Friday, February 28, 2014

Between the Lines: From the land which gave us Rupert Murdoch . . . (1988)

The Between the Lines TV Review column from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

1988 is the year when TV discovered Australia in a big way. Firstly, it discovered that Australia was "discovered" two hundred years ago. Complete historical nonsense, of course: Australia was settled by its native Aborigines for about 30,000 years before the white "civilisers" arrived to murder them and leave who remained in apartheid-style reservations.

So TV has celebrated the land which produced Rupert Murdoch, the Bee Gees and Dame Edna. Fortunately, BBC2 offered a chance to avert our eyes from the revolting pictures of Charlie and Di's state visit, with her modelling with a team of beefy surfers while he discovered a whole new variety of plant life to enjoy conversations with. (Most of the latter are believed to be employed in the British Embassy.)

Instead, we could watch John Pilger's quite brilliant three-part documentary, The Last Dream which told, with passion, something of the real history of Australia. Pilger described how the Aborigines were peaceful people who lived at one with nature with respect for the land. And how the land was stolen, leaving them today as the lowest strand of the working class in a nation which cannot cope with a culture of sharing. Unemployment and alcoholism are very high among the Aborigines who survive.

In the second programme—the best of the trilogy for its uncompromising exposure—Pilger tore to pieces the long-standing myth that Australia is a classless society. He not only told us about the millionaire parasites like Kerry Packer, Alan Bond and Rupert Murdoch—he showed us them dining in celebration of their good fortune of being capitalist rulers in a land of illusory equality. Dining with them was Bob Hawke, the Labour Prime Minister of Australia.

Pilger lost no time and spared no detail in exposing the anti-working class attitudes and policies of the Labour government. Nobody could have watched the documentary without seeing through the lies of Hawke, who claims to be a socialist and the workers' friend. John Pilger seems to entertain some illusions about previous Australian Labour governments but he cannot be faulted in his demonstration that the present one is simply an ally of Australian capital against Australian labour.

In the third programme Pilger dealt with the Australian war record, placing special emphasis on its part in Vietnam, where the Australian state acted as an unrespected military servant of US imperialism. Pilger pointed out how Australians have always been sent to die in other people's wars. What he meant was that Australia has been subordinated to the needs of other national capitalist interests. True as this may be, the really important point (not made by Pilger) is that workers in all countries are always fighting wars which are not their own. Some capitalists win and some capitalists lose but it is always the workers who die needlessly.

The series ended fittingly with the singing of what the present writer at least regards as the greatest anti-war song ever written: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle, himself an Australian. If you have never heard the song you should go out of your way to do so; if you have a chance to see a repeat of the Pilger series it is a must for workers who want to find out the history of what really happened to our class.

On the subject of working-class history and great music, the Channel Four documentary on Woody Guthrie, which was shown in January, was another classic: it would have been good to hear Pete Seeger singing Guthrie's This Land Is My Land (the uncensored version which deals with the iniquity of private property) while Pilger was describing the "discovery" of the Aborigines by the British plunderers.

In addition to TV's celebration of Britain's imperialist past, 1988 has also seen one of Australia's tackiest commodities hit the peak-time screen. Neighbours (BBC1, 5.35pm, Monday-Friday) is the soap opera devised to make Crossroads look like something on the Oxford English Literature syllabus. It is viewed by 14 million people daily. As a depiction of working-class life in Australia it is an unfunny joke.

Where are the unemployed workers? Why do no black Australians ever appear? Do Australians really spend most of their lives incessantly bitching against one another? Is there something in the air in Australia which makes sentimental music appear every time the tension heightens? (Tension-heightening in Neighbours is a euphemism for one of the characters threatening to kill the little girl next door and her parents, or another woman finding out that her grand-daughter—whose existence she didn't know about until the episode before last—is in fact her husband's mistress's child.

If you ever over-indulge on the lager at lunchtime and can't be bothered to stick your finger down your throat, why not make a rush for the telly and watch Neighbours? Personally, I don't give a XXXX what 14 million viewers say—I think the programme is written by the bloke who writes Bob Hawke's speeches: he should be put on the next convict ship to New Zealand and left to die of boredom.
Steve Coleman

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