On the one hand, the experience of being amongst a remote or rural community is so beautiful and “real”. I was sleeping under the stars, sharing a breakfast billy tea by the campfire, and getting to know incredibly courageous people who have survived so much. On the other hand I witnessed so much pain. Everyday life is fraught with street violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, dire health problems, incarceration and suicide.
As I return to the “reality” of my laptop, hot running water, superannuation, private health insurance, and a postgraduate education, I begin to feel torn between conflicting notions of what it means to be Australian, and to belong. I realise that my own sense of displacement must be nothing compared with the experiences of thousands of Aboriginal people who manage to live simultaneously in two such different cultures every day.
And as for Michael Jackson, I suspect he was even more confused than any of us. While his lyrics indicate that “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”, his own transformation from a black boy into a white man tells a different story. I grieve - not only for a life snatched away, but also for a talented young African-American boy who lost his identity, and for children everywhere who are robbed of their parents, land, culture and sense of place in the world.