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Stan’s Stuff

My journey – relating to other cultures Misstep, mistakes and downright disasters

Australian Aboriginal family, Victoria 1800s. Photo taken with permission. Photo credit Wagga Wagga Library
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

MISSTEP: – The Germans

When I was fifteen, I worked in a large engineering workshop. Most of the workers were ‘New Australians’ – men who had just emigrated from countries devastated by the second World War. Three young men caught my attention. These handsome, blond men were Germans.

They noticed me perhaps because I was also blond and blue eyed. For a month or so we looked out for each other at brew time. Then it stopped. They avoided me and I never knew why.

My guess now is they were offended by my boasting about the courage of Australian soldiers. Probably they couldn’t stand to hear the smart-arsed Aussie kid put down the German people.

MISTAKES: – THE Koreans

The first Asians who befriended us after our coming to New Zealand in 1992 were Koreans. They liked us, but clearly, they felt they could improve us.

Food: Koreans loved Kimchi – fermented cabbage. They can’t imagine life without it. They assumed that Kiwis or Aussies in NZ would love it too. They went to enormous lengths to introduce us to this delicacy, but they didn’t realise that our palate had been somewhat numbed by a diet of meat, potatoes and veg, fish and chips and tomato sauce and that we were beyond redemption

Beauty: The mother and daughter thought my wife was very beautiful but not quite up to beauty by Korean standards.  One Saturday afternoon, mother and daughter worked on Pauline to make her ‘really beautiful’, Korean style. They never knew it, but after they had completed their ‘painted-doll’ treatment my wife spent an hour in a service station restroom restoring her appearance to her own Kiwi/Aussie style of glamour and comfortable appearance.

Table tennis: Their teenage son lived with us for a year. In that year we often played table tennis. I gained the impression I was a top-gun player as he never beat me. Later in a university break he visited. We played table tennis, and I scarcely won a point. I asked how come he had improved so much? “There is no improvement,” he said. “At university I decided to live like a Kiwi,” he explained. “As a Korean, my culture dictated that I should never beat you because of your age. Now I am a Kiwi, I can play normally, and you are not very good!”

DOWNRIGHT DISASTERS

British colonisers relating to Aboriginal people. The lack of knowledge ordinary Australians (including me) had of what really happened to the Aboriginal inhabitants of the Great South Land is almost unbelievable.

It was beyond the Brit’s understanding that people who wore no clothes and who could carry all their belongings in one hand could be a cultured and educated people.

In fact, Aboriginal history went back at least 40,000 years and their culture and history were enshrined in paintings, songs, dances, implements and mystic rhythms. Their stories unfolded a drama  of mystery and mastery between nature and humanity, a web of thousands of years.   

For my first 35 years, I lived in Victoria, the small, prosperous southeastern state at the bottom of the Australian mainland. I was in my 20s before I saw an Aboriginal person. As far as I knew, there were no Aboriginals living in the city of Melbourne. I knew some Aboriginals lived in an out-of-bounds, isolated reserve a hundred kilometres from Melbourne. Victorians explained this absence of Aboriginal people from their state in this way. Aboriginals prefer a warm and dry climate. For this reason, they lived in the sunny north of the country. Aboriginal tribes chose not to live in Victoria.

I now know this was not true. What alerted me was testimony given by the Victorian Premier, Jacinta Allan to the ‘Truth-telling Enquiry’ in April of this year. I read she was moved to tears by the evidence she had to consider. So was I. Murderous white settlers, hungry for land, massacred whole communities  – men,  women, children, and babies.      I had heard of such things happening and felt loathing and condemnation for it, but never for a minute, did I imagine that anything of this kind happened in my state of Victoria.

The truth is that rather than Victoria being an empty space just waiting for the British to colonize and farm, the state was occupied by peripatetic communities (tribes) of Aboriginal people. It is estimated that when the British arrived, there was a minimum of 12,000 living in communities across the state.

In a few years, this number was depleted down to 4,000. Some of this decline was due to British diseases. But much of their disappearance was due to massacres of Aboriginal tribes – men, women, children, and babies by land-hungry British settlers.

These days, through my Queensland family, I am related by marriage to several Aboriginals. My brother in-law is a rare treasure, being 50% Aboriginal and 50% Thursday Islander (Kaurareg). Together, we are proud of the place our family has come to; the heavy work we have done on our attitudes to be a real family in terms of understanding and tolerance. This is something for which  I am so very thankful.

However, the treatment of Aboriginals in my home state of Victoria, which was replicated in other parts of the country, was a downright disaster for the nation and destroyed many of the most ancient people on this planet. This disaster fills me with shame.