Almost finished in Australia - stuff in my head

Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, May 8, 2005

I just finished my second last school camp of this trip to Australia and have only about 10 more days before I go back to Thailand. :-)

It was a pretty good camp and the kids (Year 9s from Canberra Grammar School) were generally quite reasonable and fun to work with. However, watching their inability to share food always disappoints me. One morning, whilst I watched some of the kids grab and stuff down their breakfast while some other kids had little to eat, I made the comment that "if these boys were left on a disserted island with just enough food to survive, half of them would eat it all and get fat, while the other half would starve to death."

As soon as I made the comment I realised: we are all stranded on an isolated planet with more than enough food for feed us all a few times over. But while maybe 10% of people are using up all the food and resources and many of them are obese, the other 90% have almost nothing in comparison and many are starving to death. In fact I think the figures are that today, 20000 people will die of extreme poverty and another 20000 tomorrow and 20000 the next day...

I suppose I shouldn't judge the children too harshly, the adults of the world seem to have completely stuffed things up.

Whilst I like the Australian environment and I have some good friends and family in Australia, often I really don't like being here and I do not feel I belong in Australia. Probably for many reasons, but one is this:

Living amongst the 90% of people that have little, as I do in Thailand, I have found them to be better people. More compassionate and caring. Fairer. Wiser. Better educated in many ways and definitely better informed. They have more understanding of the Earth. More polite and more respectful.

I find the rich 10% too often repulsive. Greedy. Ill-informed. Un-caring. Lazy. Rude, arrogant, racist and very materialistic.

There is good and bad news in Thailand and good and bad news in Australia. But while I am in Australia I can't help focusing on the actions of the Australian government (a democratically elected government - so therefore the people of Australia need to share some blame). The Australian government bullies their poorest neighbours, Papua New Guinea and East Timor and rips them off while they are vulnerable. Asylum seekers and refugees, including children, are treated like criminals. People desperately in need of assistance are locked up for years with no knowledge of what will happen to them from day to day.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the way that foreign poor people are treated is the way that Australia treats it's own people and particularly the poor.

They send soldiers to Iraq to risk their lives. Why? What benefit does the average Australian or Iraqi gain from the invasion?

Aborigines in Australia are very, very, very discriminated against. In some parts of Australia there are still bars that serve alcohol only to white people while separate bars are for the blacks. They live a shorter life, earn less, are educated less and receive less in health care.

I watch the aborigines, homeless and mentally disabled wander around the Australian cities trying to get a little sympathy and some money. Despite seeing this so often, I have almost never seen an Australian give money to these people. Even I have decided now to stop trying to help these people. What is the point? I can't fix their problems by myself. They need their society to help them. But society doesn't seem to care.

The government schooling and health care systems are being demolished in order to divert more funding to the rich. As the poorer sections of the community get less and less opportunity and they get desperate, the solution from the rich and powerful is to get more police and introduce harder penalties while spending more and more money on their own security and the security of their property. This of course leaves less again for education, health care and welfare for the needy.

I know there is a lot of good in Australia, but I have a feeling that it is a society that is getting more and more morally and intellectually corrupt.

I want to go back to Thailand. It is also far from perfect, but it seems better.

I also very much want to go back to see Kanjana and her kids, Alif and Vava. I miss them very much.

One of the most disturbing things in Australia is the extreme difference between the rich and poor. Whilst in the Army we travelled to some very remote aboriginal settlements. The people there lived in some of the most depressing and disgusting conditions and they were totally devoid of any potential that their future might ever get better. Meanwhile most Australians, blissfully ignorant, rush around in expensive cars, watch garbage on TV and consume all in sight. Nowhere else, not in India, Africa, Asia or even Hawaii, have I witnessed such a marked difference in one country between the poor and everyone else. What makes it even worse in Australia is that it is so solvable. Australia is a very rich country. There is plenty to be shared amongst a small population. In fact, so solvable is the problem that I have heard that with the money that Australia spent on fireworks in the year 2000, poverty could have been totally eliminated. But that money was not spent on ridding Australia of poverty, it was instead spent on fireworks.

Another issue that is disturbing me is the issue of fresh water. Specifically the lack of it, it's mis-use and lack of respect for it. A lack of fresh water is an important issue all over the world and it will continue to become more and more important. In Australia, water was sacred for tens of thousands of years. It's purity and importance were protected and respected. In 200 years of Western control of the Australian continent, almost every water way is now polluted and undrinkable. Australians are now facing a future where fresh water will become a more scarce and valuable resource. There will not be enough for everyone. What are they doing about it? Almost nothing. Toilets in Australia continue to flush with good quality drinking water and gardens full of European weeds continue to guzzle up drinking quality water from taps. Rainwater generally flows into the drains and away into the filthy rivers and oceans around Australia's cities. The coutry-side is full of crops totally unsuitable for the Australian environment.

I realise I am very critical of Australia. But I feel I need to be. Australian culture doesn't seem to be self-critical and indeed the popular media just fills Australians with images of how they are the best at everything. It makes me feel quite sick. Until the Australian nation wakes up and starts working to improve some of these issues, I will continue to feel ashamed of Australia. Australian people don't need to suffer from poverty and a lack of education and health care. There is plenty of wealth in Australia. Even more importantly for me, Australia, instead of bullying and showing no understanding of other nations and cultures, could play a larger role in helping them. There is enough resources in the world for everyone to share, if it is done in a wise and compassionate manner. For me, the main block to this happening seems to be the rich and powerful nations, companies and individuals.

Update a week later: Walking through the centre of Canberra I saw a beggar sitting on the ground playing a guitar. He had a sign saying that he was homeless and needed money. He was barefoot, had long dirty hair and a beard. His clothes were old and tattered.
John Wilde had just given me 4 cold beers as a thankyou from him and the school. I walked over and offered one of the beers to the beggar. He looked up and in a quiet and very polite voice said, "thankyou very much. But actually I don't drink. Thankyou though".
I think there is a common belief that the money given to beggars is going to be wasted on alcohol or drugs. It seemed that this man was certainly not going to spend money on alcohol. He seemed like a decent man who was simply very poor, homeless and in need of help.
(A minute later 2 smiling Tibetan monks walked past. "Tashi Delek". An hour later I saw a young Australian man in a suit give the beggar $1. YAY! Thanks.)
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