Film-maker points to ‘apartheid’ conditions of Australia’s Aborigines

Today’s indigenous Australians face a situation akin to South African apartheid, according to a new film by Australian journalist and documentary-maker John Pilger. 

Many Aboriginal people struggle with poverty and unsanitary living conditions, in marked contrast with the more comfortable living conditions of their white neighbours. 

Pilger has said the film, Utopia, “will describe not only the uniqueness of the first Australians, but their trail of tears and betrayal and resistance – from one utopia to another”, Utopia being the name of an Aboriginal town in the Northern Territory. 

In 2010 the United Nations published a report indicating that indigenous Australians have one of the lowest life expectancy rates of any indigenous population in the world – 20 years lower than that of Australians of European ancestry. 

“More than any colonial society, Australia consigns its dirtiest secrets, past and present, to a wilful ignorance or indifference,” Pilger wrote in an article for the UK’s Guardian newspaper in 2013. 

The Frontier Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the large-scale appropriation of land by European settlers in Australia. 

According to the Australian historian Henry Reynolds, as many as 30,000 people died during the conflicts that ran from this period up until the 1920s – 90 per cent of whom were indigenous Australians. 

Utopia was first screened in cinemas in the UK before being broadcast on network television in December and is set to be shown in Australia in January. It is the award-winning director’s first film about his homeland’s indigenous people since The Secret Country: The First Australians Fight Back, which he released in 1985, and tells the story of the country’s Northern Territory and its Aboriginal people. 

Utopia, which the British newspaper The Observer called an “impassioned and righteously angry piece”, will be screened in the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Sydney on several dates in late January leading up to Australia Day on 26 January.


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