ScoMo is UnAustralian.

A nickname is truly Australian.

It’s central to Aussie culture. Every Aussie gets at least one nickname during their lifetime. Expectant parents even have to consider how a name will be shortened or adapted before choosing a name for their newborn.

Nicknames can be ironic. Redheads are called Bluey. Tall people are called Shorty and fat people are called Slim. Turbo earned his nickname because he’s so slow.

Nicknames can be descriptive. Diesel plays footy. He’s big and strong, but can only run at one speed, so he’s called Diesel. Warren will be called Rabbit, or Rabs. Andrew Appledorf was called Strudel.

Nicknames can be cryptic. I once met a man known as Pockets. His real name is Paul – I still don’t know why he’s called Pockets.

Having a nickname is quintessentially Australian, and those nicknames are rarely complimentary. Colin was called Cul-de-sac because he lived in a cul-de-sac and had a prominent and expanding bald patch on top of his head. Poor Colin. Tony was called Shadow because he was always following around his older brothers. Richard Crane was called…well you can probably guess. In Aussie culture, you’re not meant to like your nickname. Nicknames are bestowed upon their owners – by someone else, and this is why giving yourself a nickname is UnAustralian.

Scott Morrison gave himself the nickname ScoMo. The prime minister, or his sizeable marketing team, created the nickname deliberately to make him seem more Australian, more likable, more down-to-earth, more in touch with the common people. It worked. The nickname endeared him to the Australian people and helped him win an ‘unwinnable’ election in 2019.

Scott Morrison is destroying Australia. He is owned by the fossil fuel industry, which is wreaking environmental and economic damage on Australia. His government has bungled the vaccine rollout and only 2% of the population is fully vaccinated. He started a war of words with China which has already cost Australian companies and industries millions of dollars. He did so to score a few political points and to appear strong and decisive. Morrison was hand-picked, and is controlled, by Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch is a US citizen. That’s UnAustralian.

ScoMo is a nickname that Scotty gave to himself. ScoMo is UnAustralian.

Scotty, don’t give yourself a nickname. Mate, give yourself an uppercut.

Image: http://www.gettyimages.com.au

Are your parents alive?

Are your parents alive? he asked.

That’s an odd question, I thought, especially from someone I’d just met.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Mother and father?”

“Yes.”

He smiled.

I was confused. Was it culture or concern which prompted this question? I’d certainly never asked it or been asked it while growing up in suburban Australia. Most Australians would assume that other people of a certain age would have two living parents. It’s not definite, but likely. When I was asked this question for the first time while travelling through Africa, I was also of an age when strangers or new-found friends could naturally assume that both of my parents were alive. However, during my numerous visits to southern and eastern Africa, Latin America and South East Asia, I was asked the same question many times.

Why?

Why did strangers want to know if my parents were alive?

I tried to analyse the tone of the question. This is hard to do in a second language, and I conversed primarily in Spanish or Portuguese in Latin America. Tone is also difficult to decipher while speaking English to non-native speakers. Nonetheless, I tried, and I never felt like anyone was prying or being invasive. No one was rude, or impertinent. I didn’t detect any hidden meaning to the question, and definitely no inkling of dark humour or a bizarre joke. What stood out most was a straightforward tone designed to glean information – whether my parents were alive, yes or no.

While the question was very common, it also failed to present as a distinct social custom. It didn’t belong to a particular country, state, province or tribe – I heard it everywhere. There was no sense of gravity or depth to the question. It also wasn’t the first question I was asked, but it arrived fairly early in the conversation with people I was meeting for the first time.

At least it was easier to ask than other questions which always found their way into conversations while I was travelling the world solo, such as:

Why aren’t you married?

Why don’t you have children?

Having confirmed to myself that the question served simply to extract information, I then began to wonder what people would do with this information. I always said yes, and the conversation usually moved on. Often we discussed the age of my parents, where they lived, their occupation and other ‘GTKY’ (get-to-know-you) questions. If I’d said no to the first question or the clarifying question, would the conversation have followed a different path?

What about yours?

A long time passed before I felt confident enough to reciprocate. That’s when I started to understand one of the reasons for the question. In Africa, and other parts of the world, most people replied ‘no’. Rarely did adults from these countries have two living parents. And there is a simple reason for this: life is precarious. In developing countries, life is more fragile than it is for (most) Australians and citizens of the developed world. Life expectancy is lower in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America and death usually visits families sooner than it might in other parts of the world.

Threats to life are far more common and present in these countries. Poverty, natural disasters, violence, famine, political corruption, war, tribal conflict, poor hygiene and sanitation, the climate crisis, transport accidents and so many other causes of suffering are a more salient reality for people living in these parts of the world.

As a result, threats such as terrorism don’t strike fear into the hearts of people in some parts of the world in the same way that they do in places like Australia. A politician need only utter, or imply, the word terrorism in a country like Australia and they can justify a raft of excessively strict laws or policies on immigration or policing. In developing countries, terrorism is just another threat among many. Friends in Mexico even joked that a terrorist attack on their soil wouldn’t be met with the same reaction, because locals would think that the sound of explosives was just another Saints day festival at the local church, and another excuse to celebrate. Some Mexicans went so far as to suggest that if Mexicans heard the explosions of a terrorist attack, they would rush into the street with food, alcohol and a stereo, ready to party. That said, Mexicans also sadly acknowledged that they don’t need foreign terrorists to destroy their country, they have drug traffickers. Terrorism is still a threat. It is just one of many.

What is an orphan?

An orphan is a child without parents. In my upbringing, that meant no mother or father. However, I learned that in Brunei an orphan is a child without a father, even if the mother is alive. I deduced that children were awarded this classification because the father is still seen as the bread winner, and for this reason some ‘orphaned’ children in Brunei receive a small amount of financial assistance from the government. Of course, state support or welfare is very rare in developing countries, so life is much harder for children when their parents pass away.

Life is uncertain. COVID-19 has reminded everyone in the developed world that life is precious and can be taken away from any of us at any time, but this is something people in places like Africa, South East Asia and Latin America have always known. The fragility of life and the need to cherish it is a realisation I made on many occasions during my travels, especially when I was asked if my parents were living.

My backpacking days finished many years ago, many years before COVID-19. Fortunately, and with great pleasure, I can still answer yes when people ask:

Are your parents alive?

Indigenous Australian musicians.

The new generation

Baker Boy sings an attractive brand of upbeat hip hop in English and his ancestral language of Yolgnu Matha. Denzel Baker often teams up with his cousin Yirrmal in songs like ‘Marryuna’ and ‘Ride’.

Jessica Mauboy is a successful singer and actress, who performs original pop and R&B songs and appeared in the movie The Sapphires. She achieved success with ‘Little Things’, ‘Selfish’ and ‘Butterfly’.

Electric Fields typify the new generation. The duo of vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding and keyboard player and producer Michael Ross combine modern electric-soul music with Aboriginal culture and sing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English.

JK-47 – Jacob Paulson, known professionally as JK47, is an Indigenous rapper and musician whose debut album is ‘Made for This’.

Alice Skye is a Wergaia singer and songwriter. In 2017, she was the Triple J Unearthed National Indigenous Winner.

Briggs, aka A B Original, aka Senator Briggs, aka the guy from Hilltop Hoods. Adam Briggs is rapper, record label owner, comedy writer, actor and author.

The pioneers

Many of the pioneering Aboriginal musicians sing heart-felt songs about the suffering and survival of Indigenous Australians, in ballads and folk music.

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter form a highly respected duo who have written and performed many songs throughout their long careers. Songs such as ‘They Took the Children Away’ recount the Stolen Generation, during which the Australian Government stole Aboriginal children from their families. The husband and wife duo also campaigned tirelessly for Aboriginal rights. Hunter died in 2010, aged 54.

Jimmy Little was the most well-known Aboriginal singer of his era. During his six-decade career, he sang country and gospel music in the style of Nat King Cole and Jim Reeves. His won acclaim with the gospel song ‘Royal Telephone’ and the album ‘Messenger’. Little passed away in 2012.

Kev Carmody is an award winning singer / songwriter who is best known for recording the song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ with Paul Kelly. Tracks such as “Black Deaths in Custody” and “Thou Shalt Not Steal” describe the ignorance and oppression experienced by Indigenous Australians.

Frank Yamma is a Pitjantjatjara singer-songwriter who performed as a solo and with his band Piranpa. His albums include ‘Countryma’n and ‘Uncle’, and feature heartfelt lyrics and moving delivery.

Ursula Yovich is best known as an actress, but is also an accomplished musician. She has appeared in numerous TV series, movies and theatre productions, and has won many awards for musical scores, scriptwriting and acting.

Rock on…

The yidaki, or didgeridoo, seems to combine perfectly with rock music, which might explain the popularity of Indigenous rock bands. Yothu Yindi is the most famous Aboriginal band, and the group from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land shot to fame with their song ‘Treaty’. They mix Yolngu Matha and English, and combine traditional instruments with the sounds of modern rock in multiple albums of songs about their culture and the issues facing their people.

Warumpi Band also plays hard rock, but their sound comes from Papunya in central Australia. They wrote the song ‘My Island Home’, which was popularised by Torres Strait singer Christine Anu, and they gave Australia other songs such as ‘Blackfella / Whitefella’, ‘Breadline’ and ‘Fitzroy Crossing’.

Tiddas was one of the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s bands, made up of Dr Lou Bennett, Sally Dastey and Amy Saunders. Their lyrics were fierce and bold, addressing racism, dispossession, domestic violence and a raft of other social issues.

Dan Sultan is an alternative rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, actor and author. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2010 he won Best Male Artist and Best Blues & Roots Album for his second album, Get Out While You Can.

A little bit country…

Troy Cassar Daley is one of the most successful and popular Australian country music stars. He has won multiple Golden Guitar awards and many other awards during a long career.

The Pigram Brothers were a seven-piece band from Broome in Western Australia. Heavily involved in musical theatre, the formed the original backing band for ‘Bran Nue Dae’.

The Donovans – A country music band comprising brothers Michael, Ashley, Mervyn as well as Michael’s eldest daughter Shalina, plus Robert Graham on drums. Mervyn’s daughter Casey is also a successful singer.

Traditional

The Yolgnu people of north-east Arnhem Land have retained much of their culture and share this through song.

Gurrumul played drums, keyboards, guitar (a right-hand-strung guitar played left-handed) and didgeridoo, and attracted a loyal following with the clarity of his singing voice and songs in Yolngu Matha and English. He was once a member of Yothu Yindi and another band from the Top End, Saltwater Band. Gurrumul was the most commercially successful Aboriginal Australian musician at the time of his death in 2017.

Djalu Gurruwiwi – The master of the yidaki. The elder from Arnhem Land is regarded as one of the most skilled performers on the yidaki, the Yolngu word for didgeridoo. At festivals such as Garma, in Yirrkala, Djalu is feted by yidaki fans from all over the world. He is the subject of the film Westwind: Djalu’s Legacy.

William Barton is a composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, is widely recognised as one of australia’s leading didgeridoo layers and composers.

Collaboration

Black Arm Band is an organisation which brings together blackfulla and whitefulla musicians with diverse musical backgrounds. Founded by Steven Richardson in 2005, the group is also committed to ongoing educational and development work in remote Aboriginal communities. The name refers to a speech by former Prime Minister John Howard who labelled a balanced version of Australian history as a Black Armband view of history.

Image: Warner Music

Indigenous Australian movies.

Searching for a good movie? Forced into yet another COVID-19 lockdown, or looking to broaden your cinematic experience?

Why not watch some Indigenous Australian movies?

Movies featuring Indigenous Australian writers, actors, directors and stories depict the struggles of Australia’s first people. They include movies set in rural and remote communities, city centres, and stories from contemporary Australia, as well as life before colonisation. The list below includes various titles which tell the diverse experience of the world’s oldest surviving culture.

The Old

Jedda (1955)

Jedda is the first Australian feature film to be shot in colour and the first to star two Aboriginal actors, Robert Tudawali and Ngarla Kunoth, in lead roles. Jedda is born on a cattle station in the Northern Territory, and is given to the wife of the station boss when her mother dies. Jedda is forbidden from learning her own culture and from being with local indigenous man Marbuck. The film is also the first to compete for the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or award.

We of the Never Never, Bitter Springs and Walkabout are older movies featuring stories of Aboriginal people. They recount issues of contact between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people, especially in outback regions of Australia. Many of these films show their age, and while they usually attempt to be sympathetic to Indigenous people, they do so from a non-Aboriginal perspective and sometimes perpetuate colonial assumptions.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Kenneally, the story is about an exploited Aboriginal man who commits murder and goes into hiding. It is inspired by the true story of Jimmy Governor, and involves a police chase through the Australian bush.

Where The Green Ants Dream (1984)

Miners v Aboriginal people. It’s an old story; one that is still being told. This movie explores the clash between a mining company and the Aboriginal landholders who fight to protect the site of the green ant dreaming. Stars Yolngu actors Wandjuk Marika and Roy Marika, whose own land in northern Australia was stolen by mining companies.

Tudawali (1988)

A movie about a movie – or more specifically, about the star of a movie. The film traces the life of Robert Tudawali who payed a lead role in the movie Jedda. Tudawali died from severe bruns at about 40 years of age, and lived between two worlds in Sydney and his humble home near Darwin. The film stars Ernie Dingo as the lead character, and examines the racism towards Aboriginal people in Australian society.

The Fringe Dwellers (1986)

A depiction of an Aboriginal family living on the fringes of Australian society, who try to move from the fringes into the mainstream.

Radiance (1993)

An examination of family. Three sisters are brought together by the death of their mother, and the reunion reveals family secrets. The movie helped launch the successful career of Deborah Mailman.

Blackfellas (1993)

An Aboriginal man is caught between his allegiance to his people and his aspirations to escape the cycle of self-destructive behaviour – a conundrum facing many Indigenous Australians to this day.

The Yolngu Collection

The Yolngu people live in North East Arnhem, in the tropical north of Australia. They retain much of their traditional culture, and share this via numerous movies:

Yolngu Boy (2001)

Yolngu Boy follows the lives of three boys from Yolngu land as they cope with the transition from childhood to adulthood, while they find their way as Aboriginal people in contemporary Australian society.

Ten Canoes (2006)

Ten Canoes goes back in time. It is also set in North-East Arnhem Land, but is set in a time apart from colonisation. It tells a traditional story of a brother attempting to claim the youngest wife of his elder brother, and the consequences of that attempt. It is the first ever movie entirely filmed in Australian Aboriginal languages, and is partly in colour and partly in black and white, with a narrator explaining the story.

Manganinnie (1980)

Manganinnie is an Aboriginal woman who survives a Black Line raid which claims the life of her husband, Meenopeekameena. Following the raid, Manganinnie searches for her tribe with a lost white girl Joanna. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Beth Roberts, and even though it is set in Tasmania, it features a cast of predominantly Yolngu actors. The movie is also titled Darkening Flame.

High Ground (2020)

Set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, it follows young Aboriginal man Gutjuk, who teams up with ex-soldier Travis to track down Baywara – the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, who is also his uncle. Stars well-known Australian actors Simon Baker and Jack Thompson, as well as new faces like Jacob Junior Nayinggul

The new

Warwick Thornton films:

Thornton has emerged as one of the pre-eminent Australian film directors, and one of the most highly-acclaimed Indigenous directors.

Sweet Country (2017)

“I killed a white man,” says character Sam Kelly, an Aboriginal worker on a remote cattle station. The act of self-defense sets off a man hunt through the Australian desert and is filmed in the style of a western. The plot highlights the treatment of Indigenous Australians by Europeans.

Samson and Delilah (2009)

Thornton’s first well-known movie, it charts the very real experience of Indigenous teenagers Samson and Delilah, who escape their remote community and head to Alice Springs to try to create a better life. Deals with the confronting issues of glue sniffing and societal collapse in Aboriginal communities.

Popular films

Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)

The story of the Stolen Generation. For many years, Aboriginal children were deliberately stolen from their families all over Australia, especially if they were of mixed ancestry. In this movie, three young girls follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, which runs for hundreds of kilometres across central Australia, to find their way back home after being stolen from their families. A depiction of a shameful period of Australia’s past, which many non-Aboriginal people still downplay or ignore.

Top End Wedding (2019)

A movie, or a promotion for Northern Territory tourism? It works as both. A visually stunning romantic comedy starring Miranda Tapsell, who plays a city-slicker with ten days to find her missing mother before she can marry. A cinematic tour of the Northern Territory, and an introduction to life on the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin.

The Sapphires (2012)

An all-star cast. Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell and Aussie pop star Jessica Mauboy star in a movie about four young Aboriginal sisters from a remote mission who are plucked from obscurity to sing for American troops in Vietnam during the war. Another movie based on a true story.

Bran Nue Dae (2009)

The musical. Bran Nue Dae was adapted by Rachel Perkins from the stage show of the same name by, and it tells the story of the coming of age of an Indigenous teenager on a road trip in the late 1960s.

Diverse titles

Toomelah – 2011

The Tall Man – 2011

Beneath Clouds – 2002

One Night The Moon – 2001

Mabo – 2012

A film about the life of Eddie Mabo, famous for a legal challenge against the Australian government and the notion of Terra Nullius which has justified the theft of Aboriginal land since colonisation.

Contact – 2009

Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy – 1990

Goldstone – 2016

Bedevil – 1993

A ghost story. The film is the first feature directed by an Australian Aboriginal woman, Tracey Moffatt and it challenges racial stereotypes in Australian society. Moffat also directed he short film Nice Coloured Girls (1987)

The Tracker – 2002

In My Blood It Runs – 2019

Bush Mechanics – 2001

Not a movie, but a comedic documentary series with a cult following. The low-budget documentary series follows a group of young men from the community of Yuendumu in the desert of the Northern Territory, as they try to fix their beat up old cars with material from the bush. Did you know you could stuff spinifex into a tyre instead of an inner tube? Very funny, and educational.

Redfern Now (2012) is also not a film, but a TV series. It does, however, reveal the reality of life in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney home to a community of Aboriginal people. Written, produced and directed by Aboriginal people.

Many of these movies are realist drama. Many of them are not happy movies, because the experience of Aboriginal people in Australia is not happy. Many of the movies are confronting. Some feature well-known stars such as David Gulpilil and Deborah Mailman, while others showcase first-time or unknown cast members. They are all entertaining, and provide an insight into real life in Australia.

Where are they now?

Where are the actors who make these films? Are they successful, are they still performing? Yes and no. Famous faces like Ernie Dingo, David Gulpilil, Miranda Tapsell and Deborah Mailman continue to star in movies and TV series, while other actors, especially the children, seem to disappear from screens altogether.

Are the stories true?

In many cases yes. Some are direct recounts of lived experiences, some are based heavily on a real-life event. This fact alone highlights the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Australia since colonisation.

Where can I find them?

Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services carry these titles. Otherwise, just google them and you should find them somewhere.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Ambuyat: Delight or Disgust?

Ambuyat will delight you or disgust you.

It has the power to excite you, or to threaten your constitution. Violent physical reactions can result from the mere memory of the food.

Ambuyat is the only uniquely Bruneian contribution to international cuisine. It is also found, under various names, in the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, which share the island of Borneo with Brunei.

Popular Bruneian food is essentially Malay. Most Bruneians are Malay, and this is reflected in their language, customs and cuisine. Ambuyat, however, is uniquely Bruneian.

What is it, and why does it repulse or delight people?

Ambuyat is a gooey, runny colourless and tasteless substance which is placed in a bowl in the centre of the communal table, and extracted with a bamboo fork called ‘chandas’. Non-Bruneians like me are known to struggle to attach the ambuyat to the chandas. Ambuyat has the consistency and texture of the substance that starts in the nose, travels through the throat and is expelled via the mouth – much to the disgust of onlookers.

Bruneians love it.

Ambuyat is not the extent of the dish, though. The table is filled with other meat and vegetable stews, such as Tempoyak sauce. The ambuyat is dipped into the sauces, and these provide the taste to the dish. The stews and sauces can be delicious and even quite spicy. The issue for many non-Bruneians is not the taste but the texture of the ambuyat, the feeling of it running down your throat is like being forced to swallow the substance which starts in your nose…

If you can force it down, you can savour the taste of the accompanying sauces.

Can’t I just eat the sauces alone?

You could, but then you’re not eating ambuyat, and not immersing yourself in the cultural experience. It would be cheating.

What is it made of?

Ambuyat comes from the interior trunk of the sago palm. The dish is compared to tapioca starch, and to okra. It is relatively easy to prepare. Take the starch powder and add some water, before stirring. Then prepare the sauces for dipping.

What makes Ambuyat even more appealing is that it can be served with a side of durian, a fruit so smelly it is banned from public transport in countries like Singapore.

A Bruneian friend had ‘encouraged’ me to try it, just as I’d encouraged my friend to try vegemite. Our respective reactions were similar.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force down more than one or two mouthfuls. My friend was initially put out, before declaring with glee:

“All the more for me!”

Image: http://www.bruneitourism.com

Makan Dulu!

Makan Dulu – Food First!

The staff meeting this afternoon is compulsory. It is expected to last for about three hours and it will cover the implementation of the new IT program and resources. All staff must be confident in the use of the new software and to integrate it into every aspect of their work. Staff do not need to bring their own devices to the meeting, but will need to install and run the new software on their devices, so attendance at the meeting is very important. If any staff member has other plans or commitments this afternoon, please cancel those commitments or communicate your absence, and the reason for that absence, to your Head of Department, before arrange for an alternative time to undertake the training. Could all staff ensure they arrive promptly so that the training can begin at precisely 3.30pm.

The staff filed in at 3.20, 3.25. They found a seat, deposited their notebooks, phones and pens, then made their way to the buffet. Rice, noodles, beef, chicken, stew…cupcakes, biscuits.

At 3.30pm, they began eating.

Eventually the meeting began, at some point after 3.30pm.

Makan Dulu!

Parcels can be collected between 9am and 12pm, and then from 1pm to 4pm. This includes international parcels. Please be advised that parcels will not be issued outside of these hours, and that all parcels can only be given to the recipient after passing through every stage of inspection, including customs, which takes place at the central post office. Appointments may not be made. Recipients may only arrive at the post office during official hours and take a number. Remember to bring multiple forms of valid identification, and dress accordingly. Women must wear modest clothing and men must wear long pants. Men with long hair below the collar will not be served, in line with official government policy. Flip flops are not acceptable, neither are singlets or torn clothing. Standards of acceptable clothing are at the discretion of the postal staff.

Recipients rushed to reach the post office between 12.30 and 1pm. They took a seat, and duly waited for numbered tickets to become available. Then they waited. 12.30, 12.35, 12.40. Nervous eyes twitched before focussing on the prized ticket dispenser. 12.45, 12.50. The redundant ceiling fans squeaked in a forlorn attempt to dissipate the stifling tropical heat. 12.55, 1pm. Recipients rose to grab their prized ticket.

Staff waited, and took another mouthful. 1.05. Staff waited, and took another sip, under the gaze of the recipients. 1.10. Staff digested their lunch and chatted nonchalantly with their colleagues. 1.15, recipients grew impatient. 1.20, staff started dessert while the hordes waited hungrily for their parcels.

Sometime after 1.30, staff wiped their plates clean, dabbed the corners of their mouths and strolled over to the ticket dispenser.

Makan Dulu!

Students mulled around the basketball court, as teenagers do. Dressed in their sport uniforms and their best running shoes, they waited with nerves, excitement, trepidation or reluctance for the start of the school fun run. About 5km was the estimate. No one really knew how far it would be. No one expected to have to ratify world records with the IAAF, so it didn’t really matter. Something else mattered.

The school had a coloured house system, but most students didn’t know much about it, nor what house they were in. It was even harder to tell when every student was wearing exactly the same school sports uniform, of exactly the same colour. Long sleeve sports shirt for boys and girls, tracksuit pants for boys. Tracksuit pants or leggings for girls, plus appropriate head dress in line with religious and cultural mores.

Mulling continued, in the playground and in the staff room.

Eventually the sports teachers stirred. A warm up must be conducted before any vigorous physical activity could take place. Thus, a CD was thrust into the player, and dance music floated across the school via the speakers.

ZUMBA!!

Students filed over to the basketball courts and followed the teachers in their warm up. Boys less so than girls, but smiles found their way onto everyone’s faces eventually. Zumba over, the fun run could now take place. Ready, set…NO.

Something else mattered.

How can we tally house points if students are all wearing the same colours?

Ummmm – how about we pin a piece of coloured fabric onto the shirt of every student in the school? So they did.

The benefits of the warm up were starting to wear off, though ‘warm up’ was a pejorative term in the incessant tropical heat. Warm up completed; fabric affixed, now they could start the race. Not yet.

Teachers returned to the staffroom and heard their assignments – marshalling, first aid, water station, timekeepers…done.

Now there was nothing impeding the start of the highly-anticipated fun run. Ready, set…NO.

The aroma of heavy, fried, fatty, salty food wafted through the windows of the staffroom to the basketball court, to be inhaled by the students who were just about to set off on a gut-busting 5km run in stifling heat and humidity.

The teachers piled their plates with rice, noodles, stew and other tasty treats.

The race began sometime later.

Makan Dulu!

Image: Jane’s Fairytale

Preparing to greet the dead.

They will commune with the dead. They will welcome the unliving into their lives, for one night only.

The people of Guanajuato join their compatriots in creating elaborate artworks and displays to honour their ancestors who will share the earth with them on this one night of the year. Mexicans young and old will hang ofrendas in homes and public places which carry images of skeletons and other macabre images. For on Dia de los Muertos, the deceased return to the earth and walk among us.

Mexicans will bring forth the dead so as to never forget them. To remember the relatives who were once part of their lives. To pay their respects again and again and not just at that person’s funeral. The annual tribute to their ‘antepasados’ allows families to honour the dead without the overwhelming emotions of a funeral immediately following a passing, when grief releases a torrent of sadness. They will honour all of the dead in colourful and striking public installations, over which they have laboured for hours and hours.

In a land all too familiar with drug wars, gang violence and death, perhaps Dia de los Muertos helps local people come to terms with death.

Mexico is colour. Vibrant colour. Bold colour, and this is true of the installations which welcome the deceased.

Mexicans will celebrate. They will laugh and smile and sing. They will eat and drink and be merry, even when surrounded by death and the unliving. Because even in death, Mexicans will find joy and fun and happiness. There is always an excuse to socialise and to party. Deceased Mexicans wouldn’t expect it to be any different.

The families preparing the public and private installations do so with pride and joy. They smile at the striking images of skulls and gore. They revel in their distinct indigenous customs which survived the Christian influence of All Souls Day and the cultural colonisation of Halloween, which fall on the same day. Yes, they celebrate both of these traditions, but they have never strayed from the expression of Mexican culture which is Dia de los Muertos.

Festival Internacional CervEZantino.

The Festival Internacional Cervantino began as a cultural tribute to author Miguel de Cervantes, but descended into such a celebration of ‘cerveza’ that it should be renamed ‘El CervEZantino’.

The author of Don Quixote has been honoured in the Mexican city of Guanajuato every year since the mid 20th century, when artists began performing his works in the city’s plazas for the enjoyment of the local people. The festival grew in fame and expanded into a multi-day festival which now attracts national and international visitors…and drunks.

Guanajuato’s beautiful colonial centre is decked in traditional Mexican cultural symbols and tributes to Cervantes line the streets and the preserved buildings. The streets are also lined with dishevelled drunks sleeping off their hangovers, urinating in public or lying in their own vomit.

Most visitors come for the culture, and some for the party. The festival program is devoted to artistic expression in the Spanish language and includes performances of the many works of Cervantes as well as celebrations of literature, opera, music, dance, theatre, art exhibitions, street spectaculars and academic events.

International performers who have participated in the festival include Joan Baez, the Bolshoi Ballet, the New York Philharmonic and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Some festival goers enjoy the culture, while many could not name a single work by the famed Spanish author, such is their drunken stupor. In this way the festival has in some ways become a victim of its own success. As the audience numbers grew year after year, many young people flocked to the city to simply have a good time and drink themselves to oblivion.

Some of the drunks are convinced they will meet their own Dulcinea. I wonder what Don Quixote would make of it.

Wogs vs. Aussies.

“Righto boys, it’s a bit wet outside, so do you wanna play basketball or indoor soccer?”

“Basketball, soccer, basketball…” the sporting options were parried back and forth until Cameron, the captain of the A-grade Rugby team and thus favourite for future school captain, muttered his decree.

“Soccer”

“Ok boys, Grella and Kalac, can you get the goals?” directed Mr Brosnan, as he went to collect the ball.

“Oi, it’s Wogs vs Aussies boys,” declared Cameron, and the students dutifully arranged themselves into a team of Caucasian students and a team of ‘ethnic’ students, as they had done so many times before. Mr Brosnan pursed his lips around the whistle before deciding that Yr.10 boys could referee themselves, and as long as no one broke any bones he could enjoy a coffee on the side line.

“Blakey, go up front,”

“Yeah, you’re our White Wog,” joked Woods, “at least someone on our team knows how to play soccer.”

With that, I took up my customary position at centre forward and hoped that my fellow Aussies would this time secure enough possession and open space to provide me with a realistic chance of slotting that ball past Kalac in the goals.

We’d never beaten the wogs in soccer, indoor or outdoor, and even though I was pleased with my exalted status among the cool white kids and rugby heroes of the school, I still felt the pressure to earn this status by scoring goals.

The fact that a lot of my friends were on the ‘other’ team didn’t really occur to me – in Sydney in the early 1990s this kind of casual racial division was just a bit of fun – or a quicker way of picking teams. To be honest, I never questioned it. The casual racism was buried underneath the testosterone fuelled atmosphere of a PE lesson at a school whose reputation was built firmly on sporting prowess.

Just then, I caught a glimpse of Eldridge and for the first time ever, I felt a morsel of his inner conflict. The product of a white father and Thai mother, he seemed to hesitate in assigning himself to the Wogs or the Aussies, as he had never done before. I was forced to consider whether his increasing maturity and self-awareness, which descends upon every teenager, had prompted him to examine his own identity more deeply. I mulled this over in my mind until Maxwell screamed,

“Ello, go to fullback, hurry up” and Eldridge’s search for identity was put on hold.

At that, Mr Brosnan glanced up from his coffee cup and blew the whistle, we were off.

Bresciano fed the ball to Postecolglou who nutmegged Johnson before skirting around the burly prop and flicking the ball across to Vidmar. The little magician weaved his way past Woods, Maxwell and O’Sullivan before stepping over the ball and completely bamboozling Stevens in goal.

1-0

“Orale pues joven, que golazo!!!!!,” exclaimed Ortega, as Vidmar thrust his shirt over his head and celebrated his goal with arms outstretched.

Ortega himself had dabbled in Rugby, which apparently made him less of a wog, but he still had an ‘ethnic’ surname and spoke in tongues when feeling excited or cheeky. He hadn’t quite reached the status of Aussie – a wog who was so Australianised they cease to be a wog.

Perhaps it was his father’s single silent protest which set back Ortega’s entry into the mainstream. At an official school function, Ortega Senior refused to stand for the toast to the Queen, because the memories of the Falklands War were still far too real. We didn’t realise this of course, and only learned once young Ortega gave us a short history lesson.

I remember thinking, at least he has a reason for remaining seated. I only stood up because the teachers told me to, and I know my classmates didn’t truly know or care why we toasted the British royal family. We also didn’t know or care why we called wogs wogs.

“Come on boys, what’s goin’ on?”, admonished Johnson, “let’s smash ‘em, they’re not that good.”

Bresciano this time fed the ball to Popovic who directed a lovely through ball past two awestruck Aussies and towards Santos. Santos plodded toward the ball and took a massive air swing before falling on his back side. The debating champion attempted to shrug off the failure with self-deprecating laughter, before Fallon asked,

“How are you so bad at soccer Santos, you’re a wog?” and the Aussies enjoyed a chuckle.

Should I laugh? Is Santos truly shrugging this off as friendly banter?  Did these ‘harmless jokes’ seep beneath the skin when the boys got home? When Wogs vs. Aussies was transferred to the Rugby field, my incompetence, and that of Cleary and Stevens, was not linked to our skin colour or racial background.

Cleary was teased that he was hopeless despite being built like a prop, and everyone accepted that Stevens was allowed to ‘suck at Rugby’ because he was an academic genius and computer whiz. That’s also why he was always forced to play keeper.

Me, I was just ‘too skinny for Rugby’. So skinny in fact that my Aussie teammates told me how they wished I could be a wog for a day because they’d love to tackle me and drive me into the turf.

“He is a wog, he’s good at soccer,” they’d say, but their jokes didn’t cut through me like they did the real wogs. Even if I was a wog for a day, it was only a day. I could still return to the White Side and survive the school playground in relative anonymity.

In the meantime, the little master had stepped and swerved his way past the Aussie defenders for another easy goal.

2-0

Mr Brosnan sipped his coffee contentedly while the teenage boys battled for football supremacy. My blustering teammates took advantage of the game’s self-regulation and ‘tackled’ some of the wogs so fiercely that they took possession and managed to feed me the ball. I dodged Rossi and swivelled past Zelic before placing it into the back of the net.

7- 1

My teammates went wild and hurled insults at the wogs with such passion that you’d think they’d won the World Cup. Guys, it’s only one goal. But apparently a goal for the Aussies was worth more than a goal for a wog.

A few more stern challenges and violent toe pokes succeeded in advancing the ball towards Kalac in goal, and a blind thundering kick from Taylor smashed into the hands of Kalac and out the other end.

7 – 2

“Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole,” sang my teammates and I joined them heartily. We were mounting the greatest comeback in the history of world sport and it deserved extravagant celebration. Then the tone of the chanting changed. The universal football chant was distorted with derision and mockery and was peppered with random ‘foreign’ words the Aussies had learned from their multi-cultural classmates. It was as if my teammates had appropriated this ‘ethnic’ chant and were ridiculing it to put the wogs back in their place despite the scoreboard.

Maybe this silently enraged the wogs, and they responded with an all-out assault on our goal. Poor old Stevens was sent diving and gaping for thin air as Vidmar, Bresciano, Arzani et al scored goal after goal.

“Righto boys,” called Mr Brosnan, “time to get changed.”

The massacre had ended.

12 – 2

Yet again, the wogs won, on the field at least.

Image: Pascal Swier

A birthday in Teotihuacan.

If you or a member of your travelling party celebrates a birthday on the day you visit San Juan Teotihuacan, be sure to remember a cake. It need not be a big cake. In fact it is advisable to pack a small cake, as you will be lugging it up and down ancient steps for hours, and said steps sit at over 2000m altitude.

Don’t forget candles and a lighter. And don’t forget the words to ‘Las Mananitas’, because if the birthday girl is Mexican, ‘Cumpleanos Feliz’ will not suffice.

Of course, ‘Las Mananitas’ should, according to tradition, be sung on the stroke of midnight, but making your way into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, scaling the temple and lighting birthday candles is difficult – and illegal. Thus, you shall have to content yourselves with a daylight ceremony, perhaps at 12 midday.

Ascend the ancient and well-trodden steps to the summit of the pyramid of the birthday girl’s choosing – the Pyramid of the Sun or the Pyramid of the Moon, and perform a ritual that has been performed on this sacred ground for centuries and centuries.

For optimal results, choose a day without strong winds, or the candles will struggle to stay alight for the duration of the birthday tribute, especially at such lofty heights. If wind persists, invoke the spirit of the gods who inhabit this super structure, or the spirits of its ancient inhabitants who were both exalted and sacrificed on these very steps.

Bestow your best wishes upon the birthday girl and call upon the ancestors to grant her a long and propsperous life – before or after you traverse the Avenue of the Dead.

Main Image: Abimelec C