Since visiting remote indigenous Australia for the 1985 documentary The Secret Country, journalist John Pilger was shocked to find that in 2013 little had changed – the conditions were just as grim.
In his most recent film, Pilger documents the third-world conditions in a region north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. It is one of the poorest areas in Australia according to a federal government report and is ironically called Utopia.
Pilger exposes the gloomy truth of rural Australia. Utopia depicts scenes of Indigenous Australians living without basic sanitation, footage of unjust black deaths in police custody resulting in no prosecutions and probing interviews with government officials.
The disparity between rich and poor and the often-malfunctioning relationship between Indigenous Australians and White Australians seem to be hidden under the global postcard-perfect image of Australia far too often.
In a panel discussion after the screening of the film at the Sydney Opera House on July 5, Warren Mundine, the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor on Indigenous affairs commented that 30% of government money allocated to Indigenous Australians is “swallowed up” by bureaucracy before it even gets to their homeland.
The federal budget revealed this May that more than $500 million will be cut from Indigenous programs administered by the government over the next five years.
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks an aboriginal actor and Elder spoke passionately about the issue and said: “It is not that the money is the solution.”
“Suppression has never worked in the history of humankind” she said, “It is time to have a dialogue.”
Rural Australia journeys a tortuous path, but Pilger’s Utopia has kindled debate and dialogue.
Utopia was screened at the Sydney Opera House at the beginning of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week that is celebrated Australia-wide in the first full week of July each year.