In 2004 I was lucky enough to study abroad at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. Known as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”, Cairns (pronounced “cans”) is the last large population center on Australia’s northeast coast.
It’s known for its excellent diving, cloud forests and rainforests, cassowaries, its far-north Queensland lifestyle including rat-tails, utes, and Queenslander architecture, and a large percentage of the country’s semi-autonomous tribal lands and indigenous peoples.
While studying at James Cook, I mostly took a number of regional planning courses related to sustainable tourism. However, the university’s long-standing relationships with the large population of tribes and indigenous peoples allowed me to take courses I would have been unable to attend here in the US.
One of these classes was entitled “Impacts of Change on Indigenous Populations” and it was a comparative analysis course which looked at the effect of British colonization on the indigenous populations of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It was a powerful course which was coupled with interviews and discussions with the Kuku Yalanji, traditionally of the Mossman Gorge area.
Perhaps the most long-remembered and re-shared experience I had with this course was the viewing of the movie BabaKiueria (the title is a play on the phrase “BBQ Area”). The film is a 30-minute satire on the repercussions of a reversed-colonization of Australia: what if Anglo-Saxons were indigenous and Aboriginal peoples claimed the continent?
What follows is a role-reversed mockumentary, through the eyes of a paternalistic aboriginal anthropologist, of the impact that national “black” policies have had on the minority “white” indigenous population.
Released in 1986, it was awarded the United Nations Media Peace Prize due to its work highlighting humanitarian and social justice issues. Acknowledgement is still a fairly recent phenomenon: in 2008, Australia formerly recognized and apologized for historic abuses including the Stolen Generation.
I will fondly remember my time in the far north and at James Cook and I look forward to going back many more times. In the meantime, I’d like to share the video with you: