Travel broadens the mind, they say.
I had noticed how quiet the bush was at night, except for the occasional plop . . . plop of a cane toad hopping past. Apparently after the initial wave of invasion when the toads eat whatever is in their way, their numbers fall to more “sustainable” levels. The ranger at Edith Falls was rather cheerful about cane toads (an attitude I hadn’t expected). He said people down south shouldn’t feel like they’ve missed out, they’ll get cane toads too. It’s just a matter of time. They’ve done tests, and the suckers adapt to any climate within three hours. There are some hopeful stories, though, of crocodiles seen washing the poison out of the cane toads before eating them, and birds that have learned to flip the toad and eat only the belly, avoiding the poison on the back of the beasts.
As I sit among the people we are visiting, I can’t help but wonder if there are not some parallels between humans and cane toads. I listen as people express resentment at the indigenous people, talking about how they get preferential treatment, and that it’s not right. I hold my tongue, ever the polite guest. But here’s what I want to say:
Perhaps they deserve some preferential treatment.
We invaded their country – estimates vary, but somewhere between three quarters and ninety percent of aboriginal people died within five years of the white invasion, decimated by diseases against which they had no immunity. Then we shot, poisoned, and raped. It was only fifty years ago that “half-caste” children were stolen from their families to give them a “better” life, while we waited for aboriginals to die out and solve our problems.
Only the problem hasn’t gone away. Unlike the quiet bush that follows the cane toads, aboriginal people have dared to protest against their treatment at our hands. And now many people resent government attempts to address the inequalities in health, education and employment that still exist for indigenous people in this country where we, supposedly, believe in a “fair go”. So if I turned to one of my hosts and asked if they would be happy to trade places with one of these people who they believe are being given undeserved preferential treatment, would they swap? Would they give up their comfortable homes and jobs?
Perhaps I don’t have an accurate understanding of the opinions that disturb me. I certainly don’t have a full understanding of all that is involved in relations between “white” and indigenous Australia.
However, I fear we often despise those things that make us most uncomfortable. Knowing that you would rather be white than black in our world, it is much easier to find reasons to resent the “other” than it is to accept that our privilege rests on the theft of their ancestor’s land. After all (prompts our uneasy conscience), it must be their fault if they can’t hold a job or stay away from the grog.
Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is not always a comfortable experience. Much easier to feel contempt for the other person while justifying our own lives of comparative luxury.
I wonder – are cane toads capable of compassion?