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Deep in the outback, at a small town clinic, I got to speaking with Uncle who told me that he made the odd didgeridoo and boomerang. I arranged to meet with him at his house in the next hour or so. In these parts, doctors are driven the shortest distances in air conditioned cars, and I was surprised an hour later to arrive at his house, just a few hundred metres away, at the same time as him. He'd been walking his slow pace, stopping to pass the time of day with everyone he met.
I was invited into his ramshackle house, and felt a little nervous about the five or six men sitting and leaning about outside, clearly the worse for wear at midday from the effects of beer. Uncle himself, I'd been told, was not one for the grog though. The house was on stilts, and I was guided through to his tiny room with large cupboard. The room had a child-like “Uncle, Private Keep Out” on the door in felt tip, and inside had a thin, centimetre thick mattress and a number of tools on the floor. From the chaos in the cupboard, he bought out the didgeridoo, more than a metre long, simple and beautiful. He'd been into the bush to select the wood, which has to have been hollowed out by termites, before working it into better shape and then painting it. The base colour was the deep red of the dirt that is the outback, the desert. At each end, and slightly more than halfway down were black bands with wavy lines and dots in yellow, white, and green. The price was high, but not as high as in a city centre art gallery, where the middle men take more than their share.
During our conversation, a drunk man (one of his sons) began to ask me about his heart pills. I took my habitual refuge; “I'm sorry, I only know about medicine in children, not adults.” It required several repetitions to establish this fact, to the point where other onlookers were reiterating my protest, and I was waving my hand at around waist level to demonstrate how small he had to be before I could give him advice.
The banknotes I gave Uncle disappeared very quickly—into somewhere about his person or into his locked room—and all sides seemed pleased with the bargain. I felt sure that no one else would see that cash until Uncle himself was good and ready to spend it. I took the didgeridoo and said my goodbyes.
As I took the bold step of walking myself the 250 metres back to the clinic, didgeridoo under my arm, I felt very self conscious. Did I appear like some arrogant tourist? Some sort of fool, easily parted from his money? Had I been taken in by a pretty story and the label “genuine”? Was I plundering cultural artefacts? Was I putting money into the hands of someone who would convert it in some way into cheap alcohol? Or, was I just a foreign doctor, pleased at having bought a real work of art from a real human being, cutting out the city centre middle man, and destined to derive years of happy memories at the sight of such a lovely thing ?
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