Pilger’s polemic fails Australia and Aborigines

KIERAN FINNANE reviews.

 

In a country where there are social security, public health and public education systems, it is not possible to talk about poverty without examining the term. Film-maker John Pilger (right) does. This is but one of the glaring weaknesses of his approach to the subject of contemporary ‘Aboriginal Australia’ in Utopia. The recently released feature-length film played to a packed house at Araluen in Alice Springs last Saturday night (picture at bottom). The screening was hosted by the NT Greens.

 

The film cannot rightly be called ‘documentary’ or ‘journalism’ if those words are still to have any standards attached to them. It does not ask questions, other than ones Pilger thinks he knows the answers to and to which he can lead his interviewee. It does not seek out or fairly treat a single dissenting point of view. It does not recognise complexity. It has all the irksome smugness – and the sing-song voice to boot – of a man in a pulpit who is quite sure of being right.

 

Aboriginal Australians are represented overwhelmingly as victims, none more so than the residents of the Utopia homelands in the Northern Territory. We see only the worst of their humpies and shelters, and they are allowed to take on representative status, standing in for other remote communities at a time when there has been an unprecedented government effort, however flawed, in remote housing provision. The only Aboriginal resident of Utopia asked to speak is shamelessly led to give the answers Pilger wants.

 

We see none of the recent investment in the area – for example, the multi-million dollar middle school. We are told nothing of household incomes (Indigenous households in Utopia – average size 5.6 persons – have a median income of $749 per week, according to 2011 Census data). We hear a lot about ill health and the threats to health from a health professional, but get no enquiry into why many Aboriginal people have not adopted the domestic and personal hygiene practices required for living in houses (it’s a little more complicated than having the hardware perfectly set up). We also do not hear at all about the health research that showed people from the Utopia homelands to be doing rather better than their NT remote community peers, with, for example, an adult mortality rate from all causes consistently lower by about 40%. This kind of information would be far too confounding for Pilger’s victim model.

 

We are given no background to the area’s special character – the dispersal of its settlements and the absence to date of a major centralised community. There is no recognition of the complexity for government of this being privately-owned land. There is no recognition of the complexity for Aboriginal people of the communal nature of their land ownership under the Land Rights Act. There is no exploration of the possibility of self-help and enterprise and no recognition of where it has occurred. There is not a single reference, for example, to the brilliant success of Utopia’s artists. Indeed there is no reference to Aboriginal art movements anywhere in the film. There is also not a single reference anywhere in the film to the widespread problems of addiction, nor the complex issues of welfare dependency – unforgivable omissions.

 

But more importantly than all of this, we get no real sense of what life is like at Utopia, of the resilient vitality and humour of many people, of the bonds between them, of their reasons, other than mute tradition, for choosing to stay. Pilger also shows his incomprehension of their attachment to their lands by his snide comments on the naming of Utopia by early white settlers who “either had a very acute sense of irony or were demented by the fury of the heat”. He sees the country itself as a hellhole.

 

On the other side of the mirror, he gives us a ridiculous caricature of white Australia. When it comes to housing, it is represented only  by fabulous wealth. The examples are a luxurious holiday rental at Sydney’s Palm Beach and the tree-lined streets of Barton in Canberra. No non-Aboriginal Australian is shown living in a sub-standard dwelling or on the street. There is no mention of the housing shortage and rising rates of homelessness across the country. We are just glibly told that non-Aboriginal Australians take for granted their right to a house. Houses fall on them, apparently, like manna from heaven.

 

When it comes to attitudes towards the nation’s history, it is not the people who live in the wonderful houses who get questioned, but rather the flag-waving hoi polloi wandering along the promenade at Circular Quay on Australian Day 2013. There’s reference to the “history wars” but only to one side, to those who denied the facts of forcible dispossession and other wrongs against Aboriginal people. You’d never know from Pilger’s film the serious debate and strong rejection that their denials engendered.

 

He does pick out a few lone white warriors who see things as he does: one is the reliably concurring academic Jon Altman, who seriously suggests that the problems may be beyond Australia’s capacity to solve; the others are the film’s associate producers, Chris Graham (right), former editor of the National Indigenous Times whose views still get an airing on Crikey, and Paddy Gibson, a university researcher best known for his anti-Intervention activism. Indeed, if you have read commentary on the Intervention by Altman and Graham, and media releases by Gibson on behalf of the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG, Alice Springs) and the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS), Pilger’s film will have no surprises for you. He could have written the script on their basis from his home in England and journeyed to Australia merely to get the pictures.

 

The Intervention is of course characterised as a frightening military-led action. Pilger wants to make sure that Bob Randall, speaking from Mutitjulu, gets this right (not that he needed much encouragement). This is but one example of Pilger leading the interviewee (he even does it to the experienced Aboriginal bureaucrat Olga Havnen, to her obvious embarrassment):

 

Randall: They scared the living daylights out of everybody. The mothers thought their children was going to be taken away. And they bolted. Everyone left this community.
Pilger: So the army just rolled in, in their trucks.
Randall: Yes.
Pilger: And pitched their tents in the middle of the community.
Randall: Yes.
Pilger: The Australian Army, in an Australian Aboriginal community.
Randall: Yes, yes. We were being attacked.

 

No questions from Pilger, such as: What did the army do? Did they carry weapons? Did they provide services for the community? Did they provide anything else? How soon did “everyone” return to the community? Instead, he narrates: “For the first time in modern Australia, the army was sent into black communities, as the spearhead of a government determined to control people’s lives and their land.” The footage, set to foreboding music, actually makes the point he misses. It shows a fleet of 4WDs, not military trucks. The Intervention in its initial phase was an ‘invasion’ by bureaucrats much more than by soldiers.

 

Pilger allocates an inordinate length of time to tearing apart all over again the ABC’s Lateline interview about child sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities, featuring an anonymous “former youth worker” whom Graham later exposed as Gregory Andrews, a public servant then working for the Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough. Graham relishes going over this old ground, as though it were the investigation of the century. Meanwhile he and Pilger conveniently overlook other credible sources on the same issues, such as the then Crown Prosecutor in Alice Springs, Nanette Rogers, and Mantajara Wilson, a founding member of the widely respected NPY Women’s Council, whose views were later reiterated and defended by executive members of the council, Muyuru Burton, Margaret Smith and Yanyi Bandicha.

 

Graham complacently and gleefully concludes that there was “zero” evidence of the abuse of children and Pilger hammers this point with subsequent interviewees, including Brough. He fails to pursue at all the comment of Pat Anderson, who despite criticising Brough’s misrepresentation of the Little Children Are Sacred report, of which she was co-author, does say that it showed a situation on remote communities where abuse of children was “very likely” to occur. He also fails to discuss at all the serious and widespread issue of child neglect.

 

If the suffering of children is sidelined, so is the suffering of women. There is no recognition of the horrible rates of violence against them, mostly at the hands of their intimate partners. The victims as perpetrators? This is just too complicated for Pilger and co.  Much easier to dwell on the suffering of Aboriginal men at the hands of the police and justice systems.

 

There can be no excuses for what happened to Mr Ward in Western Australia, Mr Briscoe in Alice Springs, Eddy Murray in Wee Waa, NSW and there are others like them. But Pilger just leaves us with their tragedy. And their apparent powerlessness. For the grand solution, pronounced sanctimoniously from the shores of Sydney Harbour, lies not in their hands but ‘ours': we must “give back their nationhood”, whatever that means.

 

If you are looking for insights and a genuine focus for action, you won’t find it in this dispiriting two hour polemic.

 

 

 

RELATED READING:

 

Some Aboriginal men in the NT are recognising the need to do something about the terrible violence visited on women and children. See our coverage of their most recent initiative.

 

For a more instructive reflection on Indigenous policy over the last 50 years, see Bob Beadman’s Eric Johnston lecture.

 

See lead article and comment on shooting the messenger, Gregory Andrews, in our October 26, 2006 edition.

 

For some idea of Mr Andrews’ contribution to Aboriginal policy debate preceding this controversy, see the lead article in our August 31, 2005 edition.

 

For an account of the arrival of the Intervention in the Aboriginal community of Amoonguna see ‘Getting to know each another’ in our July 12, 2007 edition.

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42 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Tom
    Posted June 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Sure, Pilger’s style of journalism is often one-sided, however the fundamental message in Utopia rings true. Racism is alive and well in Australia. Aboriginal Australians are treated as subhumans. As someone who has lived in remote areas of the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland, I have witnessed firsthand the racial segregation between black and white Australians. I do acknowledge that there are some positive implementations and funding put into practise by numerous agencies, departments etc, however these are more or less bandaid solutions. We expect black Australians to conform to what WE believe is good for them and as the film points out, these people are susceptible to non conformity.

    The question is, Kieran, does Utopia do more harm to the reputation of Australia as a nation than it does good for the plight and awareness of the first Australians??

  2. May
    Posted June 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Here’s all you need to know about John Pilger’s film Utopia. It wasn’t actually filmed in Utopia.

  3. Harry W
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Whilst Pilger can certainly be excessive and in need of a little more positive feedback of small steps, including the “sorry” speech, I think he does a good job at finding about these atrocities that still plague aboriginal communities (death in incarceration without justice, a denial of colonialist oppression of aboriginals and higher imprisonment rates – phenomena unique to aboriginal communities in Australia) through first hand research.
    One step isn’t going to solve these problems which is why I think Pilger should be supportive of all movements in favour of aboriginal justice. But this review is much more dismissive and one sided than Pilger’s own documentary. How can Pilger not present a depressing situation when aboriginal people (maybe not ALL but a vast number!) ARE living in conditions of 3rd world communities, in a 1st world country?
    With so much ignorance and denial of aboriginal issues and oppression amongst the white communities (to whom the aboriginals are practically and invisible underclass) the problem really isn’t over-exaggeration of aboriginal victimisation. We do need to highlight these issues.
    Quote: “In Western Australia, minerals are being dug up from Aboriginal land and shipped to China for a profit of a billion dollars a week. In this, the richest, ‘booming’ state, the prisons bulge with stricken Aboriginal people, including juveniles whose mothers stand at the prison gates, pleading for their release. The incarceration of black Australians here is eight times that of black South Africans during the last decade of apartheid.”

  4. Sonja Olsen
    Posted June 7, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Obviously in a two hour documentary, it is impossible to cover every aspect of a very complex situation. However, I think Pilger makes some very important points about ongoing issues that haven’t changed. Let’s start with the ignorance of a large percentage of the Australian general public. What I want to know is what do Aboriginal people need from the wider community both immediately and long term in relation to shelter, infrastructure, ongoing support, health and well being, employment opportunities, historical recognition, public awareness etc, ect.
    I don’t think we should be relying on the government. This is a whole community issue and needs to be led by Aboriginal people. I don’t know what is appropriate housing etc for them. I want to hear from the Aboriginal people themselves!

  5. Posted June 4, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Well said Perina,
    I admit I am a long time gone but blowins like Pilger, who make a living out of denying and decrying the hard working Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who have spent a huge part of their lives doing their best, get my goat.
    Spend a day, make a movie, spend a decade, write a page.
    Do your 20 years in the dust, Mr Pilger, then I will take the time to listen.

  6. Perina Oliver
    Posted June 3, 2014 at 1:45 am

    May 2014 – viewed “Utopia” by John Pilger on SBS.
    Had hoped for a balanced view but alas this was too much to expect.
    Mr Pilger talks about “hidden” and “secret shame” and “things have not changed”.
    This time he had his chance to show some positives truths and chose not to document any of them
    After spending 2 years working with the Aboriginal people of Utopia during which roads and houses were built, maintenance programmes put in place, recreation areas renovated and kids programmes established – mostly done with Aboriginal workforce. PLUS power bought to the many outstations. PLUS the very good Health Clinic. PLUS a successful and famous Art Centre.
    Not a whisper on anything positive! Not one picture of anything positive.
    “Things have not changed? Who is now keeping things HIDDEN, Mr Pilger?
    Returned 2012 to Utopia and was amazed and delighted with the top class new high school – complete with science lab and gym, and working well. Again not a word or a picture on what has been spent, built and achieved.
    Yes awful things have happened, continue to happen. Over the many years on communities my husband and I have been involved with stabbings and axings and beaten women and suicides and petrol sniffing and drunken brawls and fatal car accidents and child abuse. And sadly, too often the many good things achieved are not always sustainable.
    But after 10 years working on various communities in the NT it CANNOT be said that Governments of both persuasions have not tried to address the disadvantage and ongoing problems.
    Millions and millions of dollars have been spent and continue to be spent.
    THIS IS A HUGE AND COMPLEX ISSUE!
    Have they got it right – sometimes yes sometimes no.
    Will they ever get it right – ditto.
    Does Mr Pilger not think that Governments have not watched and consulted with other countries who have similar Indigenous problems e.g. from Canada or USA etc. etc.
    Does anyone really believe Governments like to keep spending MILLIONS for spending sake?
    Actually, Mr Pilger, you believe our Governments are doing nothing, and you are informing the world of this fact!
    Get real Mr Pilger, and if you come again, open your eyes and give us the whole story.

  7. Dilip Devdas Kumari
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 6:35 am

    A great film and much needed. John Pilger is very courageous to make this film considering the amount of abuse that will come his way.
    I’ve always felt strong undercurrent of racism in Australia – try taking a bus in or walking down the streets of Melbourne with brown skin.
    You get nasty glares, hostile muttered comments, and some direct challenges from others.
    I know Australians love to talk about their superiority to Americans, but in my experience, Australia is a much more openly racist country.
    Try to ask Aboriginals about their experiences and what they think of Australia Day.

  8. James Parrwilla
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I just had a little run-in with a bunch of ‘Socialist Alliance’ people who have been promoting Mr Pilger’s latest film.

    Let me tell you what happened the other day.

    I went up to one of the young women who was holding a copy of their newspaper where Pilger was on the cover, and suggested that he was not being exactly honest in his portrayal of Aboriginal communities and the claims concerning a new generation of children being stolen.

    For my daring to question Mr Pilger’s film, I ended up being called a ‘Racist C–‘ and they told me to ….. F— Off’

    With idiots like that, who needs enemies ?

    J P

  9. Wombat
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you Matt. The review you posted slipped past my radar. It contains some good stuff. I am sure Pilger would love our new “Australian of the year” who is so self-righteous in that he is ashamed to be an Australian.

  10. Wombat
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Brian Marsh, in your crack at Dave Price, he is not saying that Pilger is the “the cause of Aboriginal disadvantage” as you would have us believe.
    As far as “blood on their hands,” when you have [people] like Pilger distorting reality to give the impression that the government and the past are to blame for all the problems these people are facing, then yes, blood is definitely on their hands.

  11. Wombat
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    So Marie Dea, you found it to be “an honest and factual portrayal of indigenous individuals”?
    Well then you obviously have not met many Aborigines. Many of them are like Rosalie Kunoth-Monks (a former Utopian) who are doing very well.
    Why did Pilger carefully select the poorest of the poor to base his “documentary” on? You further say: “It was all based upon fact.” It simply was not, even if you say so. While he may have taken some “facts” he took them out of context.
    As for another one of your “nuggets of wisdom” – “The truth hurts” well sensational distortions of which people like Pilger are masters of also hurt.
    To answer your question about Amnesty, simply finding two (or more people) who agree with each is not truth; it is simply agreeing with each other. When Amnesty have traveled to places in the NT, there are led around by the radical victim brigade, much like what happens when the UN Rapporteur visits.
    They all love to then say the easy but empty words “This is appalling”. Ignorant but predictable victim brigade mindset.

  12. Matt Campbell
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Just saw this – another perspective on the film:
    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/hostility-to-john-pilgers-film-a-denial-of-nations-brutal-past-20140302-33ttx.html

  13. Marie
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Yes… One more time such a bad image of the Aboriginal people sent to the world… Did Pilger spend time in a community (for other reason than filming this very bad “documentary”)???

    Hey Pilger… Do you know that Aboriginal have a life as well? They smile, they are lovely, nice, interesting, intelligent and respectful ? Your film is purely racist and makes worse the image that the media are diffusing for centuries.

    If you were spending time in communities, you could see that these people don’t really need houses to be happy. You could see the kids happy to come back from the bush with their goannas that they will share around the fire with family, you could see that most of them are still living their culture… and if you were involved enough, they would probably be happy to invite you to their hunting days or even ceremonies !

    I just read your background on the web and I was very surprised… Someone with a background like yours should be able to communicate a different way than all these journalists who come from the cities to talk about subjects they don’t know, or they just learn through books… This documentary was probably a way to show you… Well done… now everyone knows you as a manipulative, ignorant and probably dangerous man….

    Only the poster is beautiful. Congratulation to the graphist :)

  14. Robert Borgas
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    @25
    Maggie is right, the Australian Army have been rolling into Indigenous communities for years. When I was managing a community in SA called Oak Valley, the army were there for three months in 1999. They built roads, an airstrip, and other essential infrastructure. The community were very happy to have them there.
    I also worked with Maggie (Hi Maggie!) back in the early 90s in another SA community called Yalata, dealing with alcohol issues.
    I think Maggie did much to encourage the local people to come up with their own ways of dealing with the ‘grog’ problem.
    In many ways they were quite successful. But their solutions usually needed to be backed up by more powerful authorities (usually police and the law) because these people are often quite powerless in their community to tackle these problems alone.
    A similar approach is needed today to tackle the ‘drug’ problem. The big challenge with drugs is the relatively lucrative ‘black market’ economy that drugs create on communities.
    Some locals are involved in the trade, even the leaders or members of their family. This is why police are usually powerless to do much about it – too many are either using or dealing, so no one wants to complain to the police.
    Drugs are also much harder to discover than grog. Sniffer dogs could be brought in more regularly, but imagine the outrage from people like John Pilger! And imagine how the dealers would use Pilger’s rhetoric to justify the deprivation of their rights!
    However, as Dave Price points out above, how many more teenagers do we have to lose to the mind altering side effects and resultant suicides that seem to be associated with young people taking these drugs?

  15. Posted January 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    What a pity Pilger and crew didn’t drop into the art centre at Ampilatwatja during their four day filming. It seems no one except the clinic knew they were in town.
    It was a missed opportunity to film the artists at work and running their business successfully. Every single community member has access to the art centre and they are all very proud of their achievements since reopening the doors in 2010.
    The artists’ paintings have become highly sought after on an international and national level. They all work consistently and incredibly hard since reopening their business during the worst years for art sales, they are amongst very few art centres where demand outweighs supply.
    The community made a conscious decision not to paint their dreaming stories as they were too scared, instead it is their ancestral landscapes that they paint.
    They are known for their brightly coloured, detailed landscape paintings. This country is not a hellhole and it would only be described this way by someone with a one dimensional view.
    It is such a disappointment not to have shown the successes and proud achievements by the artists of Ampilatwatja. I can only conclude they weren’t after a feel good story.

  16. Posted January 31, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I didn’t bother to attend the showing of Pilger’s latest effort of misrepresenting Aboriginal issues and Australian history in general – in part, because I was working that night.
    Pilger is a notable example of the kind of people who make their living and reputation on revising and rewriting history to suit their agendas – it’s markedly similar to the methodology of Big Brother’s regime of Insoc (“English Socialism”) in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”; and I hasten to add that historical revisionism is not exclusive to the far left of the political commentariat, as I know from a lifetime’s personal experience in Central Australia.
    It’s perhaps relevant to note one such experience – in the year 2000 the Howard Government promoted a scheme through the Department of Social Security for a one-off payment for low income earners to compensate for the introduction of the GST, a grand total of $120 for the whole year. There were plenty of conditions attaching to this payment for proving eligibility – essentially, you or your partner couldn’t be in receipt of any other kind of payment or financial assistance. Consequently no Aboriginal person was eligible to take advantage of this payment for low income earners – in fact, the Department of Social Security in Alice Springs actually had no knowledge of this scheme despite it being advertised in the local press (it’s likely that the print media, ie. News Corp, was the main beneficiary of this government program via payment for advertising). Only one person in Alice Springs applied for and received that payment – and it’s possible he was the only person in the NT, and perhaps Australia, to do so. How do I know? Well, it’s because I’m that person.
    But hey! – nobody wants to know about that – and all the circumstances leading up to that situation – because I’m not black!
    I despise the hypocrisy of the commentariat, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they’re on.

  17. Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    @2 Brian Marsh “Our media is rife with information about how undeserving Aborigines are”

    “Rife”? Can you give some examples of this Brian.?

  18. Posted January 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    OP complains Pilger “does not recognise complexity” who sounds like “a man in a pulpit who is quite sure of being right”.
    Cue Dave Price to show that these qualities are alive and well in the dominator / assimilationist camp too …
    If you are looking for insights and a genuine focus for action, you won’t find it in this newspaper.

  19. Brian Marsh
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Jocyline Davies, I am really sorry, but I can’t help saying I think you are being just a tad ingenuous. With respect, your post challenged Pilger’s evidence that ‘little has changed in 10 years’. Now you are suddenly saying the situation is ‘disgraceful’. How come its ok for you to say the situation is disgraceful, but not Pilger, or more to the point all the indigenous people he interviews in his film. Your notion that our media is rife with information about how disgraceful the situation is not true. Our media is rife with information about how undeserving Aborigines are. I find yours and our media’s callous vilification of a brave Australian prepared to stand up for the owners of this land, deeply, deeply, distressing. Our enthusiasm to bully those who defend Aborigines only confirms that ‘nothing has changed’.

  20. Jocelyn Davies
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:38 am

    @Brian Marsh. In saying Pilger’s work is sensationalist and self promoting, I am not suggesting that the situation for Indigenous people in Australia is not disgraceful. I am saying that it is not hidden and it is not secret, so Pilger’s claim that he has uncovered it is very flawed.

  21. Russell Guy
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    @ Kim Horridge. Posted January 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm.
    Warren Mundine has put to the PM that there be a Treaty signed with all Aboriginal nations, but the Opposition Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson has suggested that it will be problematic finding the correct traditional owners and getting an agreement inter and intra nations.
    Mundine obviously reckons it’s worth a go and Minister Scullion is prepared to sit down and hear him out.
    How that works, given Native Title’s declaration of land on which such title is deemed extinguished is going to be largely symbolic, but this can be better understood in the words of Noel Pearson.
    “A new policy paradigm has become dominant, based on cultural and economic development, land rights and welfare reform, recognition of heritage, and the abandonment of racialist exceptionalism. It has elements commonplace in indigenous families and communities prior to the welfare era. But what is new is that cultural identity and modern developments understood as complementary rather than anathema…. Without demonstrable traction on the practical agenda, the symbolic reform will face sceptical Australians, black and white. A narrative that explains the relationship between the symbolic and the practical will be needed” (Australian. 27/1/14: 12).
    As you say, Pilger talks about a Treaty and you recommend payment for resources on Aboriginal land which already occurs in many cases, but Pearson talks about welfare reform. Meanwhile, public health benefits have to be extended to all Australians, paid for by those paying tax, notwithstanding the alcohol-abuse pandemic and a few other things like education, employment and housing.
    I think Pearson is attempting to balance some of these things, while Aboriginal Affairs is now part of the PM’s department. Maybe Pilger shold have talked to some of these people.

  22. Kim Horridge
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Hold on, they used to own ALL Australia, and not just the left-over arid desert bits, or refugee camps called communities away from the best water resources (now being sucked up by cattle).
    And they used to have a very happy time of it. Don’t you think it would be somewhat dispiriting to have most of your ancestors killed and the survivors worked on cattle stations or as home-helpers for subsistence.
    Or a bit depressing when agitation for white man wages got you sacked from cattle stations and replaced with motorbikes and planes? OK so you don’t think their depression is justified? There suicide rates are an over-reaction. Well that’s cause you are not in their shoes. It’s convenient for you to demand they forget these injustices and take up shitty jobs and feel gratitude towards the victorious white man.
    As Pilger says, there should be a Treaty. Aboriginal people should be paid rent for the use of their waters, their minerals, their forests. These resources should be jointly utilised.

    No excuses.

  23. Interested
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I haven’t watched the film so I’m not sure of what it all contains. All I can say from my personal view is that it is about time some indigenous take responsibility of there own actions. For to long we have given more an more money out to help them live. There are no excuses in Alice springs when it comes to jobs. There are white people in similar positions but they have to go out looking otherwise no benefit. People coming up with excuses for them is not helping. The truth does hurt and this is really happening, so stop pretending. Soon there will be no culture left and I guarantee that the real elders of the indigenous people will not want to be remembered as what it is today. NO EXCUSES!!

  24. Sian Jolly
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    A Harris, sorry but yes genocide took place. The fact that koories you fished with last week still exist does not disproove genocide! The fact that Jews still exist dous not disprove the handy work of Hitler. Did you see the film? It was interview after interview with Aboriginal leaders and grass roots activists. WHY ARE WE IN DENIAL folks? The film makes the point that until denial ends the problem continues.

  25. A Harris
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:18 am

    @4 Marie Dea: The proud Kooris I was fishing with on the NSW South Coast last weekend would be surprised to learn that they don’t exist because of genocide!
    And you might be surprised to learn that the biggest concentration of Aboriginal people in the country live in Sydney’s western suburbs (that’s in NSW in case you didn’t know) Marie Dea.
    You miss the point in Kieran’s review and many of the comments here which aren’t trying to deny Australia’s violent and racist history, nor the continuing discrimination that Aboriginal people suffer but this isn’t the whole story.
    To suggest, as Pilger does, that nothing has changed since the 1980s is to deny the hard work and sacrifice of so many Aboriginal people (and their white friends and supporters) to educate Australians of our true history and to ensure Aboriginal rights and history were recognised.
    This fight certainly has not concluded but I question what Pilger thinks the contribution of his film Utopia is to this struggle?
    To deny the advances made over the past three decades is to deny the hard work and courage of Aboriginal leaders including grass roots community activists.

  26. Kim Horridge
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Ok, hands up which of you whinging Pilger haters rely on the Australian Newspaper for your view of the world.
    Aussie racism is based on no freedom of the press.
    “Press” is a plural word. We have Rupert Murdoch’s freedom of speech and not much else. The ABC is seen to be left only because it is slightly to the left of far right Rupe.
    I loved the bit in Utopia about the scandalous ABC Lateline report. Pilger comes across as a real ‘liberal’ to me. He gave Wozza Snowdon and the ABC a serve. Pretty balanced if you ask me.

  27. Kieran Finnane
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:50 am

    @Marie Dea, You may be interested to see our reports and analysis of Amnesty International’s claims in relation to the Utopia Homelands:

    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2011/08/09/amnestys-unhelpful-report-on-utopia-homelands/

    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2011/10/13/amnesty-rhetoric-fails-to-show-the-way-forward-for-homelands/

    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2011/10/19/the-facts-the-amnesty-fact-finder-didnt-find/

    And on the Intervention more broadly:

    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2011/11/24/3353/

    And this comment from Aboriginal MLA and government minister, Bess Price:

    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2012/08/08/keep-your-nose-out-of-our-business-candidate-tells-amnesty-international/

  28. Jenny Dobra
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Phil Walcott: Sorry, but I agree with Brian, what is yours and critics of Pilger’s substantive counter data? I am really amazed at this eagerness to create a ‘balanced’ picture, where clearly the facts about Indigenous wellbeing paint a picture of extreme Aboriginal disadvantage relative to the white population.
    Did you want Mr Pilger to make a boring film listing the woeful statistics? Others here lament the “rich complex truth” missed by Pilger. Well, please, what is this complex truth then?
    In your area of psychology alone, the data on the rate of suicide among Indigenous people during the Intervention period is just horrifying.
    See for example http://nacchocommunique.com/2014/01/29/naccho-aboriginal-health-estimated-400-suicides-in-our-communities-in-last-three-years/
    How can you, presumably knowledgeable in the field of mental health, not decry this situation. The implication is that the “rich and complex truth” is the view that Aborigines are the cause of their own plight?

  29. Hal Duell
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

    “willing and able to be happy, well adjusted menial labourers” ??!!
    Two points to this comment. Take a walk around Alice (I can’t speak of any other town or city) and go into the shops and offices. It’s easy to see an emerging indigenous middle class taking its fairly earned place within mainstream life here in the Centre.
    And, and most importantly, to escape a life sentence to menial labouring a primary education is fundamental. Then secondary, followed by tertiary where possible. This holds true no matter what the origins of any particular child might be.
    Anyone reading into the future of this or any other advanced nation will see that welfare as it has become will soon no longer be offered. Some degree of participation in the workforce will be required, and only education offers a way past menial.
    A disclaimer: I am not commenting on Pilger’s film as I did not attend the screening. Having followed the debate about the Intervention since it was first introduced, both Pilger and Amnesty International have lost my support over the years with their refusal, in my eyes, to deal fairly with the differing, and at times contradictory, aspects of this important initiative of the latter Howard years.

  30. Marie Dea
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Well, I too attended the screening. I found it to be an honest and factual portrayal of indigenous individuals. That is the truth. It was all based upon fact. Such things happened, are recorded to have happened and still do. I am from overseas. Lived here for many years but still, it is shocking to see the wholesale abuse and racism that goes on. I only expect a nasty reply or denial becuase it hurts. The truth hurts. If Pilger was biased or lying, how does that explain amnesty internatiol constantly complaining about their plight. Are they lying too! Were are all the Indigenous in…say NSW…Genocide, thats where or do you thing they were all bred out? Ignorant but predictable Aussie mindset

  31. Phil Walcott
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

    A great piece, Kieran…as usual!!!I similarly found the ‘doco’ didn’t present a balanced perspective of the ‘truth’. Continually playing the ‘poverty card’ fails to recognise the many positives and contributions that are achieved in so many Aboriginal communities around the country. Whilst the plight of some is important to address, so is balanced recognition of the positive achievements by so many proud Aboriginal people around Australia. I’m concerned that the ways in which Pilger portrays the situation are not a true reflection and promotes a blinked & unrepresentative perspective for people around the globe who will see this. Portrayals like this simply reinforces the ‘deficit model’ that does, in reality, strengthen the problem without offering any asset solutions.

  32. Brian Marsh
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Jocelyne Davies, you say Pilger’s film is nothing but ‘sensationalism’ and ‘self promotion’. Unfortunately, the frightening statistics on Indigenous mortality, health, educational outcomes, poverty, housing, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness etc etc are a little inconvenient for your line of argument.

    Your’s and our Media’s no-holds-barred vilification of Pilger, without discussion of the facts he raises, points to the truth of the film. Too many Australians, having taken everything from Indigenous people, are angry that Aborigines are not willing and able to be happy, well adjusted menial labourers.
    The implications of this reluctance to face the truth in 2014 has truly frightening implications. The CLP and L/NP maintain the line that the problem with Aborigines is that they are spoiled. Land rights and apologies are the problem. Remote communities should be shut down and welfare stopped.Job creation on communities is a waste of time. Unfortunately white townships do not have the capacity to ‘integrate’ remote Aborigines, and ‘NIMBY’ will forbid it. Jocelyne, your’s and the N/LP CLP position leads slowly and surely back to Hancock’s chilling remarks at the beginning of Pilgers superb film. Thank you John Pilger. You get my vote for Australian of the year (he is an Australian). As Mr Pilger so positively says what’s needed is a treaty for Aborigines.

  33. A Harris
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Spot on Kieran!My main problem with Pilger and his supporters is that they continue the myth of Aboriginal people as incompetent passive victims of white injustice. The truth is that there have been many improvements in a range of social indicators for Aboriginal people. In tertiary education, in infant mortality, Aboriginal enterprises, land return, resource management and all these successes have been achieved through strong and determined Aboriginal leadership. Listening to Pilger and his buddies you’d be hard-pushed to even understand that Aboriginal people have their own leaders and advocates who have been skilfull and relentless in pursuing Aboriginal objectives. John Paterson of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT, in a Crikey piece last year, described a similar polemic by Utopia Associate producer, Chris Graham on NT grog restrictions, as being “anti-Aboriginal” and Pilger and Graham, in this documentary have done nothing to dispel that description. Australia certainly does have a “black history” and we have a long way to go to overcoming the legacy of racist policies but turning Aboriginal people into passive dis-empowered victims might be good for Pilger’s reputation as a crusading journalist but it does nothing for Aboriginal people struggling for justice.

  34. Laurencia Grant
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:12 am

    I happened to be in London at the time of the early screenings of John Pilger’s film Utopia  back in November. As the only Australian in this London cinema, I felt a strong desire to take the audience aside and scream, “Nooooooo!!! this is not the full story!!! You are being conned by a man who does not like Australia and does not want you or anyone else to know the richer, more complicated story. He cannot tell you this story because it involves much more sophisticated journalism”. I couldn’t sit through the film and I might have been kicked out of the cinema if I didn’t leave of my own accord. I love a good story and I’m not afraid of awkward truths, but I’d learnt a lot from my experience in Alice Springs and my politically correct Melbourne suburbs stance on the issues affecting Aboriginal people had altered. The Pilger position is a tiresome one. It saddened me to watch this in the darkened London cinema on my overseas journey of reflection about my rich and complex experience in the Central Desert. I hoped for more critical reviews of his film from people who knew better. 

  35. Jocelyn Davies
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    I agree with what Pilger reportedly said at the Sydney opening of Utopia: “Too many people don’t know enough.” Good on you, Kieran, for articulating so well why Utopia is such a flawed effort to change that situation.
    Also, with all the media, reports, documentaries, movies and web sites about these issues now and in recent years, Pilger’s premise that its subject matter is “hidden” and a “secret shame” and that, “in essence, very little” has changed since 1985 when he made “Secret Country”, comes across to me as nothing more than baseless sensationalism and self-promotion.

  36. Brian Marsh
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Larry,

    not sure how you can say Pilger’s film does not help Australians better understand ‘the problem'; that its a ‘call to action for the international community’. Indigenous wellbeing on every measure is a national shame. Is pretending otherwise more helpful? Pilger clearly talks of other countries’ more progressive policies. NZ, for example, has a Treaty with its Indigenous people. Pilger calls for a similar treaty. That’s a good message for Aussies. Pilger contrasts the mega profits made by the multinational mining industry with the RELATIVELY piddling costs of solving Indigenous housing issues. Of course NZ does not have a mining industry with its attendant vested interests. The Australian Newspaper’s angry piece, published yesterday, attacking Utopia is written by a member of the Minerals Council. This author is a representative of foreign companies and he’s writing for the American-owned ‘Australian Newspaper’…Murdoch has not been an Aussie citizen for years. The main objection the author’s critique makes is that Pilger is an expat! AMAZING!

  37. Sian Jolly
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    It’s really fascinating to see the level of anger among the Ozzy press (and from those who reckon the problem with Indigenous people is they have it too good) for this film.
    The critique goes like this: Pilger is an ‘expat’, what would he know. He’s just a member of the ‘inteligensia’. He does not define ‘poverty’. He is not a real journalist. He is a lefty. He is a winger. He ‘lacks inteligence’.
    But this red hot angry critique contains no real substance at all.
    Is it that the truth hurts?
    Pilger’s film is ‘dispiriting’ for some. It’s dispiriting for those who like to think Aboriginal people are the cause of their own problems. Ah, the whiteman’s burden.

  38. Posted January 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    @2 how do “Pilger and his supporters here have the blood of Aboriginal children on their hands”?
    It’s not like the community based efforts to moderate the broad measures of the intervention laws has had any success: the intervention has steamed on ahead, through two changes of government.
    How can you pin any blame on a generally ineffective opposition to this wide reaching policy suite, that has had far more impact on local people and communities than “Pilger and his supporters” can hope for, let alone claim?
    With this opening salvo, Mr Price well and truly blew the film’s lack of balance and perspective itself well out of the water. No small feat!
    I watched the film, and was quite sure that, far from Mr Price’s accusation of “abuse that these lunatics tell us doesn’t exist”, Mr Pilger was quite careful and deliberate about saying that there are real issues around child abuse and neglect.
    I think it is entirely inaccurate to mis-represent this debate as one between the hard-line interventionists who are tough enough to confront the reality of abuse in communities, and feeble opponents who refuse to accept that reality: I think that a more honest representation would acknowledge that,
    A) strident advocates of the intervention are often guilty of ignoring the reality that most Aboriginal people are as pained by the suffering of Aboriginal children as anyone, much of which comes from institutionalised harm, and
    B) many opponents of the intervention policies, including the authors of the Meke Mekarle report, insist that the intervention’s greatest flaw is that these laws do not focus sufficiently on the stated rationale, and cannot be expected to successfully address the objectives.
    I think there are some valid criticisms about the narrow line Pilger’s film walks.
    To me, it looked like a call-to-action for the international community, rather than a tool to help mainstream Australia better understand our challenges. So I’m not surprised if local viewers find it unhelpful. But to respond to Utopia’s one-sided message with a rant like Mr Price offers is just as useless.

  39. Maggie Brady
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Actually no, John Pilger, (and others who went into panic-mode about the Army) it is not the first time in modern Australia the army was sent into Indigenous communities.
    Doesn’t anyone remember Fred Hollows’ National Trachoma and Eye Health program? Well, in 1976 as Hollows and his trachoma teams fanned out across the country, they called in the help of the Army to assist the program in delivering surgical treatment to Aborigines. Army trucks rolled into remote communities and rows of army tents appeared.
    If you look at the program’s report published by the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists (1980, p.164) you’ll see that at Amata, soldiers and surgical teams were invited to attend an inma.
    And you’ll see photographs including one showing Aboriginal health workers alongside army personnel after a surgery exercise at – wait for it – Utopia, NT. I don’t recall hearing that Aboriginal women and children thought they were “being attacked” then.

  40. Brian Marsh
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Dave Price you say Pilger has ‘blood on his hands’, he’s a ‘lunatic’, he’s ‘willing to lie’, has a ‘lack of compassion’, he ‘denies their suffering’, he ‘denies aboriginal people education’…

    Gee wizz, Pilger is the devil! The cause of Aboriginal disadvantage.

    Since the CLP have been in power in the NT, rates of alcohol derived violence have increased by 54% in Tennabt Crk. The back drop is your party’s scrapping of the Banned Drinker’s Register.

    Or does Pilger have blood on his hands for this too?

  41. Dave Price
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Pilger and his supporters here have the blood of Aboriginal children on their hands. They refuse to seek or deal in the truth. Their lack of insight and applied intelligence I can forgive, you can’t help being not all that bright I suppose. But their wilful refusal to acknowledge complexity, their barefaced willingness to lie and their total lack of compassion in relation to the avoidable suffering of Aboriginal children is totally unforgivable. There are victims of the abuse that these lunatics tell us doesn’t exist amongst my own loved ones. We’ve buried too many. I am sickened by this ongoing campaign of outright lies that denies their suffering. Another teenager, from a family close to us, the same age as my eldest grandson, suicided in Bob Randall’s happy little community last week.
    Unarmed members of the ADF, including many Aboriginal, went into remote communities to make sandwiches, play footy with the kids and supply services and infrastructure then not available. If anybody in those communities were terrified by their arrival it was because they had been lied to by those with a destructive and rabid ideological agenda to push or those who, for whatever reason, did not want the crimes exposed and punished. If those like Mantatjara Wilson and dozens of others, particularly women, I know who supported the presence and aims of the Intervention had been given a voice instead of being deliberately ignored or intimidated by Pilger’s merry little band of supporters we would have heard a very different story. But they have been denied the education and facility in the national language that all citizens of this country have a right to and so are easily ignored or misrepresented. Once again Kieran you’ve done our community a great service. Let’s keep exposing these lies for what they are.

  42. Mrs Lynne Henderson
    Posted January 27, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Excellent critique. I felt very dispirited after watching this ? Documentary.
    I thought Pilger was being nothing more than a trouble maker!

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