Indigenous Australians: A Portrait of Modern Day Oppression

Utopia

John Pilger (2013)

Film Review

This documentary examines the extreme poverty and apartheid-like living conditions of  Aboriginal peoples in Australia’s Northern Territories. The film’s title refers to the town of Utopia, identified as the most disadvantaged community in one of the world’s richest countries. Pilger tours homes one of the local doctors. Most have no kitchen, electricity, or indoor plumbing. Utopia’s many homeless live in tents or in the open air.

The extreme poverty is responsible for health problems more typical of Dickensian England. Examples include trachoma (an eminently treatable Third World eye disease leading to blindness); rheumatic fever; “glue ear” (chronic otitis media), leading to hearing impairment in 70% of the town’s primary students; cockroach infestation of the ears; malnutrition; and epidemic levels of diabetes and heart and renal disease.

One-third of Australia’s aboriginal people die before age 43.

According to Pilger, Australia’s First Nations people (who first settled Australia 65,000 years ago) have a proud history of resistance against British colonization. However owing to their lack of modern weapons, British troops massacred, imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands.

One of the cruelest government colonization strategies involved the systematic kidnapping of Aboriginal children to be raised in residential schools. As in other British colonies, the goal was to hasten assimilation by eradicating first nations customs and culture.

Although the program allegedly ended in the 1960s, in 2007 the conservative Howard government concocted a (later discredited) pedophile ring scare to justify the invasion and occupation of Northern Territories communities by Australian troops. Residents were given a choice between handing over leases to their homes or losing their government benefits. Over the next several years, the government removed dozens of children from indigenous home, with no legal justification, no appeal rights, and no option to regain parental rights.

A few months after the Norther Territory National Emergency was declared, an Australian mining company coincidentally announced the discovery of large uranium deposits in the targeted communities.

A subsequent Australian Crime Commission Report revealed the Northern Territories had the lowest incidence of child abuse in Australia.

Australia: A Battle to Win Back Ancestral Lands

Putuparri and the Rainmakers

Directed by Nicole Ma (2015)

Film Review

This is a very poignant documentary about the indigenous elders who led the effort to reclaim their land in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.

After years of protesting about mining in their sacred land, in 1992 aboriginal Australians won the right to claim title to their ancestral lands if they could prove their historic connection to them. In this case, the narrator Putuparri’s grandparents and other aboriginals were kidnapped (for their knowledge of hidden water holes) by white cattlemen seeking to set up outback cattle ranches. When the ranch owners moved on, they dumped their 2,000 aboriginal workers in a nearby refugee camp.

In 1992, 50 elders from four tribes submitted a giant map painting of the Great Sandy Desert to prove their connection to the lands they were claiming. It took 15 years, but in 2007 a federal court granted them title to most, but not all of the ancestral land they claimed. Because the “white fellah” only knows how to draw straight lines, the sacred land of Putuparri’s grandfather was bypassed.

His family went back to court. In 2014, three months before he died, he finally won title to his ancestral land.