Thousands of people from around Australia gathered on the evening of January 17th 2014 at The Block in Redfern, an Aboriginal quarter close to downtown Sydney, for the world premiere of John Pliger’s new film ‘UTOPIA’. The event was graced with the presence of the author and speakers that included Aboriginal Elders and activists. It attracted a broad cross-section of concerned citizens.
‘UTOPIA’ takes its name from a town located in the heart of the Northern Territory; one that is populated by an Aboriginal community. Ironically, Utopia houses our most disadvantaged Australians, in conditions that are appalling even by third-world standards. The eye disease trachoma, for example, has been successfully eradicated in poor countries such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Morocco, but not in “rich Australia”, and of course the bottom line is that 1 in 3 Aboriginals is dead by the age of 45. For this reason, Pilger reminds us:
“Australia has been spotted. No Western country has been more repeatedly condemned for the way it has treated its indigenous people, and for its racism, than Australia… It’s the only First World country on a United Nations “Shame List” in which an entirely preventable disease called trachoma has not beaten.”
Neverthess, Pilger stresses in his introductory speech, to a standing ovation:
“This film is about heroes. It is not about victims. It’s about struggle and resistance. It brings together some of the most admirable human beings I have met.”
Pilger contrasts Utopia (the town) with the Canberra suburb of Barton, home of the most advantaged people in the country. Barton, he reminds us, is named after Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, who introduced the infamous White Australia Policy, based on turn-of-the-century eugenicist notions of the superiority of the White Race – particularly of British variety…
Whilst the aim was to exclude non-white immigrants, thus ‘keeping Australia white’, there was absolutely no mention of the country’s non-white indigenous population. They were deemed to be on the inevitable road to extinction. As the official policy, since the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909, was acknowledged as “smoothing the pillow of a dying race”, the “breeding out” of Aboriginal racial characteristics was encouraged.
‘UTOPIA’ opens with an extract from this 1984 interview with Lang Hangcock, father of the mining heiress Gina Rinehart. He seems like a crank, but he’s just reiterating policy:
“I’d dope the water up so that they were sterile and breed themselves out in future, and that would solve the problem.”
Pilger takes issue with the smearing of Aboriginal communities, used by the Howard Government to justify the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act and the implementation of The Intervention. This resulted in Aboriginal people losing control over their affairs, and the way being opened for unchecked exploitation of their lands by mining corporations. The inordinate power of these corporations continues, he asserts, as evidenced by Gina Rinehart’s campaign against the Mining Tax – and its ensuing emasculation…
I reviewed the World Premiere of ‘UTOPIA’ a few hours later on Radio 2RSR:
Shortly after the film was released online, it was hit with a copyright claim and taken down. Hopefully this will be resolved in the near future.