Cultural Observations by Yours Truly

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One of my favorite things about Australia is how genuine and respectful the people I’ve met here are. From baristas at coffee shops, to new friends I met at trivia night, everyone has a noticeable level of respect for one another and especially for the land we reside on. 

In the workplace, I have been treated with the utmost respect by my co-workers at my internship, my managers and all the individuals and teachers I met throughout the events. A cultural observation I have made is that at the start of business meetings, Australian’s always ease into the important stuff with a light-hearted conversation or a few minutes of small talk beforehand. Communication in a global environment has always interested me, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know people a little bit more before getting down to business in a professional setting. It makes all the difference when you are comfortable and on the same level as your peers. 

But not only does everyone show kindness towards one another at meetings or events…during the opening ceremony, we all pause for a moment to pay our respects to the elders past, present and future and original custodians of the land, the Aboriginals of Australia. 

Cultural practice is to acknowledge traditional custodianship of the land at the commencement of functions, meetings and presentations of government departments and various organizations. This acknowledgement pays respect to the traditional custodians, ancestors and continuing cultural, spiritual and religious practices of Aboriginal people. Further, it provides an increasing awareness and recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and cultures. The level of respect shown is simply admirable from my point of view, and something I’ve appreciated about this country immensely. 

Another observation I’d like to share is how Australia treats their wildlife, especially animals in the wild and in zoos. I have been amazed by the amount of wildlife conservation I have seen, especially at the two zoo’s I visited during my time here. 

Many ethical issues surround the debate of how animals are treated in zoos and wildlife parks around the world. The first that comes to mind is the purpose zoos exist today. I think the question that must be asked is this: What would happen to these animals if they were released today? Growing up in zoos, many of them would not know how to survive in the wild. They may not know how to hunt for food, or their environments may lack proper nutrition and they could starve. Alternatively, some animals may thrive when released. I think it is important to observe that the purpose of many zoos today is animal conservation. They don’t primarily exist anymore just so humans can observe the animals, however this is a smart way to raise funds to keep saving and taking care of endangered or injured animals. I really enjoyed a presentation given in my class which showed a timeline of how animals have been viewed and treated by society since the beginning of civilization. 

Another question we explored was this: Why shouldn’t it be our responsibility as humans to keep some species alive after we have done so much to damage their habitats, which directly lead to their endangerment or extinction? This is something that I struggle with, because it saddens me to think about how many animals have died due to colonization since the beginning of civilization, however I see that zoos and wildlife parks in Australia are doing their part to ensure these animals have a chance at survival. Below is a photo of me holding a happy little Koala, probably one of the best feelings in the world!

The human/animal relationship is complex and we are still learning more about it today. After seeing examples in class of how humans and apes can build strong relationships and even be taught sign language, to the more conflicting side of things with the relationships between whales and their trainers, I began to see the complexity of each relationship. Overall, I think we need to pay more attention to what animals communicate to us. Their nonverbal signals can teach us a lot, for example a tiger in distress that paces in a cage, versus a smiling koala in a trailer’s arms. If an animal seems unhappy, it probably is and I believe it is our ethical responsibility to make sure they are comfortable and happy, and I am happy to report that Australian zoos and wildlife parks do just that. Below is a photo I took of a giraffe at the Australian Zoo!