Generally speaking, reporters and astronauts have little in common. Let's face it, journalism isn't rocket science. But Murphy's Law applies equally to both. Especially in this, our next joint mission with NASA to find a story where astronaut Jeff Williams pointed to the Australian Outback.
Houston, we have a problem - several problems, actually. For starters, exactly where Jeff pointed was nowhere. The closest town is three hours away down a dirt road to Docker River - an Aboriginal community of just 300 people. That brings us to our second problem.Read Steve Hartman's Travel Blogs:
Normally, at this point I'd stick my finger in the phonebook and pick a name. But Docker River has no phonebook. Plus, it's an Aboriginal community and Aboriginal people are notoriously camera shy. So I went around and got the names of all three people who would be willing to sit for an interview. The first two people changed their minds - which left just Bevyn Young.
(Scroll down to watch the video)
Young lives in a camel-colored house behind the camel-colored camel. Despite breaking his foot recently, Bevyn was more than willing to walk me through his story. Forty-six years old and an artist by trade - he first apologized for his reluctant neighbors, who he says are always suspicious of non-Aboriginals.
"You didn't seem to care that I was white," Hartman said.
"I wouldn't care if you were Shrek," Bevyn replied. "I'll talk to anyone."
That said, even Bevyn didn't want to be seen talking to me publically. So he brought us out to the bush - before launching into this unbelievable story.
Bevyn said he is part of Australia's "stolen generations." Starting in the early 1900s and continuing into the 1970's - it was actually Australian government policy to take Aboriginal children from their parents and place them in institutions and foster homes. Under the guise of helping the children become "civilized," the government kidnapped about 100,000 kids total.
"I never knew my mother and father," Bevyn said. He claims at just three months old, he was sent to live with a white woman in Sydney - where he stayed until, at the age of 18, he decided to return to his Aboriginal roots.
"It's a magnet that brings us back," he said.
His was quite a story - until I found out it was just that - a story.
We visited the woman Bevyn said raised him.
"I love him dearly," Laraine Van Dyk said. "But I didn't bring him up."
Van Dyk says she didn't even meet Bevyn until he was 30 - they're basically just friends. In fact, she says the only grain of truth to the story he told me - and tells everybody - is that he was forced to leave his village - but it was at the age of 10 - and it was his own family that sent him away. Apparently Bevyn was addicted to sniffing gasoline - that's a big problem here -- and needed treatment. Laraine thinks he's now rewriting history as a coping mechanism.
"I think because he was sent away at 10 he's just craved someone to love him," Van Dyk said.
In all the years I've done this, I've never had someone just fabricate their story. Yet my trip to Docker River was far from wasted. Although I'd heard of the stolen generations, I had no idea the extent of the scarring and resentment that still festers 40 years later. Of course the irony is that I didn't learn that from the one man who agreed to talk to me - but rather from those 299 - who flat out refused.
During the time of the kidnapping, it's estimated that one in three aboriginal children were taken from their parents -- Bevyn just wasn't one of them.