We started the day with a talk about the Aborigines. Our leader introduced the speaker by saying, “Of course, you can recognize that our guest is aboriginal.” We could not. His nose was slightly wider than ours and his hair curly, not kinky. We were surprised to learn that while the aboriginals look like close relatives of Africans, they differ in many ways. As the original Australians intermingled with the English invaders, their genes were recessive and their skin grew lighter and lighter. One would think that this meant that it would be easier for folks with aboriginal blood to “pass.” Perhaps many did and do, but our speaker today was consumed with anger about how his people have been treated here over the last 200 years and had no interest in passing. Instead, his spent his life helping his people and working to preserve their culture.
This culture was a complex one with many rules and regulations that the English had no interest in learning, because they saw dark, naked people whom they regarded as animals. The elders keep careful track of who is related to who to prevent in-breeding. Because men typically have much younger wives, son and mother-in-laws are not allowed to have any contact with each other to insure that no hanky pinky takes place. If someone injured someone else, his family had the right to physically retaliate. Once the white system came along and the police took the miscreant away, the injured family members took it out on the other family members. To the whites it looked like lawless violence. When groups of aboriginals get together to talk they use the volume of their voices to emphasize the importance or meaning of the topic. To the whites it sounded like a big fight starting to happen and they would arrest aboriginals for their style of having a conversation.
If you have studied how the American Indians were treated in our country, the extermination story was a familiar one, just with different names and details. When the English arrived, they saw a barren country ripe for the taking. They did not notice that aboriginal groups were living all around the country. Many areas that looked good for farming, were gently used by the aboriginals who never stayed in one spot for long and didn’t wear out the land. The English brought in cattle that pooped in the water holes and good places to get fresh water disappeared. The livestock trampled the fragile land and it became desert. Aboriginal children were taken away from their parents and moved to mission schools to learn English and assimilate in the European lifestyle. The Aboriginals in Tasmania were totally exterminated and around the rest of the country disease and violence took a toll. There were 700 different dialects among the tribal groups and this prevented them from getting organized and fighting back. They did not understand how someone could own land, which belonged to everyone. As their lives deteriorated they turned to liquor. Once they were arrested for drunkenness, they were no longer allowed to have guns and could not hunt for the emus and kangaroos that were their primary source of protein. Among young men today the suicide rate is 48%. Today the government gives out food, not realizing that another genetic difference between Aboriginals and Europeans is how they digest sugar. Diabetes runs rampant in their community, a disease they never had before. The average life expectancy is 19 years less than for white people. Aboriginals were not regarded as Australian citizens until 1967. Before then they were expected to work for no pay and given sugar, flour and tea for their labor. It was not called slavery, but that's what it was. The only land given back to them was used for nuclear testing and is still radioactive.
After that that talk, it felt like a great idea to cheer up and take a wine tour in the McLaren Valley. When South Australia was formed by wealthy English businessmen, they needed someone to do the physical work and feed them. They paid for many northern German farmers to come here and gave them property. The Germans were Lutheran and not allowed to worship as they wished at home, so a promise of religious freedom motivated them to come. Once things got going they made a profit and paid back the investors. Their wine-making knowledge was the beginning of one of the biggest exports Australia is known for world-wide. Some of the original vines still produce grapes. Newer plantings are irrigated and machine harvested. Getting enough labor to pick the grapes is always a challenge and the need is met by backpackers who come here mostly from Europe and get a twelve month visa extension if they pick for three. Whether wine is good or not is a personal opinion, but we drank many we wished we could buy at home. Many of the wines were made into champagne. Bubbles always make wine better!