Skeletons in the museum

Having procrastinated enough, I finally made it to the Brisbane Museum today and am therefore feeling culturally smug. I had been most looking forward to becoming familiar with some of the native wildlife, and also learning more about the history of the aboriginals. A few nights ago, on Bribie Island, I had watched an excellent Australian film called ‘Samson and Delilah’, which gained good reviews at Cannes a few years ago. It depicts the bleak existence of two modern-day aboriginal teens and made me feel very, very  sad and also strangely guilty, as I felt a share of the responsibility due to my own genetic links with the country’s original settlers, who set the scene for the appalling treatment of those who were already here. The British pride themselves on their politeness and manners, but such sensibilities seemed to go completely out of the window during colonial expansion and the age of discovery. Anyway, the film left quite a deep impression on me, and as such I was keen to learn more.

I finally found the aboriginal history exhibition in the far corner of the top floor, which wasn’t a great start. It addressed Australia’s and Queensland’s own shameful skeletons, by documenting the timeline of: dispossession of aboriginals of their land; their forced inhabitation of hugely culturally inappropriate didactical settlements, which severed communities and prohibited aboriginal cultural practices; their movement from living off the land into appalling labour conditions, working for ‘rations’ whilst the state ‘held’ their wages for them; the near annihilation of many communities due to disease and conflict… the list goes on. However, whilst factually correct no doubt, the tone of the interpretation text riled me ever so slightly. Perhaps I was too ready to bristle due to the strong feelings evoked by the film I’d seen, but there was something lack-lustre about it all, as though this was a duty exhibition without any sense of genuine regret or apology, which I felt should have somehow leaked out of the text to some degree.

Anyway, I’m still crystallising my thoughts on this, but I think my feelings are also affected by having come from NZ, where the loud and proud Maori presence is omnipresent and widely celebrated. This is often credited as being due to the fact that the English and the Maoris drew up a treaty of shared occupation, rather than the Brits coming in and declaring ownership like they did in most of the other colonial territories. I’m not surprised though – when I try and imagine the pale, weedy Brits facing a hacka-roaring Maori army, I can’t help thinking they were right to replace fisticuffs with verbal negotiation.

Anyway, a thought-provoking morning, followed by an afternoon of light relief wandering around West End, Brisbane’s hippy hang-out, where I had an amaaazing cup-cake (I fear that this trip is taking its toll on my waistline) in the pinkest shop I’ve ever been in. From brow-furrowing seriousness to utter frivolous frothiness.

I didn’t take many photos today, but there a couple below:

Brisbane’s serene cathedral, cowering below the skyscrapers.

My rapidly disappearing red velvet cupcake – I naively presumed the red was from beetroot but, no, pure e-numbers. No wonder I felt a bit hyper after that and a coffee…

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