Saturday, September 4, 2010

Desert Park in Alice Springs

In and about Alice, we saw our first kangaroo, crested pigeon, gallahs, and magpies and it was warm enough for the gum trees to give off their delicious eucalyptus scent. We visited the extraordinary School of the Air and the Alice Springs Telegraph station.
I spent much of the second day at the Desert Park. Only the morning was scheduled, but several of us stayed longer since the afternoon was free. The birds of prey demonstration was spectacular. Do I remember the names of any of the birds? NO!!! But I bought a guide and marked them off. I so got into watching the birds in Australia. What struck me first, before their uncommon beauty, was the birdsong: new and different. There were, of course, magpies and bower birds, honey somethings and rainbow bee-somethings; gullahs and black cocatoos; buggies. I also attended about an hour lecture by an aboriginal guide, named Doug, at the park about survival skills of the aboriginal peoples. Doug was from the Arrende people of Central Australia. The returning boomerang was not used here, nor was the didgeridoo. The returning boomerang is an east coast style, used in bird hunting to flush out the water birds. Boomerang technology is over 10,000 years old. the Arrende boomer is heavier, curved at one end, designed to break the leg bones of kangaroos and emu...and people, in war time. Spears were also used, the heads attached with fresh kangaroo achilles tendon that dries and shrinks to hold the point tightly. They also used spear throwers to extend the range, nulla nulla or club with a quartz head that could also be thrown. All tools were multipurpose, for hunting, gathering, preparing the ground to sit etc. Women carried spears, digging sticks, a coolamon bowl and maybe a dilly bag. Winnowing was key because some husks were poison. the dilly bag was used for collecting as well and for rinsing out toxins. A quote from his father about the importance of the stories,"If you know the song, you know plenty." He described women as of equal importance to the survival of the group, of equal but different power within the group. He talked about marriage rules...too complicated for me to remember...that prevented inbreeding. Breaking the marriage rules would result in banishing or worse. Children are raised by the "Aunties," a group of adult women including your birth mother and her relations (relations in Aboriginal groups are different than for us...but think aunts, great aunts, some cousins depending on the marriage relation). He said that children "run feral" until 6 or 7 years old. Initiation and scarring is still practiced to some extent. He said it teaches discipline ...and each scar represents a lesson: you look at it and you remember.
We got a ride home fron the Desert Park with an Aussie named Michael who had a huge shotgun shell hanging from his rearview mirror.. Born in Italy, but raised in Australia,He was in Alice on holiday with the Masons. He lives normally in Adelaide. It seems that the Freemasons were in Alice Springs to celebrate the raising of a statue to a pioneer by the name of Stuart. Stuart was a good sort, kind to the natives. But, politically correct types had a fit about placing the statue in the town square because the statue was holding a rifle. The man Stuart never used the rifle to subdue the natives. So, the town council has taken it under advisement and has not raised the statue as yet. So, Michael stayed to party anyways. Among other things, he said he was a conservationist. I asked what that meant. He goes out to the cattle stations to shoot feral cows. When the stations changed over mustering from horses to helicopters, they discovered up to 25% more cattle who had gone feral. Or maybe he meant camels? They are a problem as well. Ran into him later that evening at Bojangles Pub.

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