Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

The Convent: Daylesford, Victoria Australia

You wouldn’t think it, but Daylesford is actually a major tourist destination in Australia. By all appearances it’s just another small Australian town, indistinguishable from many of the other small towns in the area… but it has the advantage of sitting on the edge of what is now an extinct volcano, and as such it is one of the few natural spa towns in the country… known for it’s 65 naturally effervescent (bubbling) springs. Among its many attractions, is a historic (and haunted) nun’s convent that has been converted into an art gallery and wedding venue.

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(Based simply on how the people in the town preferred to dress — unstructured simple flowy garments made from natural materials, I told my hostess that I felt like I was back in Mill Valley, CA — a highly affluent town just north of San Francisco known for its concentration of New Agers, movie stars and retired Hippies … to which my friend responded that I had perceived correctly, as this town has very similar demographics, and has an Ashram a Yogi, etc)

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I was brought here by the friend I stayed with for two weeks in Ballarat. She is a woman of many talents: a former nurse, a real estate agent, an entrepreneur, and about once a month she guides collections of tourists through this convent, as she is also a psychic and medium, a talent she has had since her early childhood.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit so I’m a bit vague on the details of what ghosts were where. I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … but a good 6 months later, and as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

As we were driving around my friend told me that this is the second gay capital of Australia (Sydney being the first), and based on the number of rainbow flags I was seeing I don’t doubt it. She said that there are more gay people than straight people in Daylesford. fullsizeoutput_4145.jpegWe came to this former convent, which during the day triple duties as an art gallery, a wedding venue, and a hotel ….. because in the evenings is when its fourth duty comes into play, as a haunted structure… and my friend has been hired (because of her particular talent), to lead a ghost tour here on a similar regular basis. That said, the woman who normally comes and helps her lead the groups through the structure couldn’t be there that night, so since I had asked if I could come see the place (anyway) she’d tasked me with walking at the end of the group and making sure there were no stragglers (or folks who were breaking the rules and taping the tour without prior permission — photos are allowed). IMG_2078

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As we walked through the hallways of the building, my friend would describe various ghosts that are known to regularly haunt different parts of the building.

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This top floor of building was used as a hospital ward at one point, and she had interesting details to share of how the nuns managed this (getting the bodies up and down, etc.).

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These small rooms off of the larger main rooms were nuns bedrooms. One of them in particular, the one everyone is lining up to get into… is haunted by the ghost of a woman who (I think) had committed suicide there, or some such… (I’m really very blurry on the details at this point — it’s 6 month later — of the specifics of her story, but my friend explained it at great length…I remember it was very interesting and sad)

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IMG_2083I think I remember she said that this church part of the convent was haunted by a former Priest, or maybe it was the head nun… again, I’m very foggy on the details so I suggest if you’re in town you take her tour. IMG_2084At this point my friend was giving a very long story, and I was getting tired and wasn’t paying close attention anymore, and was focusing mostly on taking pictures… but as you can see more of the tour group were riveted on what she was saying

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This painted door, according to my friend, has a particular energy embedded into it, which both my friend and another psychic both had felt independently (I forget what it was, again, you should sign up for the tour to find out), and she was explaining about that during the picture above. She was also leading us into the basement which had been used for some horrible purposes over the years, lots of ghosts… and while we were down there a lot of people who were on the tour came out of there having experienced something…

Clunes, Victoria, Australia

The friend who hosted me in Ballarat brought me to visit a nearby town called Clunes, Victoria (there’s actually more than one Clunes in Australia). The town (like many in the area) was once a gold mining town, but its current claims to fame is that it has been used many times in movies and TV shows, and they hold the largest yearly book fair in Australia.IMG_1860

Movies and shows shot in this town include, Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush,  & Orlando Bloom), Mad Max, HBO’s the Leftovers, Amazon’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and a large selection of Australian TV shows, etc. In fact there’s a new big budget about to be filled there about the life of Ned Kelly staring Russel Crow, that’s currently looking for extras.
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Other than being very picturesque Clunes seems to be just a quiet little Australian town. I could see why film studios like the place, there’s very are lots of very nice building but not much going on that a filming would disrupt.

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What to do with a horse troth? Fill it with flowers

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Bunjil Rock Shelter

Bunjil Rock Shelter is one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia. In is located in the Black Range Scenic Reserve, and according to this academic report, “It is the only known site in Victoria to contain bichrome [2 color] figures and an anthropomorphic figure whose identity is known…The site is generally regarded to be one of the most significant of the 150 or so Aboriginal art sites in Victoria, and yet its management has been characterized by nagging doubts about its authenticity.”

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Bunjil is one of their creator deities of the Aboriginal world (see image below), and is often described as a Wedge-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey in Australia (see image above)

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Bunjil Rock Shelter was one of the meaningful (to me) places my host (while in Ballarat) took me to; she was driving me around and always keeping in mind my highly limited post concussive energy limits (the glorious serendipity of staying with someone who used to be a nurse). She said this was one of those places she’d always wanted to go to, but never had — so it was good for her too.

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My host and her friend, who joined us on this trip,v standing in front of the fence the protects the rock cave (just left of them)

Inside the cave there is an “Ancient” Aboriginal painting (according to my friend its had touch ups so that kind of screws with the ancient part)IMG_1873

Unfortunately I was the only taking pictures this day, and I was already seriously fatigued from our other stops, so I didn’t remember to ask someone to take a photo of me….

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I was only able to do this trip because my friend drove me around, and I actually spent very little time on my feet. Once back home I wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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Personally I really loved the huge rocks in the area… although you have to wonder where they came from…

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Warning… if you decide to come here… whoever set up the signs leading to this historical site needs a good whipping. We had a really hard time finding it, and actually passed it twice.  It’s a relatively small sign placed well away from the road, on a side road that doesn’t really look like road… 

Link to the map

Dog On The Tucker Box; Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia

This statue titled, “Dog on the Tucker box” is a tribute to Australia’s pioneers, and a ‘well known’ (to Australians) bush poem whose author (may or may not) have been lost to time; it is located on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

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But here’s the thing, when I googled to try to find the famous poem the statue was based on I found multiple different ones and partial ones, and variations on the same theme, or variations of wording…. so if you play the video below, and then follow some “different” poems that various sites were pointing towards as the poem, you’ll see my confusion.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Dog on a tucker box about 4 months ago, on Feb. 26th, 2018, almost a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … Even a month later my brain wasn’t close to good (I was talking really really slowly at the time, searching for almost every word) and as such I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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That said, the “or worse” referred to in the above image, was explained in other versions I found that said that every time you read “the dog sat on the tuckerbox” you should actually convert it to “the dog shat on the tuckerbox”  … i.e., the past tense of to shit… in other words, this is a poem about a dog that took a dump on this guy’s lunch box.

Bullocky Bill — by anon

As I came down Talbingo Hill
I heard a maiden cry,
‘There goes old Bill the Bullocky
– He’s bound for Gundagai.’

A better poor old beggar
Never cracked an honest crust,
A tougher poor old beggar
Never drug a whip through dust.

His team got bogged on the five-mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried,
‘If Nobbie don’t get me out of this
I’ll tattoo his bloody hide.’

But Nobbie strained and broke the yoke
And poked out the leader’s eye,
And the dog sat on the tucker-box
Five miles from Gundagai.

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‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses (A PC version from the 1920’s)

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I’ve been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve got your bullocks bogged,
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain’t no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

But that’s all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street,
The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tuckerbox,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

———————————–

Author unknown about 1850

I’m used to punchin’ bullock teams across the hills and plains.
I’ve teamed outback for forty years through bleedin’ hail and rain.
I’ve lived a lot of troubles down, without a bloomin’ lie,
But I can’t forget what happened just five miles from Gundagai.

‘Twas getting dark, the team got bored, the axle snapped in two.
I lost me matches and me pipe, so what was I to do?
The rain it was coming on, and hungry too was I,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck, no matter where they fall,
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no bloody luck at all.
I couldn’t heat a pot of tea or keep me trousers dry,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Now, I can forgive the bleedin’ team, I can forgive the rain.
I can forgive the damp and cold and go through it again.
I can forgive the rotten luck, but ‘ang me till I die,
I can’t forgive that bloody dog, five miles from Gundagai.

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The infamous Australian sense of humor at play

This is one of those roadside attractions that means nothing unless you’re conversant with local folk culture … which I was not.  My travel mate however was born and raised in Australia, so he insisted we stop here. And this ladies in gentleman is why it’s always helpful to travel with a local.

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Just next to the statue was this restaurant, Oliver’s Real Food, which my friend said was must try, as it is the Australian “healthy” version of a fast food chain, i.e., lots of organic and vegetarian ‘fast food’ options.

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Me being held by a ‘big’ Koala,

In front of the restaurant was a big Koala, but as I had already seen a much BIGGER Koala while in Australia, I didn’t really consider it to be particularly worthy of note (other than for sheer cuteness) … but of course a picture was necessary.

At the restaurant I had some nothing to write home about sushi and edamamae (hard to screw up). That said, they had what I ultimately decided was probably one of my favorite ginger beers in all of Australia… it had a really STRONG ginger bite, which is how I like it — with the added advantage of it was supposed to have a good dose of probiotics

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Sovereign Hill: an historical amusement park near Ballarat, Australia

Sovereign Hill is located in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat (a small city located about an hour northwest of Melbourne, by train). This attraction is a bit like a Disneyland for history geeks, and probably the best living history parks I’ve been to yet, i.e., right up my alley and definitely would like to come here again.

IMG_1105To be realistic, in any other part of the world Ballarat is so small that it should have swallowed up Golden Point, making it a neighborhood within the city, the same way that for efficiency reasons modern Chicago has swallowed up what were its numerous surrounding villages, such as the Pilsen neighborhood, and New York has swallowed up Harlem, etc., … but this process of city expansion for some reason hasn’t happened yet in Australia. When I look at Melbourne and Sydney neither seems to have done the same to the towns and villages that surround them.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in Sovereign Hill about 5 months ago, on Feb 13, 2018, which was only 19 days after my accident on Jan 25th which resulted in a sever concussion.  As such, I wasn’t really able to appreciated it in fullness (we were there only for about two hours, and it really was all I could manage at the time before having to head back to bed). That said, I would really love to come back here at some point, buy a one year pass and spend a good few days there, just like I do at Disney. BUT, that said, because of the accident I couldn’t really focus the way I needed to in order to blog about much of what I saw for the next month after, and as such have fallen woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Sovereign Hill actualizes for its visitors the history of Australia’s Victorian gold rush (1851 – 1860’s) which had the same impact on Melbourne that Sutter’s Mill had on San Francisco.

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(The video above is a TV ad for the attraction, and while it won’t be AS inhabited as when you arrive, a lot of what it shows is in fact visible… candy being made, metal being worked, etc., as my pictures show)

This is a video I found on YouTube shot by a tourist

One of the distinct aspects of Sovereign Hill, is that while “visitors” of course includes basic tourists (both Australian and international), more importantly it means groups of Australian school children;

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One of the four school rooms in the park

they are sent here (and other not quite as nice locations scattered around the country, this according to my travel buddy for Australia, who is also an Aussie but who did not join me on this leg of the trip) to spend two days in (what my friend told me was) government subsidized experiential learning programs.IMG_1106.JPGThe above is the 2nd of the four schools in the park, located in an abandoned shop, and shows children lining up to attend a class; I spoke with the girls as they waited for their teacher and they said that each of them had been given a “story line” of who they were, and that all the students in this class were the ‘less affluent’ students in town, miner’s children, orphans, etc.

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They told me that these children (below), on the other hand, were playing children from more affluent families. The woman in blue is their actual accompanying teacher/guardian from home, while the man on the left is a teacher who works full-time at the park. I found this newspaper article about talks not only about him, but verifies some of what the children told me, and adds how the different groups have different curricula, with the richer students being taught genteel skills, like drawing and sewing, while the poor “ragged” students spend half their day being taught trade skills.

IMG_1107.JPGFor those tourists who don’t know what’s going on, these teachers and students just become part of the overall show

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The third school room (I never saw the fourth one), held in a church

The following is a video I actually took, and uploaded to YouTube of these kids being taught cursive (a form of writing soon to be relegated to history):

This next ‘Welcome to Sovereign Hill’ Video, is actually the seven minute introductory video shown to students when they first arrive. It gives an overview of the town with an explanation of the historical evidence they relied on for its construction, as well as some basic instructions to the students on how interact with the tourists they will be sharing the space with, who will think of them as part of the show and hence will want to take their pictures (the video is well worth watching):

In fact (according to my friend who brought me here who has worked here for years as volunteer) it is these educational programs, more so than general tourism, that constitutes the bread and butter funding for the park and keeps it profitable enough that they can keep it in top repair, and pay for things like upgrades to the experience and professional actors and animal experts to work there.

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The woman clutching the jug plays the role of the town drunk

In support of their educational mandate, Sovereign Hill’s web page also offers up a large selection of teaching/educational videos that they produce including various performances at the park’s theater, a musicologist discussing the songs miner’s sang, an informational video on how to pan for gold, a historian discussing how the industrial revolution changed Australian life, and a video that offers up quotes from writers of the time exemplifying how what the park offers is an “improved” version of history, etc.

Sovereign Hill is not only about the time period of the gold rush; because of its location, the park has a specific focus on the events of the Eureka stockade, which Australians are in general taught (correctly or incorrectly, historians dispute this) as being the birth of the movement towards democracy in the country.

This video (above) gives you an overview of the historical events that occurred not far from where the park is located (the specific location is still debated but it was definitely a location visible from the park)

While these video’s below talk the special ticket night-time sound and light show devoted to events of the Eureka stockade, which they call Blood on the Southern Cross

A vast section of the park is devoted to Victorian homes of the sort that more affluent town’s member might have lived in. Every home is decked out with historical elements designed to make it look as though it’s actually being lived in, but the owners just happen to be out at the moment.

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Other parts of the park are devoted to trades that one might expect to find in just such a town, in this case either there are people working there, or it tends to look more like a museum (with signs explaining what you’re looking at).

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bottom right is broken wheel, supposedly waiting to be fixed; this shop occasionally has a craftsman on staff explaining the craft, but not today
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The undertaker’s, my friend says no one actually ever works here

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One part of the mining camp section of town is the Chinatown district. While there was no one working in this section when we visited, it was clear that a tidy sum of money had been invested into its development, as each aspect of it comes complete with multimedia aspects to make up for the lack of staff.

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Inside the temple is multimedia show, worth listening to

IMG_1134.JPGWhen you stick your head into these tents, you’ll hear the voices of the non-existent Chinese miners speaking to each other. If you pay attention you’ll actually learn things about the prejudices and injustices these miners faced, as Chinese.

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In this tent you can listen to the Chinese miners arguing amongst themselves about the choices they were having to make, and about how they organised themselves into self-help organizations, since they couldn’t count on the white to treat them fairly. It was fairly obvious from the items in some of the stores to the composition of the tourists, that Chinese tourism constitutes a fairly large percentage of who comes to this park, and their concerns and interests were therefore fully met.

 

That said, Sovereign Hill, while it has a huge educational mandate and is a living history museum, it is also first and foremost an amusement park type attraction — A Disneyland for history geeks, and hence must provide its visitors with amusements. As such, it provides the obligatory schedule of free of charge performances that visitors can attend during the day.

 

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One of the interactive activities that the park offers is the opportunity to pan for gold in their stream. According to my friend, this isn’t a real stream and gold that’s there is seeded, but no one really cares. You’ll find any number of people happily devoting at least a good hour to panning for gold.

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If you want to cheat there’s also a gift shop set up as a miner’s tools shop, where you can buy little vials with tiny bits of gold in them, but what’s the fun in that?

And in addition, even though Sovereign Hill –unlike Disney — is a non for profit, they take every reasonable opportunity to separate you from your money after you’ve paid your entrance fee (which is almost as high as some of the smaller Disney parks). That said, most of the payment-to-go options (after the initial entry) are all very reasonably priced…

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Coach Rides: $5.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $17.00 Family

There are also tours that take you into a genuine historic gold mine that sits beneath the entire park, and constitutes one of the other “highlight” things to do in the park

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There are three different tours; well, 1 tour, but with a choice of 3 different movie endings

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According to my friend all of the tour guides who lead chinese tourists through the park (this one is about to lead a group into the mines) are required to dress the way this woman is dressed, i.e., what is historically accurate clothing for a Chinese resident of the town, just as the tour guide for our group was required to dress the same way a miner of the day might have.

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Everyone takes the same walk through tour, lead by a guide

At the end of the tour you watch what is essentially a VERY fancy Powerpoint presentation with all the animation bells and whistles on one of three topics (see above). You do this while standing in a small hollowed out, rounded but still craggy space (with the evidence of it having been mined out), deep inside the mine.  The presentation is projected onto the craggy rock’s face rather than a smoothed surface, which is pretty cool. It’s supposed to kind of make you feel like you’re in it with them. My friend and I opted for the presentation called the secret chamber, about Chinese minors and their trials and struggles with local prejudice; is the story of two brothers one of whom went home rich, the other who died in a mine collapse.

IMG_1123After the presentation you walk past a past a large patch of exposed gold still embedded in the quartz, so that you can see what it looks like… but that you are separated from by a bulletproof-glass wall and a whole bunch of security equipment which they make sure you can see.

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After the tour you come back topside and are let out into the obligatory gift store, this one selling a lot of gold, with a very strong focus on their Chinese tourist customers (because I’m guessing they’re the ones most likely to buy some).

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The one thing I was tempted to buy was the snow globe full of gold flakes, the minor inside it looks SO happy, and it’s relatively affordable.

In addition to this obligatory “after a ride” gift store, there are two varieties of stores in town, those selling period specific goods that you could probably find outside of the park if you looked hard enough, but presented in the style of store in the 1800’s

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I love this photo, note my friend in the reflection
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We ran into this same guy working at three different locations, but he’s so pretty we didn’t mind at all; he’s behind the counter at the Criterion (above), this jewelery store, and the candle works (below)

[Regarding my friend, it was almost karmic good luck that I was scheduled to stay with her for two weeks at exactly that point in my trip. She’s one of the few Facebook friends I ever made (we used to play this same FB-game, one of those that necessitate that you friend complete strangers, and we found we had so much in common that we continued to stay in touch long after both of us stopped playing). She had invited me numerous times to visit her in Australia, and she lives quite near to Sovereign Hill. In addition to being a successful realtor who has returned to University to obtain her undergraduate degree in history, AND a professional psychic (see the blog post for the tour of a haunted former Nun’s abbey, that she guides)… she also used to work as a registered nurse — which was infinitely useful for me in terms of her being understanding the needs and limitations of my health predicament while visiting her.]

The second variety of stores are those selling items that were handcrafted by the skilled craftsmen demonstrating by hand what in this day and age are almost lost arts

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in the Town there are six different places selling food during the day (plus a seventh that’s only open for the sound and light show in the evening)

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A candy store with historic candies
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This bakery was selling a full meal in a bun: one end was the appetizer, the other dessert

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As we were touring through the town, my friend took me to the room where she would normally work while volunteering… the ladies lounge in the hotel. Normally my friend would sit there, doing needlepoint, and talking to any visitors who might wander in

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The day we visited we found this woman is doing what my friend normally does, so the two of them had a nice chat exchanging pointers.

Invasion day/ Australia day: A Rally in support of the Aboriginal population

 

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The black above, red beneath with a yellow sun in the middle is the flag of the Aborigianl

While the PLAN had been to spend the whole day attending a series of events that were scattered around the city through to the massive fireworks display at night, the only thing we managed to attend was a rally in support of the Australian Aboriginals (because I fell down and went boom). However, while at the march I learned that, their presence on the land, for a myriad of reasons, is STILL not legally recognized, either NOW or historically, because of a legal declaration made by the British 200 years ago that the Australian continent was terra nullius (i.e., empty of humans). The mind boggles, really it does.

On top of that, a major issue that apparently hadn’t really BEEN until just this year, was the fact that Australia day, which celebrates the landing of the first boatload of western settlers is also, from the Aboriginal point of view the day that marks the west’s invasion of their historical lands (kind of like Columbus day and the 4th of July rolled into one).

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Anyway, my friend that I’m traveling with is fairly solidly left wing in his politics, and told me that while I didn’t have to come with if I didn’t want to, this is the event he would be attending first thing in the morning (as in we had wake up way earlier than I’m used to in order to be there on time, which may have been part of why I tripped), but since I didn’t know much about Aboriginals, in spite of my background in Native Americans, I decided I should go with him. AFTER we were going to go do all the more sort of normal celebrate the day things.

The following is the details about the rally from their facebook page:

“Invasion Day 2018 rally:
The war on Aboriginal people continues… Sovereignty and Justice Now! This rally will mark 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent, along with Aotearoa and other Pacific Islands. While colonial regime continues to hold a day of celebration, we resist the ongoing war against Aboriginal people. From the brutalisation of black youth in detention, the murder of men and women in custody, the theft of children from families, the destruction of Aboriginal lands to feed corporate profits, the apartheid NT Intervention, the forced removal of communities,First Nations on this continent are under heavy assault from a new wave of dispossession. But the fightback is also growing and urgently needs your support. This rally has been initiated by Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE), a coalition that organised last years impactful and successful “Invasion Day 2017 rally – no pride in genocide!”
Also the last two successful marches on human rights day, December 10 last year and this year.

FIRE believes that standing against the colonial system and the racist mindset that was brought here in 1788 is crucial to all struggles against oppression and exploitation.”

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So yesterday, before I hit the floor and went boom, at the march/protest in support of Aboriginals … I had questions.

Firstly I must admit that my eyebrows went up when we first arrived to see what was clearly socialist types coopting what was supposed to be a pro aboriginal thing with their own stuff… HATE when that happens in the US when whites try to co-opt Native American protests… Or the way I learned that moveon.org, after I signed their initial petition about how the Feds should “move on” from being obsessed with Clinton’s sex life, felt that as I had signed ONE thing they believed in that give them the right to put my electronic signature on EVERY petition they were coming up with … so that now I just won’t sign any of those things anymore and at one point sent MoveOn an angry cease and desist email.

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And then I was SERIOUSLY put off by the fact that they put up a Palestinian guy to speak who was making false comparisons (if you support the Aboriginals you must support the Palestinians) and blaming the Israelis for atrocities that WERE done to the Palestinians, no doubt … ONLY it was by their Jordanians and Syrians “brothers” rather than the Israelis who had done them, but rewriting that history to put it all on Israel’s back… and he even had the audacity to claim we’d done child abductions, when the PLO had ACTUALLY been abducting Christian Lebanese children and turning them into child warriors before the Lebanese war …. I think he thinks that when Israel offers free health care and university degrees and such, we’re abducting their kids… and watching all the young hipsters nodding their heads with how right he was… set me off no end…

Basically (and modern genetic testing techniques back me up on this) we were arguably there before the Palestinians — although more than a few Palestinians would be shocked to learn, and the genetic testing also backs this up, their ancestors had been Jews and were forcibly converted to Islam generations ago at the point of a sword — and we were driven off our land by waves of invaders, and from my perspective Palestinians are a bit like… well some time in an alternative reality future, white people — many of whom are actually have Aboriginal ancestry they have forgotten about — being pissed off because Aboriginals who had escaped the genocide in Australia, got rich, came home and bought up all of Sydney and then declared an Aboriginal state, saying the white people could continue to live there but they would have to adhere to aboriginal law. It in fact would make a pretty good alternative reality book…

Add to that the fact that I was tired, and it was really hot, and I was NOT in a happy mode towards the start of that day…

So I immediately had some doubts about pretty much anything I heard after that… There was a chant, “always was, always will be aboriginal land” which I couldn’t quite make sense of. If it were true, does that mean all the young middle class hipsters who were chanting it were willing to contact some suffering Aboriginal families and put their money where their mouth was? “Hey, I’ve been chanting this, I own a couple of properties around Sydney I inherited from my family…. I’ve decided my family stole it from you guys so HERE, take my property I’m sailing back to the UK?” Don’t think so… so WHAT in fact did the chant mean?

My friend who I travel with was trying to explain it to me, but then a complete stranger who was walking near us, was this nice guy called Luke who offered some very coherent explanations, and for the rest of the march he became my teacher, explaining in a lot of detail stuff I had not known.

With regards to the chant, NO, Luke agreed I was right, none of these guys were likely to hand over their homes, but it was more of a constitutional issue. Until quite recently there hadn’t even been any discussion that the Australian constitution should even recognize Aboriginals as having been there first (which in this day and age is kind of head scratcher, and completely inconsistent with how the rest of the world views Australians), and the constitution here still doesn’t although discussions have commenced. (I did note later to my friend that the ONLY reason the US constitution is any different, in case you didn’t know we have always legally recognized the tribes as “dependent sovereigns” even if we didn’t stand by our words, is because at the time of the founding we were at war with the French and NEEDED the tribes on our side in that war.) But there’s apparently push back from the sort of Australians who would have voted for Trump (the sorts who were wearing Australians flags yesterday, instead of showing up at pro aboriginal protests), who like in the US don’t tend to be the folks living in cities — although some of them do (and it’s pretty easy to spot them on Australia day). To paraphrase his friend Sonja, who we met up with at the event, there are 3 sorts of Australians… the all white and claim their ancestory to early settlers “we’re Australians! This is OUR land” crowd… then there’s the urban yes we’re Australians but we feel really bad about what was done to the Aboriginals crowd, and thirdly the more recent recent immigrants and or refugees or first generations folks who are of the “we’re just happy to be here” crowd…. but then we agreed there’s a 4th group, the “who gives a fuck about politics this is just a day off work” crowd. And I learned there’s a Northern territory that isn’t actually under the same laws as the rest of the country (from a legal viewpoint a bit like Louisiana which has a completely different legal system from the rest of the USA, or Canadian territories which aren’t actually states) and in these Northern territories some pretty gruesome stuff is still happening, kids still being separated from parents without due process, etc — which I had not ever heard about before.

So I learned a lot. It was good… and after that we attended a thing in a park where aboriginal dance groups and singers performed, and various aboriginal artists exhibited their works

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After, I found these articles about the march in Sydney and some others around the country… was kind of hoping I’d spot me of my friend in the march, but so far no luck.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/25/invasion-day-rally-where-protests-will-be-held-across-australia

http://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/hundreds-gather-for-invasion-day-protest-march-in-sydney/news-story/fb0f514ff0088107a2b6b0b307d6bb1a

http://www.news.com.au/national/hope-australia-burns-to-the-ground-tens-of-thousands-protest-across-the-country/news-story/558c5aabea78c258cdf9c155259497c4

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/invasion-day-rally-in-sydney-draws-thousands-of-protesters-20180126-h0orw4.html

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