Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australia/Invasion Day

I received a text message on my mobile phone from the Australian Embassy inviting me to an informal function to celebrate Australia Day (all Australians visiting or living in Timor are encouraged to register their contact details with the Embassy so that they can communicate with its citizens as necessary).

Daniel decided not to attend as he felt it was Invasion not Australia Day. I also agreed but wanted to go in order to have material to write about for the blog and I confess in the hope that they served up the classic Aussie dessert pavlova (to my great disappointment they didn’t)! (Just this week we received Christmas presents from Daniel’s family of origin and one of the gifts was an Aussie homesick pack, which contained a recipe for making pavlova. Unfortunately, we have no oven!)

“The appalling health and living conditions endured today by many Indigenous
Australians is a denial of their human rights. What outrages me is that
Australians are not more outraged.”

Professor Fiona Stanley AC, Australian of the Year 2003, Sorry Day 26 May 2003

Australia Day really needs to be moved to a more appropriate and inclusive day. The 26th of January commemorates the day in 1788 that the British (by way of English Captain James Cook) took possession of Australia. By 1818 non-Indigenous Australians celebrated the date as Foundation Day, later Australia Day. But for Indigenous Australians the date symbolises invasion and dispossession. Aboriginal people boycotted its centenary in 1888, declared a Day of Mourning in 1938 and boycotted the 1988 Bicentenary. More recently it has become known as Invasion Day and is commemorated with rallies and ‘survival’ concerts. Choosing this day is insensitive to Indigenous Australians, the traditional owners, as it marked the beginning of the violation of their human rights, which continue in some form to this day, particularly where this concerns their right to self-determination, good health and education.

We had to proffer photocopies of the personal details page of our passports in order to gain entry to the venue. The man ahead of me was the very same one who described the Timorese as “greedy bastards” (see my very first post from Timor Sam checks in after nearly checking out). I thought, “oh dear, this is a bad omen”.

There were many Australians in attendance whom I had never laid eyes on before. Most I would guess were working on various Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) funded Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects such as in: planning and finance, police and justice, law and justice, health, rural development, fisheries, water supply and sanitation, community assistance, education (development scholarships for Timorese to study in Australia) and emergency and humanitarian. It felt a little weird to be surrounded by so many Aussies but you could not mistake it for an Australian setting, as there were numerous Timorese also invited (mostly local Embassy staff). Unfortunately, as these things usually happen, the two groups overall remained separate.

As there were more blokes than women it was hard not to notice the blokes who stood around with their beer cans held at their bulging bellies. Meanwhile numerous teenage boys who looked like they belonged in Kuta, Bali hovered around looking bored. I wondered why there were so many younger people around but then remembered it was the school holidays and they were probably visiting their dads, many of whom are army and police types. It was a classic Aussie scene and one, which I have never felt any affinity with.

I was pleased to see the First Lady of Timor-Leste, Kirsty Sword Gusmão (an Aussie) attend along with her three children. This time I got a better look at the kids including baby Daniel and they’re really really adorable. With their mum, they spent the afternoon frolicking in the swimming pool.

I had a couple of glasses of Australian chardonnay, a bottle of Bundaberg Ginger beer (non-alcoholic and absolutely delicious) and soon discovered that the vegetarian food on offer wasn’t very good (yet again!) So I scoffed many a veggie spring role, raw carrot and cucumber sticks dunked into various dips such as avocado, tziki, capsicum and corn relish; and I nicked a piece of white bread from the barbecue area and smothered it in avocado dip. I was so hoping for some veggie sausages but none was forthcoming.

I had a chance to talk to a Sri-Lankan Australian pathologist who works at the Dili National Hospital so I took the opportunity to grill him about Dengue Fever. He told me that currently there are only two strains of Dengue in Timor but that there is no testing available to tell those infected, which strain it is or (in my case) what they are now immune to; that can only be done in Australia. So I will have to wait for my return in order to find out which strain I have immunity to. He also said that the Dengue season was well under way having begun in November and would continue until about March/April. Many children had already died and would continue to do so. Fortunately, it does not appear to be as severe as it was last year, as severe outbreaks tend to come in five-year cycles. Still, children are dead.

Upon departing, it began to rain, and two Aussie blokes working for an AusAID project at the Timor government’s Ministry of Planning and Finance gave me a lift back to town. It was most generous of them to give a fellow Aussie a lift in rainy Dili on this inauspicious day.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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