On my ride back from the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, one thing we discussed stuck with me and nagged me throughout the week.
When speaking about the history of the Aboriginal cultures prevalent in Victoria (and Australia), I was told that, until 1967, Aboriginal Peoples were classified under the Flora and Fauna code — relegating them to the status of animals.
Through further research, I found this specific point to be a myth (as the cited article rather too gleefully notes). (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-20/fact-check-flora-and-fauna-1967-referendum/9550650)
And yet, after visiting the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Melbourne, I found the truth to be no less troubling.
While Aboriginal Peoples may not have been classified as animals (officially), the fact is they were treated as such. Invisible until in the way.
The truth is the indigenous cultures of Australia were massacred, raped and enslaved over hundreds of years of colonization.
The truth is many of the rolling hills and serene landscapes I passed along my drive through the Great Ocean Road and Grampians were the sites of these massacres — without a single plaque or marker to give an ignorant tourist such as myself even the slightest hint of the past. (https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-map/)
The truth is there are still many living victims of ‘The Stolen Generations,’ the result of a policy where, from 1910-1970, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families in an effort to assimilate and erase all trace of their culture. Through this policy, children were separated form parents, and siblings torn apart and spread across Australia. All in the name of ‘improving their lives.’ In 2008, Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister, apologized for the government’s role. His apology was met with opposition, including Tony Abbott (Prime Minster 2013-2015) who stated, “Yes, some kids were stolen and this is shameful but many were helped and some were rescued.”
(1. https://www.australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/stolen-generations — 2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/11/australia)
The truth is many histories of massacres and injustices are simply not acknowledged because Aboriginal history is largely based on oral telling, and the old world rule still applies — if it’s not written down, it doesn’t count. (http://theconversation.com/oral-testimony-of-an-aboriginal-massacre-now-supported-by-scientific-evidence-85526)
I don’t mean to spotlight Australia as the lone perpetrator of injustice. The United States’ track record of past and ongoing inequity towards, not only indigenous groups, but, quite frankly, all those of none white/European descent, is equal parts abhorrent and depressing.
What I do want to do is bear witness. To share the history I have learned.
I want to share my belief that trauma is transferable throughout generations. That, aside from the obvious economic and social effects that are still ongoing, and despite the arguments about whether trauma can be epigenetically transferred; the shared, collective trauma of indigenous whitewashing, religious persecution, sexual orientation/gender discrimination, slavery, Jim Crow and police brutality is real. And, through that, I posit, that as a descendant of white Europeans, should I not share some of the responsibility for past injustices?
Most importantly, I believe the onus is on me and people who come from my background, from a point of inherited privilege, to be mindful of the past. Not to try to historically compartmentalize, but to learn and, most importantly, listen, lest we be damned to ignorance and the continuation of a cycle that has caused nothing but torment.
Following my visit to Bunjilaka, I walked clear across town to Yarra Bend Park — the supposed location of a camp of Flying Foxes.
I used photography to ground myself and reflect, letting the slow breathing that comes with holding a heavy zoom lens steady to meditate on what I saw and learned.
As is it seems, Australia’s nature found me first as I stumbled into the snoozing camp of the Flying Foxes.
Lots of Flying Foxes…
Now, to be clear, these bats (Grey-headed flying foxes, to be exact) are not “GIANT VAMPIRE BATS” as Indiana Jones would scream-shout at you, but rather harmless pollen and fruit eaters that, at their worst, are kind of noisy and smelly. But still, to see them in the hundreds was a bit imposing. Especially when they showcased their 3.3ft wingspan.
Nevertheless, I was happy to watch them glide off to seize the night and figured that was my cue to start to make my way back to Melbourne for my own rest.