Into the Outback
By: Cassie Thompson
Word Count: 780
Intended Publication: Lives
The Land Rover bounced along the red dirt, down a path that could barely be considered a road. All around stood bare brown bushes, yellowing grass, and miles of nothingness. I ground my teeth, sure that once the sun set we would be lost. The danger of running into a kangaroo also became more present, though I was hopeful that our sturdy truck would survive a collision.
I was on a four-day service expedition to a remote mining town in the desert of Western Australia. Riding with me was my close friend Nathalie from my school in the United States, a girl from Singapore, and our leader, who was an Australian. I was stressed about spending the weekend in a predominantly Aboriginal community, since I hadn’t interacted with them very much. I had heard many white Australians in Perth saying how mean, dangerous, and untrustworthy they all were and my passing experiences with them hadn’t changed my mind. Whenever I saw them on buses or on the streets they seemed aggressive and loud. Before the trip, the coordinators had given us several tips, including; don’t ask Aboriginal people any direct questions about themselves or they’ll think you’re being nosy. This worried me even more.
Luckily, the Aboriginal children we met at school the next day were nothing like I had feared. They were energetic, friendly, and took to us very quickly. We were invited to join the children on a true outback, or ‘bush’ experience led by an Aboriginal policeman, Rex. Rex dressed like a cowboy: flannel shirt, brimmed straw hat, light jeans, and leather boots. He was the stand up man of the Aboriginal community and he often took the children out to learn about their heritage and the bush.
Twenty adorable and energetic children piled into Rex’s truck and ours, climbing over us to look out the windows, or clambering into the driver’s seat to help steer. I found it oddly comforting when one small boy wanted to sit on my lap for the whole day. I felt that I had been accepted into this little community almost immediately. We followed Rex along dirt paths, winding through the scrub bushes and around rocky outcroppings. Although I immediately felt lost, somehow he seemed to know exactly where he was going.
Every few minutes Rex would stop to show us something and tell a story. He told us about water holes, different uses of plants, and the huts that Aboriginal people had lived in up until the 1970’s. I was amazed by Rex’s knowledge and willingness to share with us as outsiders. All of my fears had been unjustified and I started to feel a little ashamed of my preconceived notions.
As we drove towards a large rocky outcropping, the children all began whispering to us quietly about how Bigfoot lived up on the hill and how so and so had seen him one night. I thought the story must be true since all of the children in our truck were warning us of the danger with such solemn eyes.
In the late afternoon, we stopped at a large salt river near the Aboriginal settlement. Rex told us that the river had healing powers and confessed that he came down once a month for a soak to rejuvenate his body. The children raced to the water, abandoning shoes and shirts; we soon followed. I squished along the mossy bottom, trying not to worry that I couldn’t see my feet through the mud stirred up by the children. After a few minutes I started enjoying myself and dug my toes into the mud below. It was freeing, almost, to let go of any discomfort and focus on the warm water around me.
The children seemed to enjoy dripping all over us on the way back, but I was dirty enough that I didn’t care and hugged one close. Nathalie had a young girl sitting on her lap, who was comparing their complexions. “My skin is normal but yours is white,” remarked the girl as she put her arm next to Nathalie’s. Nathalie and I stared at one another, shocked by such a profound comment coming from a child. The girl said no more about it and moved on to the next topic.
Her comment wasn’t meant to make us feel alienated, it was purely a statement of fact that she found interesting. The Aboriginal children had taken to us with ease, despite potential beliefs about white people, if they even thought about them. They allowed us to share in their culture and learn things that we never could have without their openness and kindness, something the stereotypes never accounted for.
Complication: Stereotypes scare Cassie
1) Cassie meets children
2) Cassie goes Outback
3) Children accept Cassie
Resolution: Cassie learns