Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not all beer and skittles

Now here's a difficulty I haven't come across before. This old gentleman is the father of our host on an Outback Queensland property, who farmed it before his retirement. He showed us all around it, taking us to his favourite look-outs (on top of what they quaintly call 'jump-ups' there: hills, in other words, or in this case specifically a mesa), talking about the flora and fauna and clearly taking quiet satisfaction in the beauty all around us. He also brewed a mean cup of billy tea.

At one of the look-outs there was a big wooden cross and I asked why it was there - well, there could have been a number of reasons, something large buried under it, I was guessing. But no, it was an acknowledgement of Jesus Christ's power on earth and specifically this patch of it. Fair enough. I'm not a believer myself, but I appreciate the glories that other people's faith have brought about (though there is a substantial downside to religion, of course).
The difficulty stirred when we went to look at some colourful Aboriginal paintings underneath a cliff face, and the old man scoffed at suggestions not only that they were ancient - and indeed, they may well have been only 600 years old, as he said - but also at claims that the dinosaur stampede footprints down the road a bit at Lark Quarry were around 95 million years old.

Now these are famous footprints: Stephen Spielberg came to see how they show a carnivore scattering a herd of smaller herbivores, and included that scene in Jurassic Park - it's the only known record of such an event in the world. And dinosaurs are generally agreed to have become extinct 65 million years ago. But, again, fair enough, I've met people before who believe the Bible literally, and one was a good friend for many years.

Where things got really sticky was when he showed us a curious area of shiny, packed pebbles surrounding circular shapes made by larger stones, where not a blade of grass grew - and he said that the barrenness was because of the gods that the Aboriginals worshipped here. That is, as a kind of curse. Further, he blamed all Australia's problems on what he disparagingly described as the "nonsense" of the Aboriginals' spiritual beliefs - "Not many people realise that" - and said he'd had the property exorcised.
I didn't want to cause trouble, so I didn't make any comment although I felt he was itching to expand on the topic, but it's been bugging me ever since. This man has been showing tourists around his property for 50 years and presumably making the same claims to all of them - claims that go some distance beyond being merely un-PC. Into the domain of intolerance and offensiveness, it seems to me.

I suppose in the long run it's not of huge significance: we all know there are people with views we find unacceptable, and it's even interesting to run up against them occasionally. But whether I should write a jolly story about the time we spent with him, encouraging others to go there, is quite another matter - even though his son and daughter-in-law are very pleasant people and, since the drought, probably largely reliant on tourism for their income.

See? Tricky.

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