My daughter first went canoeing at the age of six weeks, down the flooded
South Alligator River. At 15 months she was assisting me when I shot
buffalo - it was her job to carry the buffalo fillets to the vehicle and
wrap them (for anyone not believing this - I have a photo!). Rowan
handled his first snake, a two metre Black-headed Python at the age of 18
months - one of his first words was 'shark'. At four years old he came
bush with me as a paid field assistant.
The children of my Aboriginal relatievs are brought up similarly.
Rowan didn't show any interest in birds although his father and I often
took him birdwatching. One day at the sewage ponds I pointed out several
different species and asked him if he knew what they were. He didn't,
until I offered him fifty cents for every one he named correctly. He
didn't miss a beat, even identifying Common Sandpiper. Rowan still isn't
interested in birds, but decided at the age of ten to be a fishing guide.
He knows more about Top End fish and habitat, reading water and weather
conditions, tackle, than anyone I've ever met. Amber is training to be a
tour guide and is not only competent in the bush, but relates well to her
Aboriginal relatives. She and I took a Lonely Planet photographer to
Arnhemland a couple of months ago.
I've met few children here interested in birds, but most go fishing, and
are fascinated by spiders and birds. Any such interest in nature should
be cultivated for interest in one creature may later extend to the
environment in general, or to birds. But it needs to be handled gently.
Did anyone read (I think it was in The Weekend Australian) an article on
sports participation in relation to the Olympics. Instead of rising, it
dropped, and the reason for this was thought to be that children (and
others) saw the 'experts', the 'champions' and decided that it was no use
to compete. Natural history and birding experts can bring about a
I used to pick up dead snakes along the road, some not quite fresh, and
take them to my children's primary school. My reasoning was that
children ought to learn about snakes, especially the difference between
venomous and non-venomous snakes. The first time I did this I had a
python and a not very fresh elapid. I explained the difference, the kids
standing all around me, some stroking the snake sand others examining the
fangs through a hand lens. After checking with the teacher I showed them
how to sex the snakes and then we dissected them ,joking a bit about the
smell. Then Rowan and I went through a pantomine pretending he had been
bitten by a snake and I was hysterical. Everyone was laughing and
yelling out advice (I'd explained this previously).
I was asked to go to each class in the school that day, and every other
time I brought a snake. I stopped in the end, one reason being that
Parks and Wildlife had threatened to charge me with interfering with dead
wildlife. They also told me it was their job to teach children such
things. I also ran a similar program for backpackers.
In response children are quite similar to the adults I take out guiding.
I once wrote a paper called 'The Value of Dead Animals to Ecotourism'
which was utilised in degree courses in ecotourism down south. Using
dead animals is environmentally sensitive and it can demystify the world
inside the body, death and sex for not only children but adults.
People often want to identify with wildlife; for instance Americans often
see in unspoiled nature values that they grew up with, and that their
society, so they believe, is losing. Now this is what bush Aboriginal
people do. When my Aboriginal son Peterson sees a python caught, he
gets very upset - it's his dreaming as it is Rowan's. When Rowan aged
five saw an injured python, he recognised it not as the victim of a
speeding car, but as his sister, dying. And he cried.
The feelings of tourists have been used as a marketing tool by the cruise
ship market among others. PNO (I think it was) would advertise that
passengers, on their trip around the Spice Islands, would be treated as
'brothers and sisters' by the indigenous people there.
Now take the size of the overseas birding market. One would think that
those institutions teaching tourism would put birdwatching at the head of
their list for it can mean big money. Australia and NZ are top of the
overseas American birding list apart from Hawaii. Up here at least they
hardly know about it.
Just before last Christmas I offered to talk to tourism authorities in
Tennant Creek and Borroloola about birdwatching tourism. After all this
is ideal for small towns in good birdwatching areas. Tennant Creek
showed no interest at all, but the Borroloola Gulf representative did.
Rowan and I travelled 900 kms to discover that she wasn't.
On the way there and back I stopped at the Heartbreak Hotel. Oh my
brother's a tour guide the lad behind the bar told me. He's been to the
Savannah Guiding School (in Katherine). However the brother and the lad
behind the bar turned out to be no more interested in birds than anyone
else (no, not even Carpentarian Grasswren). And I got nowhere. Fifteen
year old Rowan sized up the situation at a glance - a dusty, middle-aged
woman in gumboots, my status need raising. And so he stepped in. But he
didn't highlight my expertise as a guide or author. - 'My mother knows
Kate Fischer' he said.
I think Dorothy is on the right track. (Loved your letter and I'm still
laughing!). I'll have to do some research into this. Perhaps each state
and territory could have their own characters, maybe an old lady or man
(I mean this is the Aboriginal sense. 'Ngalkobanj' means 'old or wise
lady' in Kunwinjku) and a couple of youngsters. However these kids
wouldn't be treated as they normally are in European-type school, that is
as useless, unformed beings. But rather as Aborigina lchildren are -
capable of taking responsibility (Montessori schools are run on similar
lines - I've also written a paper about this!)..
Incidentally for those who prefer celebrities, hunt them up in Margaret
Gee's Celebrity Guide. I'm on page 9 of the old one, ahead of Peter
Hillary, Dick Smith, and Valerie and Ron Taylor. There's a new one due
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