The Indigenous of Australia
Exploring offenses practiced by popular media, big business, police forces and Governments helping the Australian 225 year campaign of genocide continue against Aboriginal Australians. “Utopia” is a new documentary exposes the shocking social conditions in Australia’s remote indigenous communities. This is also his fourth documentary on the brutal history of genocide, dispossession and discrimination against Australia’s indigenous population. The film brings us a look at Aboriginal disadvantage. It contrasts poverty, chronic ill-health and third-world housing against the comfortable lifestyles of the rich in Sydney and other Australian capitals. It also touches on high indigenous incarceration and suicide rates, deaths in custody, forced assimilation and Aboriginal resistance.
While Pilger is clearly and deeply concerned about the plight of Aboriginal people, the underlying political line of the documentary is flawed and serves to divide indigenous and non-indigenous workers. Rather than just indict the capitalist system, and the economic, political and social interests it serves as the cause of this social catastrophe, he argues that the terrible conditions facing Aboriginal communities are a result of the inherent racism and ignorance of “white” Australia.
The film opens with a television interview with mining magnate Lang Hancock from the early 1970s. Hancock is asked about his solution to the “Aboriginal problem?” and he replies by saying “Those that have been assimilated… I would leave them alone. The ones that are no good … dope the water up so they are sterile and that would breed them out.” Do we not hear overt racism here?
Next we see a handcuffed Aboriginal boy being repeatedly tasered by police followed by footage from a police station where an Aboriginal man is violently assaulted by police and left semi-unconscious in a cell. The man dies three hours later without receiving any medical attention.
The documentary crosses to the Utopia region, about 200 kilometers north-west of Alice Springs in central Australia. This is one of the country’s poorest communities with up to 20 Aborigines living in each house, forced to suffer dysfunctional toilets and kitchens, with no electricity or running water. Many indigenous families are homeless, sleeping on mattresses on the ground.
Ampilatwatja medical centre manager David Smith tells us that the lack of decent housing contributes to a range of illnesses and that it is common —for cockroaches to crawl into the ears of adults and children and he further states that many diseases eliminated in under-developed countries still thrive in Aboriginal communities.
It is to Pilger’s credit that he exposes these terrible social conditions. In his interview with Arthur and Leila Murray, parents of Eddie Murray, a young Aboriginal man who died in police custody in 1981 at Wee Waa in New South Wales, we see the parents sharing their difficult and protracted struggle to uncover the truth about their son’s tragic death.
This is one of the few occasions in the documentary where Aboriginal people are shown as part of the working class. The film also looks at the Liberal-National Coalition government’s “intervention”—the police-military takeover of Northern Territory indigenous communities in June 2007, which falsely claimed to be protecting indigenous children from sexual abuse.
Because of this, Canberra enacted a series of initiatives that included the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, the quarantining of welfare payments, compulsory acquisition of land and other anti-democratic legislation. The then Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough alleged that pedophilia rings and drugs were rampant in Aboriginal communities. I find it interesting that the film does not deal with what the government did and did not do during all of this while we learn that Australia’s Richest 200 increased their combined wealth from less than $5 billion in 1983 to over $25 billion during the next five years. We also see nothing about the Australian working class and instead we get the impression given that everyone in “White Australia” is living in suburban happiness. The conditions of the vast majority of ordinary working people, along with the unemployed, single parents and the disabled are not mentioned and neither is the emergence of the new privileged Aboriginal elite.
Pilger blames “white society” and this is the political outlook of a privileged section of the Aboriginal leadership. Racial identity politics have been promoted in particular by various pseudo-left organizations to divide workers on ethnic and racial lines and to block a unified, independent movement of the working class against the capitalist system.
There is nothing new to be seen in “Utopia” and Pilger uses that as his most damning point. He’s a partisan narrator, an antagonistic interviewer and a bloody minded researcher but in the end what Pilger presents is truthful to the point of being self evident.
Pilger explores the history and continued maltreatment of its indigenous population, even to the point of using the name of a poverty-stricken settlement in the Northern Territories as the title of the film. As Americans, we might understand everything here but we can certainly identify with the racist situation that is in Australia today.