A resident Australian friend of mine recently sent me an email that showed a map-picture of Australia. Inside the boundaries of the Australian continent was placed a map of Europe – including the UK. All of Europe was able to be placed inside Australia. Even if the Scandinavian countries, as well as those countries that stand between Europe and Russia, for example, Belarus and the Ukraine, were to be included, Australia would still be bigger than all of this.
People I speak to are surprised to learn that, not only does Australia have sun, surf and sand, it also has snow. More than that, the size of the Australian Alps, where snow and the snowfields are generally to be found, is more extensive than the whole of the European Alps (though not as high). So, it is only a matter of time before Australia adds to its tally of medals won at the Winter Olympic Games. Australia also has a larger collection of indigenous animals, for example, the well-known duo of the kangaroo and the koala, than any other country in the world; not to mention the most venomous snakes, spiders and jellyfish. I could go on, but the reader follows the trend!
With the above facts and figures in mind, is it any wonder that, though I am not an Australian by birth, having grown-up, played sport (including Australian Rules football at school and university), studied and worked there, I still call Australia home! Sharene, the first-born daughter of Vicky (my English wife) and me, is buried there, as are my father and mother. I have a brother and sister-in-law residing there and, as they are great-grandparents, their large and lovely family as well. So too, my sister and her daughter live in Australia and, along with the friend whom sent me the email mentioned earlier, I have a number of other friends who live in various parts of Australia (who also send me emails).
So, the reader will appreciate my Australian roots and the genuine pride I have in the country – especially after the recent Ashes cricket series! However, everything in the Australian garden is not rosy.
In 1985, the Australian journalist, John Pilger, made a film about his homeland’s mistreatment of its Indigenous Peoples – the Australian Aborigines. The film was called A Secret Country – as was the book about the film. In this film Pilger suggested that, with respect to the Aboriginal peoples, Australia was effectively running an apartheid regime. In 2013, nearly thirty years later, John Pilger made another film about Australia. It is called Utopia and was recently shown on commercial television in the UK. The film covers much the same ground as did the 1985 film, though it has been described as “less subtle and more angry” than its predecessor as “nothing much has changed”.
The economic miracle that is Australia is reasonably well-known. The country has not suffered as much as its competitors in the recent world-wide recession. This situation is primarily due to the richness of the continent’s mineral resources. Experts in the field of Australia’s economy consider that the mining of these minerals is making billionaires out of those who own the mining companies and wealthy people of the shareholders of the same, as well as providing the Australian government with valuable dollars. The mining of the mineral resources is, of course, taking place on land claimed by the Australian Aboriginal peoples as tribal land.
It is a thesis of John Pilger’s film that, despite this wealth from native soil, the Indigenous Australians are worse off than many other peoples living in developing countries! It is quite apparent that the Indigenous Australians are not benefitting from the utopia resulting from Australia’s mineral wealth. Indeed, the “utopia” of the title is an irony, but it is not Pilger’s. It is “an Australian irony – the name of one of the poorest and most desolate areas of the continent, 200 miles north of Alice Springs”. The film, scrupulously observed and annotated, as always, by Pilger and his crew, reveals the disgraceful living conditions of the Aboriginal people of this region.
As revealed by this film, John Pilger does not hold back from his near-bludgeoning of government officials for their complacency and deceit with respect to the state of affairs affecting the Indigenous Australians. This situation includes the incidence of trachoma amongst Indigenous Australians (amongst the highest in the world), their housing and health care, accusations levelled against them of numerous local paedophile rings, the imprisonment of Aboriginal people at ten times the rate apartheid South Africa imprisoned black South Africans, the sterilisation of Aboriginal people, and the removal of babies and children from their families.
So too, as one commentator notes, “The Australian war memorial in Canberra has blanked out any reference to the frontier wars between the white settlers and the Indigenous Australians that went on for the best part of 150 years; not a single dead Indigenous Australian from that era gets a mention”, a period of time that the historian Henry Reynolds saw as “the greatest expropriation of land in world history”. A former Aboriginal concentration camp on Rottnest Island, near the West Australian coast, has been turned into a luxury hotel and spa-resort, without any mention of the ruination and death of many Indigenous Australians which took place there.
It would seem that John Pilger’s 1985 film and the “gentle persuasion” attempted since then to juxtapose what he calls “the wealth and complacency of white Australia with the poverty and degradation of the Indigenous Australians”, has not, as yet, managed to convince large sections of the Australian population. Therefore, the anger expressed by Pilger in the film. Somewhat apologetically, one of the guides used in the film says, “I guess Australia isn’t ready to confront some parts of its history.”
This seems something of an understatement! After nearly 250 years, many Australians – those who have a long family history in the country, those actually born in Australia or those who arrived there as immigrants – can still say, “Not yet”!
John Pilger left Australia in the sixties, when he was in his 20’s. He has travelled the world since then, but clearly feels the shame of what his country has done to the Australian Aboriginal. I may not have been born in Australia; I may not be now living in Australia, but I am not immune from the shame Pilger feels at the ongoing mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.
“Australia’s true history is never read, But the blackman keeps it in his head” (Anon.)