Tuesday 23 April 2024

Walking on water or

in this case on the bed of a lake. 

We have just been told yet another place in the state is now out of bounds. We cannot enter it without permission from the indigenous owners of it because it is "sacred". 

This is a recent development. The area in question has long been a major tourist attraction but visits to it will now be controlled by the "local indigenous owners". 

Let me go back to when my family was living south of the lake. The lake is, for most of the time, a salt pan. If there is sufficient rain there will be water in the salt pan. (The water is not drinkable.) 

We went to look at it. It was long trek over what was little more than a dirt track. The idea that it might be a tourist attraction at the time was something we did not even consider. The Senior Cat simply thought we should see it, as a salt pan. 

I remember standing there with the faintly pink salt feeling all crunchy under me. Mum, rightly, made us wear our solid school footwear. The salt is hard on skin. It can cut you. I remember the eldest boy of the family we went with rubbing his finger along the salt and getting a "burn" mark. He said it stung "like crazy". 

When it is dry the glare from the sun on the salt is intense. It seems to smother you. The whole area is almost always dry. It is not friendly country. I did not like being there however "interesting" I might have been supposed to find it. 

Donald Campbell broke the last wheel driven land speed record on that same lake a couple of years later. It was almost certainly the most likely place to break it. When we were there you could look out across the lake. It's big. It covers an area of over 9,000km sq.  If you stood where we were standing the other side is over the horizon but it is really nothing more than a shallow depression below sea level far inland.

It has now become a "sacred" place that you can only visit it if guided (at a cost) by the local "indigenous" owners - the Arabana people.  One of these indigenous owners was interviewed on the news last night. If I had passed her in the street I would not have recognised her as "indigenous". This morning my friend M... left me a message asking if I had seen the clip. His tribal grouping comes from further south. He does not claim to know anything about the Arabana tribe but he made the comment, "Interesting it now has such cultural significance when money can be made out of it."

There have been some visiting restrictions for a number of years but, until now, they have simply been for safety reasons. I suspect there should be restrictions for safety reasons - particularly if there is a wet season. Whether there should be for "cultural" reasons is something I am much less certain about. 

There has been a backlash over this. It is not the first "sacred site" where people claiming to be members of a local indigenous tribe have sort to restrict access to an area. Access will sometimes be granted if money changes hands. Parks and wildlife reserves are gradually being taken over. Perhaps that can be a good thing where truly indigenous people take over and know their own land and how to manage it. More and more often though I doubt how much indigenous heritage some of the activists have and how valid some of their demands are. Do we really go on denying 97% of the population access to areas in order to appease the 3% who claim to be indigenous? In reality it is far less than 3% who make these demands and others in the group seem not to even understand what the fuss is about. They no longer follow a traditional lifestyle. The folklore of their past has been diluted by present knowledge. 

It seems to me that there is a very small group of people who are intent on using their assumed cultural heritage for other purposes. What concerns me is that we could actually lose it all as they pursue their demands to stay still and not move on.  The idea of standing at the edge of that dry, slightly pink and salty lake forever does not appeal to me.


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