An Aunty from The Lands was in town, on her way back to her country*, staying in LA. I know this as a colleague, the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, was handing out ‘artefacts’. They were free. Balsa wood with the smell of burnt wood from the work she had done on it. I chose the animal. I was told by my colleague it’s a cultural tadpole. All the kids got one too, she is out on the street doing them, he explains. The kids are loving it.
Hours later, a bony, poorly dressed young woman accosts the group of 4 white women that I am part of. It’s on dusk. Wanna buy this artefact, she mumbles, not making eye contact. Immediately one of the guests in town, says “yes, how much.” With no negotiation, discussion or story telling about the vaguely crocodile shaped balsa wood in her small hand, there is a mumble of “10.” Two of the women I am with, scramble to pool their cash and buy the item. The woman who spoke first takes the artefact, looking pleased.
The quickest turnaround of the balsa wood, for a profit? The glee on her young face was not disguised, as she raced off. No money goes to the generous old Aunty who had been sharing her cultural heritage earlier that day, by making the many varied critters and creatures.
Selling ‘artefacts’ to white fellas is not the easiest way to humbug. The desperation for money is likely alcoholism but not always; the Aboriginal bush camp itinerants’ situation is complex and over 100 years old now. Humbugging for money is definitely easier with balsa wood to trade than being emptied handed. Sometimes the Aboriginal visitors to LA get the jackpot like with these two new white visitors to town but from locals of any cultural background they mostly get a polite no and probably an angrier response if they persist in begging for cash.
* ‘country’ in this context means ancestral ties to particular land that applies to a recognised connection between an area and a specific Aboriginal group