My seven-week journey took me to Australia, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, and New Zealand, where the original inhabitants are Malanesians, who are black-skinned, or Polynesians, who are brown-skinned. Today, most of the citizens of Australia and New Zealand are descendants of Europeans.
After my four-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, followed by my long, but pleasant 13-hour transpacific flight from Los Angeles to Cairns, Australia, I spent the first five days in the resort town of Cairns. When the Europeans arrived in Australia in 1770, they called the people on the mainland Aborigines. The story of the black-skinned Aborigines is similar to that of Native Americans. Europeans took the best land, killed the Aborigines, and didn’t grant them the right to vote until 1962.
Most of the Aborigines that I saw in Cairns were derelicts and alcoholics. So, I flew on to cosmopolitan Darwin in the Northern Territories, rented a jeep, and took a three-hour drive to the Kakadu National Park area where many Aborigines live in settlements. There I expected to see a more diverse group of them.
While in the area, I saw several Aborigines and followed them into a recreation center. The center is what an American would label a bar and I got my first taste of Australian segregation. The Australians of British descent mainly occupied the side of the bar that was set-up more like an attractive sit-down restaurant. The Aborigines occupied the dingy side with a bar and a worn pool table. After I digested what I saw, I figured that legal segregation in the U.S. must have created similar scenes.
Before leaving America, I knew that I needed permission from Aborigine elders to visit their villages. I was hoping that I would be able make the connections upon arrival. Instead, either flooded roads or no trespassing signs prevented me from reaching my goal.
My itinerary had me back in Cairns just in time for me to witness Cyclone Steve. I stocked up on cans of fish, dried fruit, and bottled water, and stayed close to my hotel. Having read about the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, I expected disaster. The television, pouring rain, and gusting wind provided me comfort as I fell asleep. However, much to my amazement, I awoke to minimal damage.
Though Steve left Cairns and my trip intact, I knew it was time for me to leave Australia when I was buying fabric in a store. At the counter, a clerk of British descent looked at me and asked, “Where are you from? When I said that I was from the U.S., he replied knowing that I was not an Aborigine. “No wonder you look so civilized.” I left the fabric in the store and said to him “I will show you how civilized I am, I going to walk out of here and not do what is on my mind!”
I moved on to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. When the Portuguese first arrived in 1777, the name they gave the island translates into English as “Island of the fuzzy hairs.” The Dutch later called it New Guinea, because the locals reminded them of the people in Guinea, West Africa.
Port Moresby has a well-earned reputation of being crime ridden. The local people constantly warned me not to enter certain areas and to be aware of “rascals” or street gangs. However, I nicknamed it “city of blood” for the red saliva found everywhere. The saliva is the result of the round greenish-orange betel nut that many in the South Pacific use like chewing tobacco. It has a narcotic effect and turns the chewer’s saliva red. After three days, I was glad to head to the Trobriand Islands, which is a part of New Guinea and has the reputation of being the “Island of Love.”
The sexual customs on the Island are different from many other places. Teenagers are encouraged to have as many sexual partners as they choose until marriage. In June, during the celebration honoring the harvest of yams, even married couples, subject to mutual agreement, allow themselves to have a fling or two.