what Uluru is doing for racism

Words by Clinton Barnes

I'm on high-alert in Uluru, being a place of strong Aboriginal culture but visited by white suburban Australians and foreigners. Tension is to be expected. It's hard to relax when your expertise is noticing the undercurrent in the casual everyday--which is much of what this column is about.

Photo by Daniel Edmonds @soundsandsilence

Photo by Daniel Edmonds @soundsandsilence

Like that it's not okay to climb Ayers Rock. "My friends home in Sweden will expect me to climb. So I should because I don't know what to tell them if I don't," one tourist explained. Perhaps say you're in a different part of the world with a different culture?

I ignore as much as I can. Like whispers when tour guides mention respect. Staff, through instruction or immersion, appreciate the culture around them. 

But you can't ignore what's said at the dinner table. At 'Sounds of Silence' a former low-level manager in the local resort remarked, "They have to employ 30% Aborigines [sic]... which makes it hard because sometimes they don't turn up for work for cultural reasons". Since the resort functions quite well, it's clear this cultural misunderstanding is a barrier for some managers more than others.

The averting eyes around the table that ensued counts for progress in Australia.

But I'm left with a feeling that this place is starting a conversation. And conversing between parties where one is woefully ignorant (such as white Australia) tends to begin with offence given and taken. The inevitable education of this meeting of the respectful and the resentful is a slow erosion of ignorance. There's a reason the origin of the word conversation is conversion.