Many people joke that Australia is the “Other America”, and it’s true that there is a lot of American influence, but I found Australia to be a very unique country with a great diversity of people and landscape.  I enjoyed experiencing the Australian outdoors and interacting with both the flora and fauna of the land.  Being from Colorado, I have the privilege of experiencing nature on a frequent basis, so it was a great personal experience for me to visit a national wildlife preserve and to partake in the walkabout in the Blue Mountains.  Australia is a beautiful place and I hope to be able to visit again, but until then I won’t forget the people that I met there and the experiences I had the privilege to have.

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ENGL 2708 in Retrospect

As I had hinted at in my previous entry, this course has a significant objective value as a class, besides the personal benefits I had found within it. I found this course to be particularly valuable  because it relies upon experience for education, and the use of various sources. This is what separates it from the typical course in a classroom setting, wherein the information you acquire is largely disconnected from the rest of your life and had no real personal attachment. Here, the knowledge is passed on from elders and first-hand experiences, leaving resonating impressions that are not easily forgotten.  The course also applies the use of texts to supplement these experiences, allowing for a comprehensive education on the history, culture, and contemporary issues regarding the indigenous peoples of Australia.

In a more personal sense, this trip served as a stark reminder to the ramifications of colonialism and the marginalization of indigenous people the world over; this was especially clear when comparing Aboriginal and Apache history through the texts. While there is nothing that can be done to truly make up for the injustices done to these people, there is still important work to be done, starting with the acknowledgement of these native people and their respective rights. This, if anything, was the largest personal take-away from the course, and has invigorated me to become reconnected with my local native community at DU. For what purpose or reason I do not know, but it would be best for me to do so regardless; especially sense it has lost so many key members this year.

As one final note, I did truly enjoy this trip, and would like to believe that the bonds which I have made- both formal and informal, will last in the upcoming years. The trip was really what I needed in many respects, as it helped to center in on my reason for being at DU at a time where my compass was spinning in all directions. Along with that, it was fun to experience a new culture and try new foods along the way. I would not call this a simple course- I now find that this trip has been the most influential part of my freshman year.

Trip Overview

Being back in Denver warm, sunny weather makes me miss the few days of sunshine we found in Australia. Regardless of the winter weather there, I enjoyed my time running around Sydney and Camberra, studying Aboriginal lands and Australian culture. The trip was an experience of personal growth, giving me both a stronger worldview and patience for traveling.

 The most testing, and by far most memorable, piece of my trip was the understanding I gained of how Indigenous Australains were and still are oppressed. Our exposure to this  oppression, while undoubtedly limited, came from the museum visits, personal talks, and readings we had. To me, it seems ridiculous that most Indigenous people of mine and my parents’ generation have only recently recieved basic rights, such as education, while still fighting for rights like better healthcare. The preservation, determination, and pride of these people are overwhelming. I found the little time I spent studying injustices against Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders could be depressing; I could never imagine what it must be like to live in such a disenfranchised state. My appreciation for the privileges I have definately grew, as did my desire to be an advocate for groups without e privileges I have.

 Studying the political and social prejudices against  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was a great opportunity to also learn more, and build comparisons to the oppression of Native American groups in the United States. The experiences and knowledge I gained in Australia can easily be translated to how Americans have, and are, treating out Indigenous peoples. I think there is a hope for giving a stroger sense of political visibility to Native Americans, when I see the progress made by Indigenous activists in Australia.

 Aside from the valuable insights I gained of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture, and current struggles, I had an amazing time being an Australain tourists. Walking with the kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, and emus at the nature preserve was an experience I probably won’t have again any time soon. Visiting the Opera house in Circular Quay and watching fireworks in Darking Harbour were also mind-blowing opportunities that I am so fortunate I had. All in all, worth the 17 total hours of flying!

 Hopefully it won’t be too long until I find myself in Australia again, but until then I can take both the education and fun I had on this trip and apply it to life back in the states. I definitely plan on continuing my education of both Indigenous Australians and Americans to further round out anything that wasn’t taught in our class and to build a stronger knowledge from all of this. 

Walkabout

The walkabout exceeded my expectations.

It began like any other walk through the wilderness. The instructor, Evan, showed up with only a day pack and proceeded to explain to us that this walkabout would change our lives, that is… if we let it. I waived it off and didn’t really trust this man that we just met, and so began the walk.

After only a few minutes of walking he managed to change my mind about the walk. This happened right after he gave a lecture. Rather than continuing on the trail, he surprised me by walking downward off the trail into a smaller one. After this I knew that it would be no ordinary walk, this was a walkabout.

Evan was insightful. He educated us on plants that were edible, and economical all the while telling us about the ways of his ancestors and how they lived. The most interesting thing to me was that they did not have a system to tell time. Though there were words for tomorrow and yesterday, there was not any type of word for hours or minutes. The aboriginal tribe would use the moon as a clock. An example of what people would say to someone who wanted something done by a certain time would be: “Ill have it done in two moons time.” It’s a very confusing way of telling time, and also inefficient, but at the same time wonderful. I wonder what society would by like if it was not worried so much by time. Maybe the future could have been more productive, or the complete opposite.

The trails were tough and yet more scenic than any trail that I had ever been on. Countless waterfalls were passed, along with shelters made naturally by the rocks and erosion. We crossed rivers, and climbed up boulders. Through the mud we continued while brushing tree leaves aside… and eating some along the way.

This walk, for me, was a reminder to never forget your roots and to always stay connected to nature, not facebook. There was a key point made of the fear growing in the U.S., where there is a lot of negativity in the news and television in general. This is hurting us and not allowing us to live a happier life. Through grasping the plants along the walk and turning them into energy, I did feel more connected, and at the end of the walkabout I felt good (could have been the endorphins too). This was a great way to end the course and I will apply what I learned when I go back to the states.

Today we went to the Australian National Gallery to see undisclosed, an aboriginal art exhibit.

Before the tour was available we split up to see what other exhibits there were. To my surprise there was an international exhibit featuring extremely unexpected artists. The exhibit held paintings that Dali, Picasso, Warhol and Monet (to name a few) produced. The Lobster Phone and an Elvis stretched canvas print were among the works shown.

Eugene Von Guerard had two floors to his exhibit, one more than the rest, so I decided to take time to view his work. He was from Austria, which made me even more eager to see his work. The first painting that I saw was delightfully euphoric. Von Guerard’s landscapes were breathtaking, and powerful. The lighting and detail of the nature, as well as the framing, could hypnotize anyone who gives it a few seconds.

One woodblock painting on stretched canvas by Laurie Nona captivated me. For some reason (not sure if it was some sort of optical allusion) my eyes were drawn to the canter of the woodblock print. Among scattered markings there arose something in the form of 2D, but with a 3D effect. Inside of what looks like a corn husk there is a man who is playing a type of drum. I had one of the professors analyze the print for me, he told me of the stars significance. He said that they represented tribes. He pointed to a massive painting nearby the office and told me that she also did one for the university.


Undisclosed was the last exhibit that I went to. In it art ranged from multi-projector and big colored-on text installments. One of the exhibits had three projections each with a close-up of a woman. These three women were frightening still and rarely blinked. I could see every detail in their faces, and in them a silence, but also fear, love, pride, and so on. One could see everything about their lives from just a look at their faces. The large printed-on text seemed a bit non-artistic… until the tour guide told us that each letter had a story behind it. The letters themselves said something like: “Fucking Look at me” or, “Can You Fucking See Me Now.” The latter would be closest to the actual text name. The stories each were of aboriginals that could never tell their stories to a larger audience. Stories of oppression and meaning were inside the work. At first it was stupid, but with a closer look there was something more and like all art it deserved a second look to be fully understood.

Entry of 6/15

 Blog on the Hike

Today was our final official day in Australia, and spent most of the day participating in a hike with an aboriginal guide. I am rather fond of hikes, and as such, I was excited. However, I did not expect to learn as much as I did about the native culture and the landscape in which they had inhabited. This was all thanks to our guide, who was particularly knowledgeable regarding both subjects.
Before we had started the hike, he took time to explain the aboriginal practice of “dream-time”, something which has been mentioned through the class, but knew little else about. Essentially, dream-time is a practice of controlling your outlook on life, significantly improving your well-being as a result, and allowing yourself to feel natural and automatic feelings of elation. Our guide described it as being an opposite of the thinking mind, which allows individuals to dwell, worry, and otherwise allow them to become trapped in their own head and stem their productivity. It is difficult due to the fact that those who have not practiced dream-time, because it involves the suppression of those negative thoughts that can from the thinking mind, but as the day went on, I found that escaping these negative thoughts became easier by using the advice he had given us.

One of the issues he stressed during the hike is a greater awareness of our surroundings and our footwork, and this was done with many purposes, all focused on the idea of getting closer to dream-tie. However, many of these cultural practices are quite useful, speaking to the underlying tones of practicality. This kind of combination of ritual and usefulness is seen in many indigenous cultures, and makes sense, as living off the land would be their first priority.

In regards to our footing, he recommended taking quiet steps, stepping strait down, and taking the time to “feel” this ground. Feeling the ground allowed us to move closer to dream-time, but also allowed us to become aware of the texture of the ground, and therefore adjust our stance accordingly. This was crucial when we crossed over rocky terrain, where one misjudgment could lead to injury. Stepping lightly reduced our noise, and allowed use to see and hear more of Australia’s wildlife, namely the song of the lyrebird. This cause not be done otherwise, as the lyrebird is very sensitive to thumping sounds, sensing them as danger. This is common with most Australian wildlife. Finally, the walking was done to illustrate how the aboriginals (or as he referred to them, the old-people) walked. This style of walking has health benefits, as it uses the quadriceps, gluts, and core abdominals, meaning a more toned body and less stress on your leg’s cartilage.  He also instructed us to feel the land with our hands to bring us closer to dream-time as well as nature. However, like the footing, using your hands to traverse obstacles and to better secure your footing is an important consequence.

In-between sections of the hike, our guide would take time to impart valuable knowledge regarding aboriginal history and native bush and tree life, and its uses. On note was the dancing which he initiated early on. It was not a choreographed event, as he instructed us to move freely, allowing use to move anyway we wanted, albeit ungracefully. While I was apprehensive at first, I did the dance for the experience, but was amazed by the instant feeling of elation that had come over me immediately afterwards. This elated and care-free mood set the tone for the rest of the night. From this simple demonstration, I understand why aboriginals and many other natives have dancing as a part of their everyday life. He took time to identify trees such as the eucalyptus, turpentine, and tea, and too many bushes to go over. The eucalyptus tree in very important in rituals, and was seen as sacred by many indigenous groups. The turpentine’s sap has the ability to act as an anti-septic and mild pain-killer, making its uses ubiquitous.  The tea tree’s leaves are cure-alls when used topically, relieving many illnesses; this knowledge was known to the natives, who commonly would collect leaves for trips and hunts.

He also shared stories regarding rituals, and how the acts of initiation and celebration were important in life. Individuals were initiated at key points in their life, and allowed them to move on to the next stage. For example, moving from boyhood to adulthood required acts which tested endurance, mental fortitude, and maturity; all of which were important cultural values. He also went over the importance of scarification, which detailed the level of the individual, and specified what kind of food they were allowed to eat. Of all the stories he shared, he reserved one which was painted upon a wall. While I was denied information, I found this gesture to be one of respect to his people, which I had appreciated.

Altogether, we had a plethora of information given to us, a perfect way to end the class. The ideas of dream-time resonated with me as well, and I intend to try to use more “positive” thinking in the future, as I find that it is quite common for my thinking mind to drive me to inaction. Again, as with all of the other excursions we have had, I see connections with my own culture, making the experience all the more personal to me.

In retrospect, I find this course to be valuable for the reason that it gives both a personal, emotional attachment to the indigenous people, and a factual and comprehensive knowledge to their culture and history. This intimate knowledge cannot be attained in a classroom setting, it requires going out into the world, seeing new places and meeting new people. It requires forcing yourself into new situations and learning as much introspectively as much as the subject in question. However, as our tour guide said wisely: “you have to give one hundred percent to get all that you can out of it.”  I knew vague facts and stereotypes about Aboriginals, but nothing of their contemporary situation and the rich culture which they have kept alive for thousands of years, and that knowledge is only available through communal sharing. I feel honored to be a part of this experience.


Entry for 6/14

Blog Response: Nature Preserve 

Most of our time outside of the car was spent roaming around a nature preserve, an opportunity which I enjoyed. This was the first time we were able to do something truly “tourist-y”, and was a nice break from the valuable, but mentally taxing activities we have meet engaging in for the rest of the trip. In addition, our trip had not seen any of the native wildlife outside of some of the birds, such as cockatoos, that are all over the continent. Since none of us are native to Australia, and I was the only one who has lived here, the group was rather perturbed by the fact they had not seen the most famous of Australia’s wildlife, the kangaroo.

Although it was nothing new, it was fun simply to walk about and see wildlife that was complete foreign to what I was used to. I found the kangaroos interesting, or perhaps more so, their behavior. Kangaroos are in many respects similar to deer. While both are known for the ability to do quite a bit of damage to an individual, they are naturally skittish, and prefer to avoid contact altogether. They both bound through the wilderness with a kind of majesty that is hard to describe, it almost looks effortless. This makes it all the more disheartening that the kangaroo seems to not be respected by the Australian government. Throughout the trip, we encounter ones that had been hit by cars by the hour, and were simply left there by the side of the road. In addition, many view them as simple vermin; making it acceptable for this to happen. It is a truly depressing sight.

Seeing the wildlife gave me a greater appreciation of the land, and gave me a more concrete understanding of what the Aboriginals really had: a diverse and colorful land. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the colonial age this land has been imposed upon and in many areas destroyed, but not totally beyond repair. This lesson was reminiscent of photographic art of in art gallery, displaying how the ecosystem near the coast was destroyed. Similar to the natives, its future states is at a fork in the road; its future largely dependent on today’s current actions. This, of course, makes the matter of both protecting the rights of natives and the ecosystem here all the more pertinent.           

Blue Mountain Walk-About

My expectations for what an Aboriginal walk-about in the Blue Mountains would consist of were vague to say the least. I assumed I would spend the day hiking up Mountains comparable to the smaller ones of Colorado. This expectation was shattered when Evan, our Aboriginal guide, informed us the Blue Mountain area we would be walking through was more of an elongated plateau. I quickly realized any previous comparisons I made to my hikes in Colorado were also destroyed when we stepped into what seemed to me like a thick Jungle – no type of forest I had ever been in before. With these new realizations in hand, I began what was a refreshing journey through the Australain bush and various Aboriginal Spiritual lands.

Throughout the walk, Evan shared the connections his ancestors had with this land and the significance of walk-abouts for these people. He was kind enough to share this knowledge with us to amplify our experience. Evan told us of the importance of feeling instead of thinking, connecting our bodies with the land and it’s sights/smells/noises, and understanding time through its continual essence. His advice was profound, but I always have trouble on walks which emphasize connection or spirituality, as I like to be loud and play in nature. My attempts to follow these Aboriginal guidelines were difficult, and may have dissipated after lunch, but I did learn from this experience historical and cultural connection with Aboriginal lifestyles.

Along with our hiking experience, Evan shared Aboriginal dreaming stories and provided us with the opportunity to paint historical Aboriginal symbols at lunch (symbols which we later saw carved into the two spiritual sights we visited). These stories were really the first time we really learned about ancient Aboriginal culture/history from an authentic source, and provided much stronger insight to what being Aboriginal meant than what we read in textbooks. Evans stories of dreamtime, skyland, and Aboriginal initiation were intersting in the way it reveals the importance of land and connection with the people. Aboriginal people seemed to know all the different types of plants, trees, and even the leaves and their uses medically and spiritually. Considering the diversity and multitude of the jungle we walked through, this blows my mind! Evan’s knowledge of the jungle and it’s animals, plants, and trees was as impressive as his ancestors who lived their entire lives in this land.

My experience walking in Aboriginal Spiritual lands was a great way to end my time here in Australia. Everything we learned today, and the physical connection we had to this knowledge through our hike deepened the understanding we gained through museum visits in Sydney and Canberra.  ImageImage

Canberra – unDisclosed

PAY ATTENTION MOTHER FUCKERS

These words made up one of the more attention-grabbing art pieces displayed at the temporary aboriginal art exhibit in Canberra’s National Gallery. This exhibit, titled unDisclosed, featured the works of 20 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. My favorite piece was the one which I described. These words, done by Danie Melor, featured both stereotypical (and therefore overwhelmingly racist) media portrayals of Indigenous peoples painted on the letters, contrasted with self-depictions of Indigenous lifestyles given by various Aboriginal artists. These images and the message they composed were almost overwhelming in their anger and demand for visibility.The brass used by Melor in his message is what makes it by far the most memorable piece of the unDisclosed exhibit, and the one I most enjoyed.

Michael Cook was the other stand-out artist I found most fascinating. His two works played at the roles between the colonizer and colonized – showing the intricate relationship of mixing cultures, oppression, and preservation. My favorite of his pieces, Broken Dreams, was a series of photographs featuring an Aboriginal woman and playing in particular at the effects colinization on women. The beauty of the naked women at the beginning of the series was contrasted with the beauty she had photographed in Western clothing and hairstyles at the series’ end. Other elements of these photographs – birds, ropes, ships – symbolized this Indigineous/Western concept while tying in themes of freedom and oppression. All these themes combined made Broken Dreams a striking piece. 

Bob Burruwal’s basket weaving was the final piece that stood out most to me in unDisclosed. There was nothing politically outstanding about Burruwal’s work like the other two artists, but it was beautiful in how subtle and intricate the work was. Burruwal’s pieces revealed the amount of time and energy which undoubtedly went into this unique art form. The medium of his art seemed to me a unique blend of contemporary and ancient Aboriginal culture, which was a strong theme throughout the entire unDisclosed exhibit.

unDisclosed was a beautiful compilation of Aboriginal and Torres Starit Islander culture, and probably the most standout and educational part of our Canberra visit. 

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