A few years ago my father came home fuming. Driving through a large Australian country town, he’d come across the following scene:
Two drivers – one turning onto the main highway and one turning off – recognised each other in passing and stopped to have a talk through their open car windows. This effectively stopped both lanes of traffic in all directions as the two Aboriginal men, seemingly oblivious to the problem, carried on an animated and friendly discussion.
Finally, an irate driver yelled out, “Do people think you own the road?”
Without a pause one of the Aboriginal men looked up and yelled back, “Nah, mate, we own the whole fuckin’ country!”
My father was more angry at the inconsiderate driving behaviour than the comments themselves. But I could only laugh. The black driver’s retort was a valid one and probably designed to upset the white audience to which it was directed.
Even so, it was a hollow gesture in the end. Aboriginal people continue to be the most marginalised Australians with lowest health standards, greater morbidity rates, higher levels of unemployment and very high rates of incarceration.
Still, for one moment, here was an Aboriginal voice rising defiant for a moment over the din of a tragic history.