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Kangaroo Island’s Western River Cove / Creative Commons. CC0 Public Domain

AU - Kangaroo Island: a place of empty beaches and hidden history

As this beguiling South Australian island recovers from its devastating bushfires, Bruce Pascoe hopes its Aboriginal past plays a role in defining its future

Read the rest of the On country series

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  • A guide to Namadgi national park
  • A guide to the Katherine region
  • A guide to Laura and Cooktown
  • ________

    Islands and islanders hold a special place in the imaginations of many people. Lighthouses, shipwrecks, hardy fishermen, lonely beaches, wildlife and good food are common to the Bass Strait islands. Kangaroo Island is no different, it has them all and to a very refined degree.

    It also has an Aboriginal past but, unlike the wine, sheep, cheese, marron and bread, it does nothing to advertise the fact. On the contrary, it hides from that history.

    Kangaroo Island’s devastating fires of 2019-20 destroyed buildings and scorched souls. The island will take a long time to revive physically and psychologically. So much tourist infrastructure was destroyed that the island’s economy received a massive hit. Recovery will be slow and painful.

    It is easy to celebrate and promote great food, idyllic beaches and the island wildlife but it will take a while for tourists to return. Don’t be deterred from visiting the island – it really is an exceptional part of the country and a few years back produced one of the most beguiling tourism advertising campaigns ever seen. It deserves the return of visitors.

    And hopefully this is also an opportunity to broaden the tourist appeal through the untold story of its Aboriginal history.

    Overseas tourists regularly list Aboriginal culture as among the top three on their wish list for Australian experiences. They rarely have it granted. There is an opportunity here for entrepreneurs and history sleuths, but hang on just a minute – shouldn’t Aboriginal people supply that opportunity? Australia likes to Iintervene and fail, we try to Close the Gap and fail, but what is really needed is respect for the culture and a determination by governments and the public that Aboriginal people will deliver this story.