By Elise Ciegelski
Towering earth toned burial carvings covered with intricate patterns loomed behind the annoyed security guard attempting to stop the photo-happy tourists. Yet as I glanced behind me, people were contentedly snapping pictures of the peaceful looking landscapes on the wall in the preceding gallery. Here, in the Australian section of the NSW Art Gallery I observed a simple juxtaposition of the deep rift that has been troubling this country since the start of colonization: the non-correlating worlds of Aboriginals and White Australians.
One gallery hearkened green European countryside, and the other one spoke of brown land and native creatures. There seemed to be little common ground between the artwork that came from the same time period and described the same country. Or was there? Literally speaking, yes! They shared the same land, but I would like to believe that despite the differences in ideologies and lifestyles, more intertwining bridges can be made. The histories and culture of Aboriginals and White Australians have been coinciding side by side like these two galleries for quite some time now. But what good is acknowledgment and respect if a mental segregation still exists? The two halls were literally side by side, almost one room – but not.
I’m not suggesting that intermixing early white and black Australian art in one room would make everything better, but I would be curious to see if that would even be allowed before a more significant societal breakdown of the “us-them” phenomenon occurred. Obviously the Australian government has been attempting to deal with some of this complex issue, but it needs to start at the level of the individual, not the institution. A genuine openness to learn and love not simply coexist needs to permeate the white mindset. Of course there is difference and distinction on both sides, but that does not justify parallel universes, no matter how knowledgeable of the other.
As I left the museum, I noticed on one side of the building flew the Australian flag, and on the other the Aboriginal – indeed a noble statement of recognition. But I couldn’t help wonder if those two flags could ever possibly be one?
By Tamara Barrett
Red dirt covered our existence, successfully portraying us as victims of spray tans and hair appointments gone wrong. We sped down discreet paths and through unmarked fields in trucks, completely enjoying the thrill of fresh air and unindustrialized land expanse. At night, we traveled about the property in the same way, but this time under the most magnificent and comprehensive blanket of stars we had encountered since our arrival in Australia. Our North American eyes gazed at the upside down constellations with only the intermittent ability to utter words of amazement. The Outback certainly offered a different vigor than the animated one we had become accustomed to in Sydney. During our time, we experienced an inexpressible freedom not only from the tangible barriers of city zones, but from lives unshared and burdens concealed.
Time spent around the fire with fellow students came to be what I looked forward to the most. This was a place for reading, worshipping, eating, sharing, and growing. At the end of each day, we had a time where students could take three rocks and share three things about their lives in confidence. With a group of 37 students, I have found it impossible to form close bonds with everyone. But these times of sharing effectively did that. Social psychologists explain the phenomena this way: “Self-disclosure leads to more liking and deeper relationships because it signals trust, and because knowing each other’s abilities, preferences, and needs leads to easier coordination of mutual activities and more understanding.” Self-disclosure around the campfire allowed for each of us to get a clearer picture of the happenings, past and present, that shaped the person we listened to at that moment. It also gave each of us an opportunity to share burdens and heartaches in ways we had not formerly felt possible here. The genuine atmosphere of concern and encouragement made the campfire a place of healing for many as they were either freed from the burden of not being known by others or from the false assumption that they were alone in what they were experiencing. Those nights were marked by zealous laughter, healing tears, and a sense of true community. The freedom we all experienced during our time in the Outback will not soon be forgotten. As a result, it would be impossible not to heed the advice of our bus driver Ian, “Take some red dirt home with you in your veins.”