“If you were a woman I’d give you a lift,” a sleazy truck driver says to Chris. It’s late afternoon in Charters Towers in eastern Australia. We’re excited and nervous as we stick our thumbs out and wait for our first car to take us into Australia’s Outback. A billboard poster behind us advertises how to make ‘fuller cattle’.
The sky turns pink as the sun goes down. Miners drive past us on their way to one of Australia’s many mines. Road trains (giant four-carriage trucks) speed past us, full of cows who have been transported through the 40°C heat.
It’s immediately obvious that the Outback is going to be frustrating for two vegan activists who have just come from protests on the east coast against coal mining.
** I would like to acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia, their elders and their ancestors, custodians of the land that I have been travelling through.
Throughout my blog posts about Australia, I will refer to the original people of this land as ‘First Nations people’, ‘Aboriginal Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’. I asked a few people which term they prefer, and these were the preferences. The term ‘Indigenous’ was not liked. First Nations Australians often refer to themselves as ‘the mob’, too, and this term is often used by their friends and allies who are of European heritage.**
As a child of the 80s, I was in love with Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. I spent my dinner times transfixed by Neighbours and Home & Away and I cried my eyes out watching Charlene and Scott’s wedding. An impression of Australia was implanted into my brain: a vision of a blonde-haired, tanned, surf-loving nation.
At school in England, we learnt how the ‘hero’ Captain Cook sailed around the world and ‘discovered’ Australia. There was no mention of the most ancient continuous civilisation on Earth who had lived on the land for 65,000 years before the British came. And there was never any criticism of the ‘Great’ British Empire.
I didn’t think much more about Australia as I grew older. Why would I want to travel to a country that was just like England, only hotter?
But then I discovered the words of Australian journalist John Pilger, and the beautiful songs of Xavier Rudd. Between John’s articles and Xavier’s music, I gained a new understanding of Australia – a country with one of the bloodiest, falsely-told colonial histories of all time. A history where white Europeans committed genocide on a massive scale. A history of racism, land theft, concentration camps and apartheid. An attempt to completely wipe out the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.