Film Review from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Utopia by John Pilger
John Pilger’s recent film Utopia about the Aboriginal ‘Nation’ (the ‘First Australians’) is an emotional and unrelenting look at ‘apartheid’ in Australia today with graphic footage of police tasering and brutalising young black Australian men in custody. The shocking racism in modern Australia is in stark contrast to the sympathetic and positive portrayal of the Aborigines in such films as Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Wim Wenders Until the End of the World.
Pilger identifies the huge inequality between the rich whites and poor Aborigines by contrasting the affluent suburb of Barton in Canberra with the township of Utopia 200 km from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory which is home to the ‘First Australians’ . Barton was named after Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton who declared in 1901 ‘The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to [apply to] those not British and white-skinned.’ The Aboriginal peoples live with sub-standard sanitation, shelter, public transport, water, light, and serious eye disease in children, and one third of Aboriginal people die before the age of 45. Pilger states that ‘Black Australians are the most imprisoned people on earth’. He recounts how in Western Australia in 2008 an Aborigine man ‘cooked to death’ in a police van, how a new all-Aboriginal prison is being built and how the treatment of the Aborigines is a ‘punishing of the poor, a punishing of indigenous difference.’
Pilger identifies capitalism as the major factor in the racist brutalisation of the First Australians. The Aboriginal Land Rights movement was subjected to a vicious TV campaign funded by the Mining companies and would lead eventually to Prime Minister Bob Hawke dropping Land Rights legislation. Mining capitalist Lang Hancock stated ‘Nothing should be sacred from mining whether it’s your ground, my ground, the black fellow’s ground or anybody else’s. So the question of Aboriginal Land Rights and things of this nature shouldn’t exist’. Pilger shows a 1984 television interview where Hancock advocates the sterilisation of Aborigine people.
Pilger discusses the 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response known as ‘The Intervention’ where on the pretext that there were widespread paedophile gangs operating in Aboriginal communities, the Australian Federal Government sent troops in, suspended the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act and introduced ‘special measures’, and there was ‘compulsory acquisition of townships currently held under the title provisions of the Native Title Act.’ The ‘Intervention’ was a Trojan Horse in order that the Federal Government could regain control over disputed land and then grant mining concessions to the capitalist class. In the same period the mining capitalists ensured the Federal Government’s Mineral Resource Rent Tax would not take too much of their profits, in fact the Mining companies saved 60 billion Australian dollars. The United Nations said that ‘the Intervention’ was racially discriminating and infringed the human rights of aboriginal peoples.
Pilger believes there is a beacon of hope by concluding with the ‘hidden history of aboriginal resistance’ with accounts of the 1966 Gurindji strike at Wave Hill and the 1973 cotton chippers strike at Wee Waa. Utopia is a grim catalogue of crimes against a people but when it comes to the insatiable lust for profit in the mining of bauxite, iron ore, and uranium nothing can stand in the way of capitalism.
The Aboriginal people believe the earth and people are one but capitalism cannot understand such a concept. Only socialism can realise the Aboriginal ‘Dreamtime’ when ‘the earth is made a common treasury’ for all peoples.