A Series: A Travellers experience with Indigenous Australia

Blog One: 'Upon Arrival':

When I first signed up to volunteer in Australia for 6 months working as a teacher, I had imagined it to be in one of the cosmopolitan cities the country boasts (Melbourne, Sydney, Perth or Brisbane). Darwin was in fact the one area I was skeptical about; the heat all year round, the constant threat of animals and the unknown culture of the Aboriginal people. All of which are only found in the Northern Territory and rural parts. Much to my surprise Darwin was indeed where I was placed, in a mixed school of 'White' and Indigenous children. The Aboriginal children were the only ones to board at the school and so my main interactions would be with this alien community I knew nothing about.

I had heard various preconceptions surrounding the nature of Aboriginal people; from issues with alcohol and violence to the injustice they are subject to. While Australia as a country is incredible and somewhere I hope to live in the future, it is common knowledge that the population of the natives have been cast aside and forgotten, often subject to unfair stereotypes by the modern white population. By simply typing into Google 'Aboriginals in Australia' an article on CNN titled 'How Australia is failing its Indigenous population' pops up. The statistics shown in this article portrayed the reality of what I should have expected; doubled infant morality rate to the general population, higher obesity threat, 30% less children attending school, quadruple the amount of deaths by alcohol and suicide, and I could go on...(highly recommend taking a glance). So what was I expecting when I first got on that airplane? Put simply: 40C, jet lag and an overwhelming feeling that I was going into a war zone of abuse with people I would never understand. In many instances this was correct, but in so many more ways I fell in love with this group of children who I continue to not fully comprehend, yet I came away knowing I had made some difference in a country that needs to try to integrate, understand and cherish the history of these people.

Arriving at Darwin was intense. I didn't meet the children until a week later, yet in contrast to the environment I was used to, the difference in lifestyle was prominent. Although I had been aware I was stepping into someone else's habitat and was fully prepared to embrace this, my naivety led me to subconsciously believe there would still be many similarities between our two worlds. These misconceptions were immediately proved incorrect in both appearance and behaviour. I initially (and regretfully) believed that what I had been told was true.

In my first meeting with my colleagues (all white Australia's) I was prepped on what to expect when the children arrived from their different communities (which are spread across thousands of miles). I was told that they wouldn't speak to me until they had understood my presence, my aura and whether they could trust me. I was told that they could be abusive in language towards me, and on occasion physically (which did indeed occur). I was told not to hug them before they had been treatment for fleas (Communities are known to be reasonably unsanitary). I was taken aback by these claims and to be honest expected the worst. I was completely and utterly wrong again.

Nerves were definitely my first feeling before meeting the children, as similar opinions had continued from various people in that following week. I had been told about the violence that sometimes occurs in the classrooms, between each community and the pregnancies that had occurred recently. The children came in drips and many came in after school had begun, some missing a whole 3 weeks. The first few days can only be described as myself being a complete suck up. My approach was to be so involved and interested in them the they had to speak to me and it worked! I felt like a dog in a kennel of cats. Everyone single one of them glaring at me warily, and not speaking or laughing at me. They were the most intense, unusually beautiful, wild children I have ever had the luck to meet. It is clear to me now the misconceptions and stereotypes that are so built up are coming from people that have never tried to get to know the children of this group of people. A few days in, having asked a lot of questions about their different communities and hearing how extravagant and important their families were, it was clear the way to get to know them was simply to want to. I was told all about that their mother-sister and grandfather-father, what their homes looked like and why they hated school. They wanted my bracelets and for me to help them do homework by the second week.

I must admit, my anticipations were wrongly embedded in stereotypes. I will say however, that many of those are correct, but they shouldn't be the image of this community of people. In this series I will share what I learnt from these people, some of my most memorable moments with them alongside many of the scary and dangerous ones that I had to endure. It definitely wasn't plain sailing.

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