Going about my daily life in Melbourne, there are constant reminders of central Australia. Some of these are presences; others are absences. When I go to the bowser at the petrol station, there's no nozzle labelled 'Opal unleaded'. I look out from my balcony and see palm trees dotted through the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and think of the Afghan traders who left palms through central Australia, outside the town council in Alice and at the Hermannsburg mission to provide sustenance during Ramadan. There's other reminders: I might see an artwork in an office that looks like it comes from a certain area in central Australia. I'm told Liam Jurrah is playing in a big AFL match in a few weeks' time. But otherwise, I look at the faces of people in street sometimes, particularly the ones who seem more on the edge, and think, are they Aboriginal? Middle-eastern, African or what? I'm not sure.
Around Melbourne I often see yellow wall plaques like numberplates acknowledging the traditional owners of the place. Yet the traditional owners of major Australian cities seem far less obvious than any other people group, partly because of the sheer bulk in population numbers, no doubt also because of the decimation they experienced, being in the 'front line'. (It wasn't until I was in America and heard a few Native American place-names that I realised 'Manhattan' was an 'Indian' word -- after all that time watching Sex and the City!) My experience of working in Abl affairs is that large family groups from regional centres tend to dominate in urban contexts, quite possibly because the areas they're from were more isolated and thus more shielded from the vicissitudes of colonisation, or because particularly strong missions or other settlements were established there.
The plaques to me are almost more like memorials. I don't want to be derogatory, but I feel a bit ghosted by the thought of an Abl presence. Unlike central Australia, where you can feel you're surrounded quite literally by the living dead at times. It's as if there's just traces left here. I've cast my mind back to what Germaine Greer says in Whitefella Jump Up about a possible way of giving these traces more pre-eminence by everyone saying that they're Aboriginal and living in an Aboriginal culture. I think much of what she's saying about aspects of Australian society being more shaped by Aboriginal culture than we care to realise is probably very true and that saying we're an Aboriginal country is helpful as a certain sort of gesture. But I'm disturbed by what's potentially lost in making that statement. If Greer's idea is taken to extremes (and I'm not sure she meant it to be), it could lead to a pan-Aboriginality that is unhelpful and suggests a blurring of the specificities of and differences between existing Abl cultures and groups.