It was more than two decades ago when I saw John Pilger’s 1986 documentary 'The Secret Country' for the first time. I was a 17-year-old Aboriginal male suffering the indignity of public housing Australia. My identity came with a sense of collective oppression that turned my indignity into both resistance and motivation.
Such feelings of resistance became an empowering experience that lead to a pursuit of justice identified through education. Now, almost 30 years later, I find myself part of the middle class. I own my house. My children have all attended private schools and it is easy to believe that things are improving.
I have John Pilger and his latest documentary 'Utopia', which premieres in Australia today, to remind me that it hasn’t.
Every year Australia tries to wash away its hidden history with displays of overt nationalism. On January 26th , Australians plant their union jacks in parks and beaches across the country, or on the faces of small children who are taught nothing about what the symbol means to those people this nation believed it conquered.For the majority of them, there has only been one name for the date – Australia Day.
But for the first peoples, there have been several. Survival Day, Invasion Day, Sovereignty Day, each word loaded with the pain of 200 years of dispossession that has left the first peoples of this land impoverished but, against the odds, remarkably strong. My preferred name for January 26th, however, was one of its earliest – the Day of Mourning.
On this day, First Nations peoples mourn the loss of land, of their children, of their wages, of their remains. They mourn the loss of control over their own future. Australians may want us to ‘get over it’, to stop being so ‘sensitive’. But then, why do we still set aside a day of remembrance on ANZAC Day to commemorate those who risked their lives at war? And why don’t we acknowledge the brave Aboriginal fighters who sacrificed everything in the frontier wars?
A couple of years ago I visited a site of extreme significance to my nation – the Darumbal people, whose homeland takes in Rockhampton in Central Queensland. About a 30 minute drive from the town, there is a mountain which was for decades known as “Mt Wheeler”; coincidentally the same name as the man – Sir Frederick Wheeler - who in the 19th century chased a mob of Darumbal people up to the top and herded them off like sheep. As I gazed up at that sheer cliff face, I imagined the pleading faces of a people who would never get justice for those crimes, although the evidence of their spilled blood is passed down by stories and even in official documents at the time.
Today that site is unmarked. Scattered rubbish left by campers litter its base. The Darumbal people renamed this sacred initiation site – Gawula. But Australians are blind to the crimes that occurred there. Would we treat the massacre site of any other people this way? Would we forget so easily? And yet its one massacre site amongst thousands across Australia. Do you know the ground you walk on?
This month, internationally renowned journalist John Pilger released his new film Utopia in Australia. What he uncovers is an ignored truth. Despite the magnificent wealth of this country, its first peoples have inherited a legacy of disadvantage that has compounded since the very first days of invasion. It’s compounded by government neglect and apathy, by watered down promises replacing land rights with “reconciliation” and the failure to recognise the ability of Aboriginal people to control their own lives, to grant them true self-determination.
Australia is locking up Aboriginal people at horrific rates, and yet still cutting funding to Aboriginal legal aid services. It lets its media off for demonising Aboriginal people, and even gives them a Logie for it. It shamefully allows the 10-year extension of one of the most racist policies in Australia’s history – the NT intervention, and claims its for ‘their’ own good. It will not have any evidence of the frontier wars in the Australian War Memorial, but is content to represent them as gargoyles alongside wildlife on the walls of the national monument.
This shameful history is laid bare in Utopia.
But the film also showcases the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people. One of my favourite quotes from Utopia is made by Anmatyerr elder Rosalie Kunoth Monks:“What amazes me is there is not that hatred, because that’s beneath our dignity to hate people. We have not got that… but us old people have to start thinking about righting the wrong, the awful wrong that continues to happen to us an ours.”
That’s what we are fighting for on January 26th.
Amy McGuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist and Editor of Tracker Magazine. She was a researcher on John Pilger’s Utopia.
Earlier in January, 4,000 people amassed in a Sydney park for the launch of Utopia, the fourth documentary on the plight of indigenous Australians by London-based journalist John Pilger. It's named after a barren Aboriginal homeland in the Northern Territory visited by Pilger: a place of abject poverty where people live in dilapidated homes made of cancer-causing asbestos; where kitchens, bathrooms, running water, sanitation and electricity do not exist; where children sleep head-to-toe on soiled, broken mattresses; and where cockroaches crawl into their ears...
I am an urban Aboriginal man; I wasn't brought up into my culture, I don't have my language, nor my kinship system to live by. My mum was part of the stolen generations and, because of this, my mum and her three boys never learnt what it meant to be Aboriginal.
Utopia has shown me how, over 225 years, the Europeans, and now the governments that run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from my people for their own benefit. The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful, and I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian.
Australia has a very black past; Utopia shows real-life stories of what has happened over the past 225 years. I cried like I had lost a family member on three occasions watching this film - a must-see for all Australians.
Pilger's message to white Australia cannot be dismissed
Mainstream Australia has long lacked a real education about Aboriginal people, about our shared history, and this nation's brutal past. Fortunately, there's a simple way in – an opportunity to get a "punter's guide" to the truth about the treatment of Aboriginal Australians.
John Pilger's latest film, Utopia - a 110-minute feature length documentary more than two years in the making - should be required viewing for all Australians, in particular lawmakers.
White silence cannot dim the heroes of Utopia
For the last few weeks, I've seen a film bring together Aboriginal people all over Australia. The buzz around Utopia - a documentary by John Pilger - has been unprecedented. Some 4000 people attended the open-air premiere in Redfern last month - both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - and yet little appeared in the media about an event that the people of Redfern say was a ''first''. This silence has since been broken by a couple of commentators whose aggression seemed a cover for their hostility to the truth about Aboriginal people.
This film from journalist John Pilger forensically dissects decades of official racism, one bungled policy at a time. This is the most eviscerating public document on the state of Aboriginal Australians I can recall. Pilger asks some urgent health and social questions before looking at incarceration rates and death in custody, land rights and mining, the removal of babies and what exactly did the Rudd apology change. But the highlight is probably Pilger’s unravelling of the vast lie behind the Howard government NT intervention.
John Pilger’s latest documentary repeatedly examines the disjuncture between the utopian fantasy of white Australia and the dystopian fantasy on which it is built
A shocking and important piece of investigative journalism