After leaving Litchfield National Park we visited an Aboriginal Art Gallery, where we got to hold an adorable Agile Wallaby joey, which I think Lydia wanted to take home. We were driving up to the Adelaide River to see Crocodiles jump in the wild.
Along the road were highly visible signs of Howard's legacy - "No Alcohol, No pornography". It did not apply to us, but only to the Aborigines. In 2006, with the election approaching, Howard (after ten years of inaction) decided to suddenly act on a decades old plight - the fate of young children in indigenous communities. With crippling poverty and systematic destruction of their culture, remote communities of Aborigines live in conditions unimaginable to most Australians. An indigenous child will be born with a life expectancy twenty years shorter than other Australians, with fewer education and employment prospects and the certainity of experiencing diseases that white Australian children never will.
Like many times in the past, this was voiced as being completely unacceptable in a Nothern Territory report "Little Children are Sacred", which also including a whole host of health, legal and educational approaches to reverse the situation. Howard, however, chose to ignore all the policy advice in the report, and instead seized on ill-diguised racism in segments of Australian culture which portray Aborigines as drunk and violent (in reality alcohol use among Aborigines is lower than among white Australians, and domestic violence is probably around the same for the socio-economic status, but Aborigines have an outdoor communal culture, so all the nasty aspects that in white Australian culture are hidden behind closed doors are instead visible to all).
So, in a culture shattered by disempowerment, Howard shredded every last vestige of independence and personal dignity. He took away land rights and the right to refuse white Australians entry into indigenous land. He sent in the Army to forcebly check Aboriginal children for sexual abuse (they found only a single case - a lower rate than white Australia). He banned all alcohol and pornography for Aborigines in remote communities (but not whites in the same communities), under the uneducated myth that pornography promotes sexual abuse - Howard was all about conservative ideology rather than evidence-based policy.
Howard also took away the freedom of Aborigines to spend welfare cheques at their own discretion, replacing the payment with a card that could only be used for certain items in certain places.
Regardless of the paternalistic racism (and it clearly is racism - the government had to repeal the Racial Discrimination Act in order to pass the race-based law), policy was both naive and stupid. Only large regional stores could participate, so the local community stores became unavailable. Instead Indigenous women are now spending hundreds of scarse dollars on taxis to the regional town centre, the only place they can spend their money. Great business for Woolsworth and Coles, but terrible policy for indigenous people. But Howard loved the idea of controlling indigenous welfare cheques so much that he cancelled a successful government work scheme (where the government employed indigenous people to do community work) just to force the people onto welfare so that he could control their pay.
Unfortunately, treating Aborigines as a one dimensional political point is bipartisan, so much of this counter-productive rubbish has been continued even after Howard was booted out of office, and no one has tackled the underlying problem of poverty and hopelessness.
On Adelaide River we went on a Jumping Crocodile Tour, where they taunt large saltwater crocodiles to jump up next to your boat with hunks of dead brumby (wild horse). It is such a stupid idea - this top lever preditor is very shy about contact with humans - thanks to years of hunting. Instead of encouraging this status quo, the tour teaches crocodiles that boats mean food, and to jump up along the side of boats to seize any meat it can grab. Obviously they really mean it when they tell you on this trip not to put any lands over the edge of the boat.
National Parks has realised that making crocs jump is a bad idea, so now only five companies are allowed and only on the Adelaide tour. Regardless of the idiocy of provoking a lethal creature to attack us, the trip was amazing, one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. Seeing a crocodile in the water, eyes and nose just breaking the surface as it effortlessly follows you and then dissapears, is one thing. Seeing the shear power of these animals as they leap up out of the water, using a few twists of their powerful tail to thrust themselves metres out of the water and then hearing the hideous slap of their jaws snapping shut - that is something else all together. These creatures are just a tonne of muscle under armour plating with a walnut-sized brain focussed only on the kill.
Our guide on the boat was telling us about his closest call, when he was living on a small island in the middle of the Adelaide River. He had a small shed that he used as a kitchen and came back after a successful fishing trip to cook up his 85lb Barramundi (a large Australian river fish). Up one end of the kitchen he heard something and turned around - a large croc had walked into the only enterance and was staring at him. He backed back until he burnt his bum on the hot plate (he "was caught between a croc and a hot place"), without turning around he reached behind searching for a knife - his gun was at the other end of the kitchen behind the croc. Instead he grabed the fish, and intending to throw it out the kitchen to get the croc to leave, he threw it forward.
In the worst throw of his life, the fish went only a metre and landed right in front of him and in the blink of an eye the croc leapt foward, grabbed the fish and ran out. Our guide said after that he made a promise and a bargain. The promise was that he would never let his gun get that far out of his reach. The bargain was that he would never shoot a croc unless it entered his kitchen but in return the crocs would not enter the kitchen if he feed them outside.