To Sydney, With Love – Part 2

Sydney Harbour Bridge

My solo trip to Sydney, New South Wales in Australia was equal parts fun, relaxing, and educational. I was reminded many times of how big, and yet so small, the world is. There are so many experiences, cultures, and life stories that differ from our own. Yet, it’s amazing how connected you can be to people through shared experiences, even when you think you have little in common and they’re on the other side of the world. Australia broadened my horizons and humbled me. In To Sydney, With Love – Part 1, I began talking about the lessons I learned during my trip. Here are a few more:

Be curious – Put your guidebook down and venture off the beaten path. What are you most curious about? What do you want to learn about? What interests you? As a Black woman, I was curious about Black folks in Australia. Where were they? What was life like for them? On my first day in Sydney, I found Australia’s Black folks’ TV network, NITV (National Indigenous Television). It reminded me of BET (Black Entertainment Television) in the U.S. NITV was on its grind. While folks back home complained on social media that BET failed to cover the Million Man March happening in Washington, D.C., I watched clips of the march on NITV. While watching NITV, I was surprised to discover that Aborigine people are considered Black. I wondered how Aborigines might be categorized in the U.S. A brief glimpse into Australia’s history, and a recollection of American history, reminded me how amorphous and political the concept of race is.

While in Sydney, I kept passing the beautiful State Library of New South Wales, which wasn’t in my guide books. I love books, so I just had to visit. I looked on its website for events happening that week, and came across a talk on the Freedom Bus Ride of 1965, featuring historians Ann Curthoys and John Maynard. The talk was also accompanied by an exhibit of photos taken during the Freedom Rides. While Blacks were marching for freedom in the 1960s in America, Blacks in Australia were doing the same thing. Who’d a thunk it. Led by Aborigine activist Charles Perkins and influenced by the civil rights movement happening in the U.S. at the time, Curthoys and other college students organized and rode buses across New South Wales to bring media attention to the discrimination Aborigines faced and to get local governments to desegregate pools and other places of public accommodation.

The freedom riders also surveyed Aborigines to learn about their living conditions and assess their needs.

Freedom Ride 9Freedom Ride Living Conditions and Little Boys

An audience member recalled the story of a White woman being afraid that Aborigine children would pollute the pool in the town of Moree. The story reminded me of the incident in McKinney, Texas last year during which White residents became upset that Black children were using “their” pool, initiated a fight with the Black teens and told them to go back to their “Section 8 housing.” When the cops arrived, they ended up handcuffing several Black teens and viciously assaulting an unarmed Black teenage girl. The more things change, the more they stay the same all over the world. But, I digress.

During the Freedom Ride panel discussion, an older Aborigine woman in the audience talked about her memories of the college students riding through her town of Moree. As she wept, she talked about the poverty and discrimination they faced – attending sub-standard Aborigine-only schools; the men in her town having to sign out and sign back in when they left the “station” (similar to a reservation in the U.S.); of their communities being run by White people (the government-designated “managers” or “matrons”); and the poverty and racism her and her community endured. Had I closed my eyes while listening to her stories, this woman could have been my grandmother in the American South. Her experiences, still fresh, were similar to the Black and Native American experiences in the U.S.

After the talk, most of the attendees visited the accompanying photo exhibit. Marsha, an Aborigine journalist, introduced herself to me. Marsha also introduced me to Kelly, the Aborigine woman who had talked about her experiences during the talk, and Kelly’s husband, two daughters and grandson. I asked them questions about their lives and experiences. We discussed the similarities and differences in race relations and racial identities in Australia and the U.S. We exchanged notes on Black life. As we looked at the photos in the exhibit, we laughed and wondered aloud why Black folks covered their furniture with plastic, no matter where they lived in the world. We talked for a couple of hours. Kelly and her family invited me to dinner. I was a solo female traveler from the hood, so I thanked them and graciously declined. I found my tribe at a civil rights talk in Sydney. Who’d a thunk it.

Be open to uncertainty – Things won’t always go as planned. You may get lost. The weather may force you to change plans. When faced with a detour, embrace the new path with gusto. On my way to Susannah Place Museum, a collection of four tenements built in 1844 and the longest-occupied tenements in the city, I got lost and arrived after closing time. Instead, I explored the rest of Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, The Rocks, and enjoyed the sunny warm day.

Rock that confidenceConfident PelicanComing from New York City, I often take diversity for granted. I never really stand out at home, because of the plethora of races, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, religions and types of people. It’s easy to just blend in with the masses. However, Australia was a different story. As soon as I entered Sydney’s airport, I was immediately struck by the absence of other brown faces. My hotel was equally lacking in melanin. During breakfast in my hotel’s dining room one morning, I looked up to see a White man staring at me. I mean literally standing in place with a plate in his hand staring at me. I smiled at him and continued reaching for the bacon and carbs. I couldn’t tell if I was just extra sexy that morning, or if he just wasn’t used to seeing Black folks. As the days passed, I saw more Aborigine and non-Aborigine Blacks throughout my stay. Like the Black guy who came up to me as I stood outside St. Mary’s Cathedral and asked, “How do you get your hair like that?” Yes! A Black person, I thought. I laughed and asked, “Why? Do you want to do your hair like this?” He had a very low cut and was almost bald, so inquiring minds wanted to know. It turns out that he wanted to do his son’s hair like mine. I gave him a quick tutorial in the fine art of the Black girl’s twist out. I should have asked him where the museum and the other Black folks are, I thought after he’d walked away. When in a new environment where very few people look like you, it’s easy to become self-conscious. Just remember that you are there to have fun, explore, and relax. The world is just as much your playground as it is the next person’s. So pull your shoulders back, lift your head up high, and rock your confidence like a fresh twist out (or whatever hairstyle or haircut suits ya)!

Keep the good vibes flowing – On my last day in Sydney, I wrote this in my journal:

When I look at myself in pictures or the mirror, I look so relaxed and glowing. The key is to keep that feeling when I go back to NYC. I need to figure out how to keep that vibrant, adventurous, carefree, stress-free demeanor and appreciation for beauty when I’m at home.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Beautiful architecture. Flowers blooming or trees turning colors. A cool mural or sign painted on a building. A cute dog walking his owner down the street. An unfamiliar path in the park. A trip to a museum. Vacations are wonderful and they rejuvenate us. But, it’s also important to incorporate self-care, joy and wonder into our daily lives. As the old saying goes, “The best kind of life is the one you don’t need a vacation from.”

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