National Geographic : 1968 Nov
Armchair warrior, Ion Redmond holds a ceremonial halberd that decorated a joss house; Oriental im ages and filigree enhance the two room museum at the drowsy port of Cooktown. Some 20,000 Chinese streamed through here in the 1870's to work the rich Palmer gold fields and smuggle metal back to their homeland with the bones of fellow workers who died at the diggings. "Right now the town is swinging" -s o photographer Parks sizes up heat-numbed Normanton as abo riginal stockmen gather to chat. The surrounding shire embraces 26,360 square miles and a mere 1,900 people. most tropical city, whose district marks the northern end of the sugar belt. Cairns would be my headquarters in the north. After checking into the modern and comfortable Great Northern Hotel, I went out for a look around. It was Friday night, and the town was as alive as it was likely to get. The air in the streets had a hothouse qual ity. Strollers in the briefest of garments made their way along sidewalks protected from summer rains by overhanging storefronts. Booths flaunted bold signs reading "Casket" -not in reference to funerary furniture but to the state lottery, euphemistically called "The Golden Casket Art Union." (Queens landers love to gamble; and what could be more democratic than a lottery?) The walkers watched each other, and in the cars nosed into the sidewalk, farmers in from the coun try watched the walkers. I watched them all. Most of the faces were English, Scottish, or Irish, for Queensland's 620 population is more than 90 per cent British in origin. And these were British faces at their best: open, unsuspicious, the faces of people who live in a classless so ciety-or at least act as if they do. But here, for the first time, I noticed other faces in the crowd, brown faces with dark, deep-set eyes. These belonged to the Old People, the aborigines who had wandered Australia for at least 10,000 years. Somehow these Stone Age folk reached this forbidding conti SPARKS©N.G.S. nent from Southeast Asia, bring ing their half-tame wolf dog, the dingo, and their simple tools and weapons. They entered a land that had never known the pressure of a human foot. And they walked lightly. They moved quietly across the centu ries, changing nothing, themselves unchang ing, until a hundred years ago. The Old People had adapted themselves to the land. The white settlers were doing their best to adapt the land to themselves. A no madic people could not exist on land that had suddenly become the property of invincible strangers. The long "walkabout" was over. And the aboriginals, masters of adaptation, are adapting again; not to a new country this time, but to a new culture.* *Additional information about the changing status of these fascinating people can be found in Australia and Vanishing Peoples of the Earth,two of the four volumes in the National Geographic Society's 1968-69 series of Special Publications. For details on this series see the GEOGRAPHIC, June, 1968. Alan Villiers wrote understand ingly of the aborigines in "'The Alice' in Australia's Wonderland," GEOGRAPHIC, February, 1966.