With overseas plans out of the picture for most part – if not all – of 2021, you might be like most of us, a reportedly growing majority channeling our passion for travelling domestically.
‘Loving Country’ is an invitation for this quest to be more than box-ticking, bucket-listing experience.
For a Greek living Down Under the authors’ names are familiar.
Bruce Pascoe, for having famously debunked the ‘hunter-gatherer’ myth for Indigenous Australians.
Vicky Shukuroglou, for her last name, given that the suffix – oglou (Turkish for ‘son of’ I came to find out – a patriarchy reminder, by the way, similar to its Greek counterpart with female surnames formed by ‘possessive endings’ to male ones) denotes an Asia Minor descendant.
Her paternal great-grandparents and grandfather were indeed Asia Minor refugees. The displacement experience was re-lived by her parents who left Cyprus after the devastation of the Turkish invasion.
“When we arrived in Australia, my dad contemplated having to change our surname, because of the incredible challenges we faced,” Vicky Shukuroglou reveals noting that along with her sister they objected, despite also being discriminated against as kids.
“Thank goodness you refused,” Bruce Pascoe comments.
The two have joined forces as co-authors of a “guide to sacred Australia” encouraging a new way to travel.
Unlocking travel perspective
“It’s no accident that the book is called ‘Loving Country’,” Mr Pascoe tells Neos Kosmos.
“Because I think that’s what Vicky and I are trying to express, urging Australians to take a deep interest in their country, not just going out buying a sticker to put on the back of their caravan about places they’ve been to, but really get involved.”
They cover 19 sites across all states and territories. What was left out?
“Most of Australia!” Ms Shukuroglou says with a laugh, “yet it is all included, because it is a great story of connection.”
“While this is just a small selection of particular areas, we hope that it would really inspire people to contemplate what is in their own backyard, and that every area of Australia has the same qualities, the same diversity and abundance of story and cultural wealth and that the environment is as diverse as those cultures.”
Readers are treated to an insider’s guide; the book has been created in consultation with communities, and includes practical tips and considerations for travellers.
Sometimes, even a friendly nudge to discover less ‘advertised’ must-sees.
Introducing Broome, for example, Pascoe takes us to a virtual tour to the mangroves: “Mangroves are not the sexiest tourism lure but for our people they are a larder, a kitchen, a playground.”
“When you’re in there you are compelled to notice the small things,” he says pointing out that Shukuroglou’s photographs are instrumental in capturing these.
“It’s a different way of looking at country. And, you know, that’s what both Vicky and I was interested in doing. Not just looking at Uluru. But looking at the insects around Uluru.”
For each destination, expect a mix of travel experiences, Dreaming stories, traditional practices and history.
Past made present
But the emphasis is not on what happened in the past; rather on understanding and learning about what is still possible today.
“There are still people, including government ministers, talking about 40,000 years of Aboriginal occupation here, and we know it is vastly more than that…when I say national history I’m thinking 120,000 years,” Mr Pascoe says.
“It’s not a league table of who’s the oldest, but it is important to acknowledge it[…] And I’m more interested in what can be gained than what is lost.
“That Australians can learn a lot from a very old and successful culture, they can learn a lot about the agriculture, but also about environmental protection and care, love of country.”
The comments follow a question about the choice of including Brewarrina in the book, a town in the north-west NSW on the banks of the Barwon River.
It is home to Baiame’s Ngunnhu – known as the Brewarrina fish traps – with their age, estimated to be at least 40,000 years, making them arguably the oldest human construction.
But the co-author cautions oldness is not the only or foremost reason for deserving our attention. In the book, he points to the “way of living” they represent with community cooperation in catching and sharing meals and sustainable relationships “with the river itself and with all other life forms”.
Ms Shukuroglou also highlights the importance of contemplating not just the history of the land but “what is happening day-to-day environmentally which directly links to a culture or a way of being”.
“When we look at how urban planning functions or doesn’t function, every aspect of what goes on in our culture daily could be reconsidered, looked through another lens. And because we’re all human, it’s a choice, whether we have connection to a place or not, and the form of that connection, the complexity of that connection is very much up to us. And it’s not, you know, a blood thing. It’s a learned thing. It’s a connection that is developed over time.”
Since migrating to Australia – a country that following its occupation has become home for people from all over the world – I’ve often wondered about the entitlement to a sense of belonging in this land.
But also, thinking of immigrants who’ve lived through forced displacement, wondering whether this experience could foster a stronger alliance with Australia’s Indigenous people towards recognition and reconciliation.
Mr Pascoe sheds some light on my enquiry.
“I used to be a tour guide at the Cape Otway lighthouse and the tourists who knew most about Australian history were from countries like Germany and Italy and France, people whose countries had experienced dispossession and war. And looking at the Australian history that they knew, they understood implicitly that this was a war of invasion and dispossession.
“Australians as a group have in the past struggled to look squarely at their history and see it as history of invasion and then development of a colony. Overseas people, I found, were far more intellectually able to embrace those issues.
“But if we only concentrate on the negatives, we’ll get a negative result. We have to be optimistic,” he says.
Is their travel book then an act of optimism? Ms Shukuroglou doesn’t seem to reject my reflection.
“I think the land can really speak, but we need to listen. And our hope is that through these stories and through the photographs peoples’ senses, their hearing, their sensing, their observation will just be opened a little more to what the land is saying.”