Nieghbours, Bondi beach, Sydney Opera House, the lucky country,an easy going straight talking people. This is the image most of the world has of Australia. Behind this sunny facade lies a very dark secret, a secret that most Australians profess to be unaware of.
The secret is the shocking treatment of Australia’s indigenous population. John Pilger, an Australian born-journalist, who has lived for many years in the United Kingdom returned to the country of his birth to film this documentary on the treatment of Australia’s first peoples.
It was a hard hitting documentary, and an unusual but welcome scheduling on ITV1 where documentaries are increasingly a very rare sight.
The title of the programme intentionally serves to highlight the glaring inequalities that exists in Australia. Taking it’s name from the town of Utopia, a poor desolate township inhabited by indigenous Australians, bereft of almost any of the facilities we take for granted in the rest of the developed world. The name is like a never ending cruel joke reinforced by the fact that the government appointed white district commissioner despite living in a smallish bungalow enjoys a staggering 18 air-conditioners while the residents of Utopia have no electricity.
In the documentary Pilger interviewed a range of Government officials on the situation with the indigenous peoples, officials who had a direct responsibility for enacting change that had been promised for decades but not delivered, the responses he got were a master class in willful negligence.
In one particular interview a prison official was questioned about what changes she planned to enact after an indigenous Australian was arrested and left in the police van in the middle of the scorching desert sunshine. The coroners verdict was that he slowly roasted to death. No one was arrested and the prison official proudly told Pilger how she has to sent her officers “cultural awareness training” in the aftermath.
We were taken to the Island of Rottnest, today home to a multi million tourist resort and spa. This has been built on the site of one of Australia’s largest indigenous Australian penal colonies, a colony that saw hundreds of prisoners perish due to the brutal conditions. Building a hotel, effectively cementing over the island’s brutal past, is equivalent in terms of sensitivity to say turning Auschwitz or Belsen into a tourist resort.
We are told how the how the the life expectancy of the average indigenous Australian is far less that his white compatriot with a third not living beyond 45.
We are told how in the Northern Territories prisons are being built to solely incarcerate indigenous Australians.
We are told how the Northern Territory imprisons indigenous Australian at a rate six times greater than that of black people during the days of apartheid in South Africa.
We see evidence of how the Australian government and press conspired to paint a picture of widespread child abuse having occurred in some communities, suspended civil rights and proceed to arrest many adults and remove their children, a scandal which was ultimately exposed as a cover for a land grab.
We find out that the UN high commissioner on Human Rights has repeatedly censored Australia on the “entrenched racism” in its treatment of indigenous Australians
In all a picture was painted of at best a very dysfunctional relationship between a government and a people it should serve in the way it serves others, and at worst a brutal systematic purposeful campaign that may lead to the extinction of an ancient people.
If there was a problem with the documentary, it was too long, and there was a lot of sermonizing, the facts of the situation on their own were screaming out the message that needed to be told.
If you missed it you can catchup on ITV Player.