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?

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Of sinks

One of the most important things to me in a home is having a big sink. When I say that to any of my friends in Canberra, I get rolling eyes and raised brows in return. 

The reason: they can’t fathom why I’d want a bigger sink when the one in the kitchen is as wide as a trash bin. 

As for my unaccustomed-to-the-first-world self, I can’t—for the life of me—comprehend how people live with tiny sinks in which you can’t even rinse a wok without whacking your elbows in the sides.

Over the last six months, I’ve seen many kitchens and sinks. When I learnt I’d be travelling for over a week, I moved out of the expensive place I was staying in. And so, for almost two months, I’ve been house hunting, walking all over the beautiful suburbs of Canberra, peering through overgrown bushes to find door numbers, lighting my way at night with my iPhone, desperately hoping the flashlight’s battery wouldn’t run out, and stopping every now and then during the day to gawk at and photograph early spring blossoms breaking away from their tree houses.

Every place I saw—from old, creaking, leaking buildings to new, renovated, refurbished townhouses—had small, impractical kitchen sinks.

When I mused about this phenomenon, one of friends pointed out people nowadays use dishwashers. (Don’t even get me started on the prices of dishwasher tablets.)

Oh, sure. But what about things that can’t go in a dishwasher—like an expensive bamboo chopping board? 

Some of the older houses don’t even have a dishwasher, rendering the argument moot. It makes sense, too—the dishwasher is a modern, economically well-off person’s fancy house appliance. However, it still didn’t explain the economy in sink size.

When I lived in a fancy house, I never used the dishwasher once. It was useless to turn on the machine when I cooked (meal prepped) only for myself. It’d take me weeks of cooking to fill up the dishwasher. 

Hand washing is easier and more sensible. If only the sink designers were as sensible as I.

Latest reading

I’ve been trying hard, and failing, to read a book.

It’s not the first time. It doesn’t happen often, and so when it does happen, these books remain in my mind vivid, as the Sydney Opera House in June.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and a couple others.

Not that these books were complex in language, but they featured elements and situations that bored me. However, I did finish One Hundred Years of Solitude and mentally kicked myself for putting it off for so long. It took me a good nine months to finish that book because I kept forgetting I was reading it. That’s a great book—I admitted when I did read it.

But the dragon tattoo was too much for me. It went into such gruelling detail about sex that it threw me off. I don’t mind descriptions that add value to a story, but as I was reading it, it felt as if the author could’ve edited away some of the detailing and still achieved a crisp narrative. But that’s just me. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about the book was surprised that I quit halfway through. I got tired of waiting for the exciting part of the story.

That happened about five years ago. Perhaps I was too young to digest it. Perhaps what was casual description for many was too gory for me. That’s when I realised I could return a book without reading, and not feel guilty about it after.

Except, now, after all these years, I’m reading a book that I don’t feel like finishing. It’s a lighter-hearted than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s non-fiction. But it’s still too much detail. It’s a semi-biography of an American-Australian author. It’s the first full-length comedy book I’m reading, and although I appreciate the author’s ability to laugh at her faults and shenanigans, some of her anecdotes aren’t funny—they’re just silly.

It feels as if I’m too old to laugh at these stories. Some of them are too personal—stuff that I’d take to the grave. Of course, there’re learning opportunities in every embarrassing situation, but sometimes, lessons are personal. Writing about the time you strutted around the school in sex-stained jeans thinking it was cool, isn’t cool. Now imagine an entire book of stories like that. Of course, not every story is about sex, but the embarrassment-level is quite similar.

I’m certain there’re some stories in there about good things that happened to the author—like winning a game or passing a big test.

I’ll know for sure when I get there. If I get there at all.

That’s what I’m struggling with now. I know it’s a popular book. It may even be a good one, according to most readers. But perhaps it’s just not for me.

Ever been there?

Musings on the bus

They observe,
from the sidelines
behind human boundaries
mutely.

Ghosts of past,
felled by hunters,
now shed skins, peeling,
naturally.

Wheels pass by,
not unlike time,
in twos, threes, and sixes—
boundless.

Fiercely defiant,
owners of the land,
masked in ashen white—
eucalypti.


Note: Eucalypus, or gum trees, are beautiful trees to stare at and they’re endemic to south-eastern Australia where I now live.

Lost for words

Stunted, I stand—
like a child facing its father
drunk, with no pride, scowling;
as that child registering,
look on its mother’s face.

Stunted, I stand—
as a yearning pianist
learning, watching masters
gliding fingers, seamless
so much to be stressful.

Stunted, I stand—
as a teen, hopeless, in love
curious, cluelessly licking,
purposefully his own lips,
to feel remains of hers.

Stunted, I stand—
mute as a muted video,
blinking, in slowed motion,
afraid, lest the picture fades,
the sun in my horizon.