Another Country

I went for a movie last night. Not the fast-past, steamy, nail-biting, popcorn-munching kind of movie. Nope—it was the first time I’d been to a cinema theatre in Canberra and it was for a movie about Aboriginals. It was Another Country.

To put it the words of the narrator, “This film is about what happened my culture when it was interrupted by your culture.”

And as soon as the echoes of that resounding statement died down, the screen flared up with young Aboriginal men, dancing to rock and roll music, shaking their hips, faces contorted in concentration, and enjoying, apparently, the westernisation that had crept into their veins, pulsating through their feet.

With gut wrenching grace, the film touched upon many issues that Australian natives endured during the initial stages of colonisation. 

“Then the white men came. With their cattle. If we didn’t do exactly what they told us to do in our own land, they would shoot us or poison us.”

As I heard the unwavering voice of the narrator, gliding over emotional scars and scabs oozing with fresh blood and pain, I shuddered. It was normal. And that was scary. As the audience, every moment of revelation was a gasp of shock, while it was everyday reality for the voice that told the story.

The more I watched, the more I understood how Aboriginals have been isolated in their own land. The documentary revolves around one small town in Northern Territory, emphasising the lack of everything there. When the government built a school, a store, and basic medical facilities, Aboriginal people from neighbouring lands had to move into a single town, where they were given periodic pension money to spend on supermarket-grade food that were ferried across or flowing into from other parts of the country. Since the town was devoid of everything else, including amiable weather, adults had no jobs to earn from. They were given money to buy things that the government intended them to—and as I watched kids and adults gulp down bottles of teeth-rotting Coca Cola and other carbonated, sugary drinks as if it were water, I cringed.

Alcohol is banned in the town. But soda that’s just as disastrous to health is abundant, encouraged, and in a sense, shoved upon these people. With nothing to do other than sit around, play cards, and participate in traditional celebrations, young men with a mischievous spark are punished. Possession of alcohol and kava are enough to land them in jail. About it the narrator says, “They get sent to jail, to Darwin, for doing things that other Australians are allowed to do.”

As if these youngsters aren’t Australian at all, just because they’re Aboriginal.

It was abominable to think of it that way. But it was more shuddering to realise that that’s how the rest of the world’s treated Aboriginals all along.

What a load of rubbish we are for looking down on fellow humans that way. Rubbish—the film covered that too.

When you think of it, the native people use nature’s elements to make baskets, tools, and almost everything else they need for living. When these things die, they return to the earth and people make new ones. However, the outskirts of the town are lined with garbage, broken appliances, and products used no longer. As the camera panned over piles and piles of old stuff now replaced by newer, shinier stuff, you can’t help but feel claustrophobic. And to imagine people living with all of that in their backyard—shame on us.

“We never had rubbish. Everything comes from the bush; everything goes back to the bush. […] We’re choking on rubbish. That means we’re choking on your culture.”

This documentary was eye-opening. It’s an assertive stance against the unfairness that’s become so internalised and normal in today’s Australia. And even though millions of people try and consciously avoid harming the essence of Aboriginal culture, or be patronising, it feels as if rules that require least 3 Aboriginal students in the opera club is also a way of enforcing the western culture in them.

This movie’s made me think—what’s happened between these two cultures isn’t a simple matter of right or wrong. And as we try to solve it, we will run into polarising problems. Finding the right balance will take time and and open minds. Question is, do we have that luxury?


Ah, coffee

I’ve already written about my experiences with Australian prices. When I first arrived, I spent hours walking down supermarket aisles, monitoring, comparing in my head, how much each product costs in various stores.

Although it’s waned over the last few months, the habit has stayed with me.

That’s why when I heard a small cup of flat white with almond milk and an extra shot costs $5.20, I had a hard time masking my bitch face. I swallowed the anger that rose to my lips and smiled instead. Thank you for such unfairness.

$5.20 isn’t a lot of money, I admit. But it’s still a lot for a not-so-great coffee in a not-so-big-enough cup. And yet, I’ve noticed that it’s the standard in most places in Canberra.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Melbourne.

For $4.50, I got a much bigger cup of more satisfying coffee. And I fell in love with Melbourne. Well, not just because of the coffee, but it sure helped.

That said, even in Melbourne, alternative milks and extra shots of espresso cost an additional 50 cents each. Some places dare go even further and charge anything between 80 cents and a dollar. 

And that’s on top of the standard price of a coffee.

I couldn’t comprehend the reasoning behind it. I don’t even think there is a reasoning. Of course, almond milk is more expensive than regular cow’s milk, but that doesn’t justify charging extra over a commodity I didn’t ask for.

I could, for the sake of an argument, dissect the price points of each element that goes into a flat white and evaluate the fairness of the price. But that’ll get me nowhere.

So I chose to rant here instead.

In all honesty though, this elevated coffee prices has made me appreciate it more than ever. Now getting a coffee outside is special. It’s not the kind of pick-me-up you associate with takeaway cups and Hollywood heroins in a rush. Coffee means proper coffee, and that means treating it with the respect it deserves—savouring every sip as it travels down my throat.

Floriade in Canberra

For 32 years, Australia has welcomed spring with tulips. This means, at this time every year, the government assembles millions of flowers in a grand public park in Canberra, and invites people from all over the country to visit and experience nature.

Floriade 2019 in Canberra - 5

In all its glory—
human vanity.

The festival is called Floriade. And this year’s theme was World in Bloom. For an entire month, these flowers sit in their designated spots, laughing in the sun, opening its petals, attracting birds, selfie sticks, and macro lenses of all sizes.

To call it glorious is an understatement.

With flowers, the lake, herons, and falling buds in the backdrop, people flocked to photograph themselves and the free pricelessness.

To call it beautiful is injustice.

Floriade hosts people from all over the country. Not just various shades and accents of white, but also hundreds of shades of brown and black. The air echoed with varieties of Australian, American, Asian, and European.

As I sat on a bench, flower gazing and people watching, flashes of colour showered not only from the blossoms and the sunshine they reflect, but also from the rainbow of whirlwind coming from spring dresses, khaki trousers, yoga pants, singlets, hats, and caps, mingled with heaving sighs and perfumed sweat.

What a great celebration of spring.

Handmade jewellery at a shop in Melbourne

Modern society

Beauty in necklace—
intolerable in streets—
multi-colour skins.

Photo: From an interesting shop called Eclectico in Melbourne. They sell a range of jewellery, handicrafts, and attire from Mexico, Peru, Spain, Brazil and south east Asia. Great place to look around while waiting for the next tram.

Mornings in Melbourne

Fighting back

For every tree felled
another, spreading its wings,
defies challenger