Some years ago, I visited Kakadu and had a look at rock paintings that had been there since Adam was a boy. There were quite a few tourists walking around, oggling the pictures of fish and kangaroos and crocodiles and birds. Many photographs were taken, and much was said about the beauty of the artworks.
The paintings that we looked at were on top of an island of rock in the middle of a plain. A river flowed through the plain, with small lakes appearing here and there in its course. The rock formation stuck up enough so that from our vantage point, you could see right across the plain in all directions.
It struck me that what we were looking at was not art. It was a combination between a menu and a map to the ancient version of the supermarket. That was so obvious, I couldn't understand why all the tourists around me thought that what we were viewing was painted for aesthetic reasons. It wasn't. It was painted to stop people from starving, or just as importantly, to avoid being eaten by a croc whilst out fishing.
I'd love to send some greenies out with some proper blackfellas for a while for a tour of the local fauna and flora. I imagine the conversation would go something like this:
Bob Brown: "That's a fine looking turtle you've got there. What do you call it?"
Bob: "What's that mean?"
Blackfella: "Waxy turtle. This other fella here, he mirapilli. That mean floury turtle. One good for roasting, the other stewing".
Bob: "But aren't turtles a sacred part of your dreaming? Aren't they part of how you connect with nature?"
Blackfella: "Sure, we tell whiteys that they're sacred - means there's more for us. As for connecting with nature, I connect via this stick I have over here."
Bob: "Is that one of your mystical totems?"
Blackfella: "Nah, this is a spit. You stick it up the arse of the turtle and then roast him over hot coals. You have to connect the turtle real good, or he falls off and gets charred."
Bob: "What about this plant over here - what do you call that?"
Blackfella: "We call that the 'black sky grass'".
Bob: "Why do you call it that? Is it because the sky weeps for the suffering of your people?"
Blackfella: "Nah, when we get lost, we set fire to it. Whole sky goes black with smoke. Then chopper know where to find us."
Bob: "Chopa? Is that an ancestral spirit that will guide you home?"
Blackfella: "No mate, it's the Parks and Wildlife Service. They got Bell choppers and a nice Huey. Real useful when the GPS goes flat."
Bob: "And is true that you can connect with your kinfolk at a great distance?"
Blackfella: "We used to be able to do it over huge distances, and then analogue died."
Bob: "Anna Log? Was she one of your elders who kept the secret mysteries of your tribe?"
Blackfella: "No - analogue. As in when Telstra turned off the analogue network and forced us to go digital. Reception out here is shit. Jimmy over there, he use Blackberry. I tried an iPhone, but the signal strength out here is too flakey for it to work properly."
Bob: "What can you tell me about wallabies?"
Blackfella: "They go well with rosemary."
Bob: "And lizards?"
Blackfella: "Saute them in butter and lots of garlic."
Bob: "What about crows?"
Blackfella: "I hate them almost as bad as Collingwood."
Bob: "No, no - crows. The annoying black things that fly."
Blackfella: "You mean like Mick Dodson and all his mates? Yeah, they fly everywhere at our expense. I'm surprised that bastard doesn't own a Gulfstream by now."
Bob: "No, no - the birds. Like that one over there."
Blackfella: "Them? They taste like shit. Wouldn't waste a bullet on one."
Bob: "How about crocodile?"
Blackfella: "Ah, crocodile. We found one last week that was a lancruisa crocodile."
Bob: "Lancruisa? Is that a term that you use in one of your ceremonies, or in a dance?"
Blackfella: "No - a lancruisa crocodile, as in a big, fuck-off crocodile. You need Toyota Lancruisa to get the bastard home. You know Toyota? Made by slanty-eyed little Chinese rice munching fucks."
Bob: "Um, the Japanese make them, and we don't normally refer to them that way."
Blackfella: "Japanman, Chinaman - who can tell them apart? My great grandpa, he called Chinaman 'long pig', and thought them awful tasty. Nice and fat. But he hated Japanman - he got a few shotdown pilots during the war and said they were stringy and tough. But they all the same, hey? Got tiny little dicks."
Bob: "I think I need to go home now."