Globalisation, Kimberley style

Featured in

  • Published 20041207
  • ISBN: 9780733314544
  • Extent: 268 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

TAKE A TRIP down the old corrugation road with some Bardi people and you’ll soon find out something about globalisation, indigenous people and the exact location of your own tailbone. Dubbed Australia’s “second-worst road” by locals – who measures such things? – the red pindan soil of the Kimberley is ridged into hard peaks only 15 centimetres apart, peaks that tighten your neck muscles as systematically as they torture your 4WD’s suspension. In shock, the tourists grin for the first few minutes, madly videoing the evidence of an Australia beyond the reach of KFC or tarmac. At about half an hour in, the novelty has worn off; grins fade and, for the unlucky, seasickness sets in as the peaks widen to a couple of metres and the vehicles start to surf their agonising three-hour course to One Arm Point, Lombardina or Djarindjin.

The corrugation road truly is shocking: physically, emotionally and in most other senses, except the most paradoxical one. Politically, the condi­tion of the track reflects very little about the disempowerment of blackfellas in Australia’s north-west. These eight or ten tiny settlements are black communities with not a lot of work, not a lot of capital inflow, not a great deal of connection to mainstream Australia, let alone the globalised world economy of Bill Gates. There is the Christian residue of mission life and (as in every part of rural Australia, white or black) problems with grog, with ganja, with violence. But despite the newish Besser-block internet centres where you can dial up to New York or Beijing, there is also a keenly felt sense of cultural continuity. Some impressive leadership. Lots of bone­fish in season; plenty of turtle still. Language is strong. Ceremonies form an important part of life, and for Bardi people the awfulness of the corruga­tion road is not another symbol of the whiteman’s neglect. It is, rather, a welcome moat, protecting them from what they’ve seen happen to once-sleepy Broome. Given the option to “improve” the road, local communities have strongly resisted. The Bardi prefer their corrugations, their bulldust holes, the lack of petrol stations and public amenities. They have deliber­ately chosen to welcome only those tourists who are serious enough to brave three hours of discomfort bordering on pain. “It won’t keep all the terrorists [tourists] out, more’s the pity, but it sorts out the wheat from the chaff,” one former ATSIC councillor told me. “Keeps out the yobbos, up to a point.”

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at griffithreview@griffith.edu.au

Share article

More from author

Always was, always will be

In ConversationIf Aboriginal people are all dead, you don’t have to negotiate a treaty with us and you certainly don’t have to go around feeling guilty about stolen land and stolen wages and stolen children; the subjects of that injustice don’t exist anymore if you choose to believe that we’re dead or all assimilated, which isn’t the case. It’s a very practical kind of assimilation strategy.

More from this edition

Under the global olive tree

ReviewAFTER A DIVERSION in a genre of grassroots social theorising with his work Identitées Meurtrières, Amin Maalouf comes back to us with what he...

Sensual degrees of separation

MemoirQ: Mum, how can you tell when politicians are lying?A: Their lips are moving, sweetheart.I MUST HAVE been a masochistic child. I loved talking...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.