Distance, rather like ‘Chinese Whispers’, has the ability to distort reality, with the result that people can overstep the boundaries. While we looked at the boundaries imposed on the Aborigines, boundaries can take on a different connotation. Here in Australia we have seen the early settlers uprooted from their comfort zone and placed way outside it. On a continent very different from England, to a climate and harshness inhospitable to the fair skin of the Northener. Yet a continent that completely suited the indigenous people.
The result of the initial uproot was to displace the early settlers, and by virtue of this the displacement of the indigenous people. Driven from their lifestyle, distanced from their roots, their ways and their way of living. They were forcibly introduced to a foreign ideal that may have suited Europe but was totally out of place when applied to Australia. In this way there has been a succession of events that have overstepped humanitarian boundaries.
The outcome has been not just a literal physical distancing but also an emotional distancing for all concerned. The Aborigines, driven from their security, their need for belonging – which they express so well in their art and music – must have had a deep longing to go home. A longing that would almost certainly have been shared by those who left family and loved ones back in the old, european country.
So strong is the pull to our roots that many who leave for a new life here in Australia return home, unable to survive without the family and extended family here to give vital support. This need for family is our nature, the way of man – whether of european or indigenous origin. Displacement affects the generation that has been moved. For this generation, pioneers or victims, life is hard. No home, no place, no peace. Research has shown that the stress of displacement is so profound that it has been cited as a cause for systemic illness, with the ability to survive coming from submission and adaptation to the new environment.
Subsequent generations born into the place learn of their history, their traditions and their ways from their parents. As such they are removed from the feelings and emotions that go with displacement and distance. Where they are now is all they know. These are their roots and as such not strange, but familiar. It is family, it is home. Distance and separation, hardship and desperation become the basis for family history – stories, that like ‘Chinese Whispers’ become distorted as the memories fade into the distance of time. This distance brings with it the opportunity to heal, forgive and move on from adversity to victory, folly to wisdom.
‘Distance not only gives us nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.’ (Robert Morgan, 1918 – 2004)