Looking at Photos

March 5, 2010 at 5:18 am | Posted in Society | 1 Comment
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It’s an amazing world, when a T-shirt allows the U.S. Dallas Cowboys  to intersect with indigenous kids in a remote community in Central Australia. It’s great that, by looking at my photo album these kids can also connect with another culture within their own country. But it also highlights the differences between what we see as ‘normal’ western living and life in the real bush.

It is November, 1991. In my photos, the kids see my British-Australian family, who live well over a thousand kilometres away, in homes quite unlike the tin-shed shacks or brush-and-tarp shelters they live in. My five sons pose before backgrounds of sea or mountains, clear creeks and dense, tall bushland, so very different to their flat country of red sand, spinifex, wattle and mulga. My children engage in activities that these youngsters may never have a chance to even know about.

The five girls are in my Education Department supplied caravan, which sits with two others behind to the school grounds at one end of the community. In my van, I have a couch, table and chairs, an electric frypan, a washing machine, a refrigerator, a television, even a fizzy drink maker; in fact pretty well all the ‘necessities’ of modern life. I do not have a telephone though –the school office has one, but a phone service only became available there four months previously.

The girls’ families have none of these common conveniences in their homes, not even a TV. They do not have electricity – or showers either. The kids shower at school, before class. After their shower, they change into school uniforms, and the cleaner washes their clothes in the school washing machine. At the end of the school day, the kids change back into their own, clean clothes. The teachers wash the uniforms, ready for the next day. The girls in the photo came to visit me after school, and are wearing those clean clothes.

Things have improved there in the last eighteen years. They now have power and television, satellite dishes and telephones, though no mobile phone service. They have greater access to vehicles and a well-stocked store with petrol bowsers – no more having to travel to the cattle station to stock up on basic rations. They have council offices and work sheds – but very little work. The school buildings have been upgraded, but the level of service is still dependent on the individual teachers who go there. Education is still not highly valued, because there is no incentive to learn.

I look at this photo and remember the hard work and the joys, the despair and the hope, the struggles and the achievements. Mostly though, I remember the kids – their brightness and their smiles, their openness and their enthusiasm, and their trust. I think of the things they didn’t have – those I have already listed, but also no grog and no petrol sniffing.

 When I think of the things they did have – an open-air lifestyle; bush tucker to supplement the basic foodstuff they could buy; a joy in simple things, like making a toy from a piece of wire and a tin can; their traditional family and social structures and ceremonial life – and I think that, in many ways, they had it better then.

© Linda Visman, March 5, 2010

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  1. I often wonder those of us who work with children have the roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ reversed. What a rewarding career you must have enjoyed…and what brilliant smiles on the faces of those girls.

    As technology advances, humanity deteriorates. They most likely were better off.


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