Last Friday evening, I attended – with three or four thousand other people – the premiere of John Pilger’s latest film, “Utopia”. It was screened in the open air in the park opposite Eveleigh St, Redfern – generally known as “The Block”.
Before white settlement, this area was inhabited by the Gadigal people, part of the Eora clan. On Friday, there were indigenous people from many parts of the country there to mark the occasion, and to support John Pilger’s impassioned plea – in the film and in person – for radical action to address the problems which still exist in the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people in this country, as well as the social welfare of indigenous people. In particular, he called for a treaty.
The timing of this event was no doubt chosen to be in the run up to Australia Day – or Invasion Day as it is sometimes called – on January 26th.
The “Utopia” in the title refers, apart from its obvious meaning of a perfect or highly desirable society, to the aboriginal community of that name north-east of Alice Springs. The film starts with a stark comparison between living conditions in the Canberra suburb of Barton and those in Utopia. It then catalogues the many problems that exist for indigenous people today – health, housing, education, incarceration, the NT Intervention, etc.
While many of these matters have been – and still are – indubitably problematic, Pilger, our very own latter-day Jeremiah, presents them in an unrelievedly bleak style, and one could be forgiven for concluding that there is absolutely no good news. Pilger might respond by saying that a more balanced presentation would be unlikely to jolt anyone into action – which is probably true – and action is clearly needed.
The point is well made that in many areas, progress in dealing with problem issues has been extremely slow or even non-existent. In particular, his interviews in the film with various politicians give one to wonder how our assorted governments ever achieve anything worthwhile. Indeed, he suggests that since for over 200 years, our (white) leaders have failed to effectively resolve these problems, non-indigenous Australians are in fact incapable of doing so, and that we should therefore be seeking help from “outside”. I think this certainly bears thinking about. I for one – and I’m sure there are very many others – have in recent times felt that the range of candidates we have to choose from at elections is very unsatisfactory. We need a radically different way of locating and nominating people who have the intelligence, wisdom, vision and (even) compassion to govern us – indigenous and non-indigenous Australians – in a better way.
And a treaty? Yes, I think that could be a major step forward.
I hope that many readers will find an opportunity to see Pilger’s film. (See http://johnpilger.com/ for some of the screening times.) It certainly makes you think. And please leave your comments here on this critical issue.