The following images are from my own trip to Australia in 2013. I had been in Cairns in Queensland for 2 days and my travel companions suggested we visit a site of ‘indigenous cultural interest’….
In some ways this image of the boat is a metaphor of the whole experience…
Having already seen and heard widespread racist attitudes towards indigenous people in the town (being told not to walk down certain streets or make eye contact) I was hesitant about buying into a exploitative tourist attraction. Despite my reservations I went along and as I had expected the experience was a kind of twisted ‘Aboriginal’ Disney land, the epitome of Said’s orientalism where white people with their phones and cameras oggled at the ‘strange customs’ of the ‘savages’ bare-chested and covered in body paint who performed dances and music and then proceeded to include the tourists in boomerang throwing and other activities. The fetishisation of traditional cultural practices of indigenous people present in this cultural park fed into the dichotomic paradigm inherent to the orientalist ideology (West/East; modernity/tradition; civilised/barbaric, linear/circular etc.)
It is true that this was their day job, these people lived in the local area and commuted to the park, their role was a kind of acting which in itself one might argue is not exploitative if they are earning a fair wage. However, if we look at this in the wider context of racism towards indigenous people and the challenges in employment and welfare provisions, we see these job roles differently. It could be argued that through the structural violence enacted on indigenous people their opportunities for employment are limited and therefore so are their choices, resulting in them working in a place that exploits and commodifys their cultural heritage for the entertainment of the ‘white man’.