Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Utopia film exposes Australia's apartheid

Vanguard March 2014 p . 6
Max O.

John Piliger's new film, "Utopia" presents the case that racist policies against the Aboriginal people still continue in Australia 28 years after he made his first film, "Secret Country". The film exposes the shocking and brutal discrimination meted out to Australia's First Peoples by detailing the hypocrisy and outright contempt that still exists from political leaders to the police force.

The initial images that are presented to the audience (CCTV footage of a Aboriginal man being smashed against a wall, dragged along a floor and then thrown into a cell and left to die; a film clip which shows police officers who cruelly taser an Aboriginal boy) set the tone of what this film is all about - a tale of conquest, genocide, brutality, theft, discrimination and destitution.

The movie's name is taken from the Aboriginal community of Utopia, 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. The appalling living conditions that this community has to endure are contrasted with the hugely expensive holiday apartments on the Sydney beaches that overlook the Pacific Ocean.

The litany of shameful treatment continues when the Mutujulu community's dilapidated asbestos buildings are compared with the nearby Uluru luxurious eco tourist hotel.

The enforcers of the law are again put under the spotlight when the film examines the death of Eddie Murray in 1991, who died of a smashed sternum whilst in a police lock-up in Wee Waa, NSW. Then there is the killing of Ian Ward who died in 2009 while being transported in a virtually sealed police van where the temperature reach 56° Celsius and he was cooked to death. None of the police or correctional officers were prosecuted.

Pilger outlines the successful Aboriginal struggles of the Wee Waa Aboriginal cotton weeders and pickers, who were grossly under paid and subjected to aerial spraying, who struck for better wages and conditions and the successful Wave Hill/Gurindji walk off (1966/77) that eventually led to their land rights.

The history of Rottnest island, just off the coast of Perth, is also investigated. The island's old gaol is now a spruced up holiday resort but was used in the 19th century as a concentration camp for troublesome Aborigines. This fact is not pointed out to the holiday visitors.

The expunged history of Indigenous Australians continues with Pilger's visit to the Australian War Memorial. Here he was refused permission to film, after asking why there was no display of the frontier wars where black Australians fought the British invasion of their country.

The mentality of this denial is dramatically summed up by Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton who in 1901 crafted the White Australia Policy. The film reiterates his words of the time, "The doctrine of equality of man was never intended to apply to those not British and white-skinned."

Parliamentarians were given the chance to justify their policies for Aboriginal people in the film and they proved wanting. Whilst they are proud to have Aboriginal art in their offices they take offence when questioned why they have not solved the issue of the First Australians being the poorest, sickest, most oppressed section of the population. For example Warren Snowden, former Labor Minister for Indigenous Health, took shelter with the angry reply to Pilger, "What a stupid question. What a puerile question."

The appalling record of parliament continues in the film with the Howard government's 2007 Northern Territory intervention. Police-military rule was deployed and the hand over of local community land leases were demanded otherwise basic services would be withdrawn. The intervention was justified on the spurious assertion that Aboriginal children needed to be rescued from widespread sexual abuse that was going on in Aboriginal communities.

ABC's TV Lateline programme supplied the so-called evidence. An anonymous "youth worker" appeared disguised in a camera interview making outrageous claims about Aboriginal paedophile rings. Later the supposed "youth worker" turned out to be a senior government official and the Lateline programme refused to comment publicly that there was no evidence to back up their claims.

As was commonly understood the purpose of the intervention was to demonise these Aboriginal communities and take over the land for the benefit of the mining companies.

The film is uncomfortable viewing for Non-indigenous Australians. Anmatyerr elder, Rosalie Kunoth Monks, from Utopia, sums up the matter of their oppression when she points out that their sovereignty was never ceded and the land was stolen from them.

As Pilger states, the Aboriginal peoples' struggle for freedom will only start to be achieved when their sovereignty is officially recognised and a treaty is entered into between Indigenous and Non-indigenous Australia.

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