Utopia by John Pilgers Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

Image: John Pilger

IMAGE: JOHN PILGER

By Maya Borom

John Pilgers documentary Utopia is a damning account of the seemingly apartheid-style laws and policies that successive Australian governments have placed on Indigenous Australians. The documentary highlights governmental inaction at it’s very worst and showcases the often collusionary nature of politics when dealing with Indigenous issues and welfare.

Almost 28 years have passed since Pilger first shot The Secret Country, an expose on the Aboriginal community living in Utopia in the Northern Territory, and how governmental (non) intervention impacted upon their lives. It’s release shocked audiences around the world who decried the lack of governmental infrastructure and intervention in health, schooling and general wellbeing. Pilger revisited the community in Utopia to see if anything had changed – unsurprisingly it had not.

The passage of 28 years and different federal governments failed to bring much needed infrastructure and support to Australia’s most vulnerable communities. Pilger documents that scant, if little health care is available to the community and medical experts voice their opinion as to the sub-standard facilities they are expected to practice in – including no electricity and open sewers. Utopia is a place where people die needlessly and have health issues that have all but been eradicated in countries similar to Australia’s socio-economic rating – indeed, the United Nations have routinely criticised Australia for it’s failure to adhere to human rights conventions regarding Indigenous rights.

Access to electricity, water, schooling and adequate housing are wishes on an Indigenous Australian’s list that gets longer and longer as Australia becomes more wealthy …

Inadequate housing also invariably leads to health issues, with stories of cockroaches embedding themselves in eardrums of children who must sleep outside due to a chronic housing shortage, or whose parents choose to sleep outside as they don’t wish to sleep inside condemned asbestos houses. Pilger illustrates how the lack of infrastructure is in stark contrast to that which is routinely viewed as a right in urbanised Australian suburbs. Access to electricity, water, schooling and adequate housing are wishes on an Indigenous Australian’s list that gets longer and longer as Australia becomes more wealthy within the global landscape and continues to ignore its Indigenous population.

Interestingly, Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with it’s Indigenous population – therefore no formal mechanism exists whereby Indigenous communities can participate equally in an exchange of goods or services (i.e. land rights, mining rights for infrastructure, education).

The film is not only about Utopia as a destination, it touches upon the wider issue of Indigenous deaths in custody, the Stolen Generation and the 2007 ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response’ (‘the Intervention’) imposed upon Indigenous communities in a misguided and fraudulent attempt at breaking down so called ‘paedophile rings’. Pilger demonstrates how the ABC’s Lateline in conjunction with a concerted media/governmental joint effort allowed for the demonisation of indigenous Australians – a legacy that is still being felt in 2014. He presents a convincing argument as to how the mainstream media, corporations and various sections of the government constructs and presents a derogative image of indigenous Australia that prevents the nation as a whole from moving forward in indigenous rights and responsibilities.

John Pilger’s Utopia is a must-see documentary for those interested in the plight of Australia’s Indigenous population and illustrates how the country must work together to ensure we move away from an apartheid system that creates an ever widening divide between Australians.

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