TUMBY BAY - We in the West tend to judge people of other cultures in terms of our own values. We do this because we are conceited and assume that our values are superior to theirs.
This conceit was a fundamental ingredient in Australia’s past colonial experience and still informs how we relate to nations like China and India.
What we don’t like are foreign nations exerting on us their own unique values. We would much rather they imitate us.
We’re happy to entertain their cuisine, music and literature but not their world view.
At a personal level we judge people of other cultures in terms of how much they resemble us. If they talk and act like us, even if they don’t look like us, we judge them well, if not equally.
Among the prominent terms of judgement we use in our society are such things as wealth, prestige and dedication to a cause, including non-monetary ones.
Some people from other cultures eschew their own traditional values and adopt Western terms and values to judge themselves, thus perpetuating the idea of Western superiority.
Thankfully, there are people both within and outside our society who refuse to accept this idea of cultural superiority.
They are the brave people who ‘march to a different drummer’.
For a conquered people whose lands were invaded by Western imperialists, peacefully or otherwise, these brave people are crucially important.
They are the ones who swim against the tide to ensure their culture is not swamped; that it survives.
The late Aboriginal actor and dancer David Dalaithngu was one of those people.
Despite all his perceived success he resolutely and uncompromisingly clung to his Yolngu origins and culture.
To do that he had to live in two worlds, his own and that of the Australian mainstream. He had to play the Western game and turn it to his advantage and that of his people.
It was a not an easy task and it took its toll on him.
He had to deal with all the fakery of the celebrity world and yet remain true to his cause.
He struggled with alcohol and spent time in gaol for hurting his wife.
One of his films, ‘Charlie’s Country’, made with his long-time friend and director Rolf de Heer in 2013, is semi-autobiographical and explores the theme of cultural survival in Arnhem Land.
In the film the main character, Charlie, has lung cancer from smoking. Ironically, this is what ultimately led to David’s early death.
Among the reviews of the film I found this gem:
“They are lazy layabouts, their given homes are a human disgrace, dirty, uncared for.
“Its not their country any more they lost it on January 26th and will never get it back.
“The movie was good, the fact that the white cops like abo bashing has been that way since day one.
“To you abos, get an education, pull up your sleeves get a job and stop begging for handouts!”
David was an uncompromising and undefeated hero of the Yolngu people and of Australia too.
We need to celebrate him.