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World Beat: On the Road


I get the heebie-jeebies when I open my eyes and see where these wheels have carried me. It's a dry, dead, featureless landscape - there's just nothing here, and the emptiness is threatening. Bring back the forests, I think to myself, turn back the dial 150 million years to the time when Australia was lush and equatorial. Of course, I would think that. I'm a white boy.

Those who do know the land's secrets know them from age-old stories. These tales, different for each tribe, describe many things: how the land's hills and waterholes were formed by humans and ancestral beings; how to navigate; where to find food and rare and precious water. A man without water can die in the summer heat in a single day.

The stories - the only history that exists in traditional Aboriginal culture - are creation myths. Landforms mark places where ancestral beings fought, played, or slept. The legends surrounding Uluru (Ayers Rock), for instance, read like news from Bosnia. Such sacred sites are of crucial importance to Aboriginals. To someone not grounded in these stories, collectively called The Dreaming, the Australian Outback holds very little meaning.


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