What's My Tribe?

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

13th October 2017

I'd been watching the family surreptitiously since we'd arrived at the campsite. Whilst the Aboriginal owner chatted to them I studied their responses, curious. We'd been on the road for a few months and spending most of the time in the outback, we'd not seen many people. Hamish and I were a tribe of two, our home for the moment our tent and a bike called Bertha. I loved people watching anyway and having been starved of many opportunities I couldn't help but watch them. The family was made up of three children with coffee-coloured skin and two older, peach-skinned parents. I guessed the children were adopted, but their English was brand new, learned as older children. The children, somewhere between ten and fifteen, looked slightly ill at ease in their bush surroundings. Perhaps they were city kids, dragged unwillingly away by parents keen for a wholesome holiday.

As dusk fell I wandered over to their fire to say hello. The father was called David and the mother, Marge. When we did see people in the outback we found that everyone was friendly, being as we were in the middle of a huge country, surrounded mostly by the bush. We fell into easy conversation and David, in answer to my, Where are you from? smiled.

'All over the place,' he said. 'These three are from West Papua and we're all living in Melbourne.' He went on to explain that the children were refugees whom he and his wife were fostering. 'A lot of West Papuans end up in Melbourne, because of a charity we work for that helps West Papuans resettle in Australia. We campaign to get them released from the damn detention centres.'

I said hello as we were introduced to the children. They giggled with shy smiles, looking - now that I knew - uncomfortable in their brand new western clothes. I asked Marge how they were coping.

'Oh,' she said. 'They don't talk about it all too much. The biggest problem I have now is trying to keep them on the straight and narrow - suddenly they have access to phones, city infrastructure, friends who don't always have their best interests at heart... they go to school but I struggle to get them to study when all they want to do is hang out in the malls and do what kids they've seen on the telly do. But they're good kids,' she said, more slowly, so they'd understand. 'They've been through a lot.'

'Yes,' David said. 'Alphonse has one helluva story... do you mind if I tell it?' he asked the oldest lad.

The boy shook his head but looked down.

'The kids are from one family. Their elder brother was shot trying to stand up to the Indonesian Military who were trying to take his father. Their mother knew she had to get them out so she got them the last three spaces on a boat heading out. One night they got in and set off, with not much idea of where they were going. Turns out the 'captain' didn't have much idea either, and the boat was only just seaworthy, from what they've told me. Not much more than a rowboat.

'There were fifteen passengers all crowded together. There was hardly any food and not enough water for the journey, which they were told would take a week. They trapped rainwater, tried to catch fish, and drifted for days. After about two weeks they saw land.

'They were too afraid to row the boat very close because they wanted to be able to escape if they were attacked. They got as close as they dared as the sun began to set, and Alphonse offered to swim to shore to see if he could find out what the land was. He was a good swimmer and he could read a little English. He wanted to save his siblings. Strong, brave lad.' David smiled at the boy who grinned shyly back.

He continued, 'So Alphonse slipped over the side and started swimming. He reached the shore and saw a sign, so he went to read it. It said, Beware of Crocodiles. No Swimming. And that was how he knew they'd reached Australia.'

'Oh my god!' I said.

Alphonse was grinning widely now.

'What happened next?' I asked.

Marge said, 'Alphonse yelled to the boat, began to swim back and they picked him up. They rowed to shore and were immediately arrested by Government patrols looking for boat people. They were taken to Christmas Island, spent weeks in a detention centre, and then we got them out. We have good lawyers.'

'Puts things into perspective, eh?' said David.

Alphonse nodded to his brother and sister and they went off into the dusk together. I watched them go, trying to digest their story, wondering what it was like to be them.

Ron, the campsite owner came over to talk to us, swinging a large sack over his shoulder.

'I cook bushmeat for you,' he said, and tipped the contents of the sack onto the sand. It was a small kangaroo, still pretty intact.

Not wanting to appear ungrateful we said, 'Mmmm,' and watched him bury it in the fire.

We sat around and chatted about the state of the world in general, refugees and Steve Irwin, who'd just been killed in an accident with a stingray. 'Stupid bugger,' said David and I disagreed and as the beer flowed we disagreed a little more, good-naturedly. By then the kangaroo was sizzling and Ron pulled a huge knife from somewhere on his person. The kids reappeared and looked in faint horror at their dinner. It was surprisingly good, if you could turn off your mind.

'This is great,' said Marge, 'This is why we came out here. To show these guys what Australia is really like, away from the western 'burbs. To show them that people are people, wherever you go. To show them, too, what we whites did to our country, to show them that everyone can screw it up...'

'Yeah,' David said. ' My great-grandfather nicked a loaf of bread and got deported to Sydney. We all come from somewhere else. Except these fellas,' he nodded at Ron, with respect. 'These fellas come from the land itself.'

Ron looked into the flames. 'Don't matter where you from. You share a fire and a little bushmeat, you all one tribe together. Fellas ought to rem'ber that.'

The End