To go into the Australian West is to go into the past. Yet wherever you go, however remote in distance or in time, America and its own West intrudes. A year ago I went to the edge of the Old Stone Age with a party of Australian scientists to study the water metabolism of the aboriginal natives in the hope of determining how these most primitive of people had adapted their bodies to survive in conditions of great heat and aridity. One particularly hard day, when the temperature stood at 120 degrees in the water bag, I sat in the red dust of Australia’s dead heartland trying desperately to convince myself that I was in the same world as my university halfway around the earth. Except for the main body of natives camped near the half dozen tin-an-transite shacks of the government station twenty-five miles away, our party of seven whites and two dozen natives was the largest group of human beings in two-hundred thousand square miles of desert so barren that – as the Australians say – you could flog a flea across the plain and see him every time he jumped.
The adult natives were asleep in the sand, unmindful of the bush flies and the dust settling in their eyes and ears, but a handful of children played in our waterhole and hunted for lizards to trade for hard candy from the lolly jar.” I had recorded some of the strange mythic songs from their parents earlier in the day, and since the tape recorder was still set up, I asked the children to sing some of their songs for me. They gathered around the microphone, naked, knowing no word of English except “lolly” never having heard a radio or a record player, or seen a movie or television; yet after a moment of conspiratorial giggling, they sang out, loud and confidently: Daby, Daby Crocka, kingada wile frontee.
This was the second time that “Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier: had impressed upon me the fact that Australia and America had been following a parallel course of cultural evolution for nearly two centuries. Ten years earlier I had found in a more civilized part of the island continent a remarkable example of independent invention – Australian school children composing parodies of Tom Blackburn’s great frontier song, just as American children were doing ten thousand miles away; Born on a tabletop in Joe’s Café, / Dirtiest place in the U.S.A.; / Killed his mother with a poisoned cup of tea / And shot his pa with a .303.
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