Australia, like America, is a land built on the toil of foreign immigrants. But is Australia, like America, also a country with a shocking history of racial segregation? Moreover, does it still exist today?
Journalist John Pilger’s latest film focuses on the haves and the have-nots. The latter category is occupied by the first Australians – the Aborigines, indigenous people who, as far as Utopia suggests, represent Australia’s dirty secret.
The film’s title is as much an ironic statement on the plight of Aborigines as it is a throwback to separatism in the early years of the 20th century. For in 1901 Prime Minister Edmund Barton introduced the White Australia Policy, which effectively banned non-whites from occupying quality land in the tract known as Utopia.
Pilger asks leading questions, and they are painful. Is Australia guilty of a century’s worth of apartheid? Has it trampled on the civil rights of millions of its citizens? Is the average Aborigine a second-class citizen? Or is he a third, a fourth, a fifth or even a sixth?
Pilger’s camera is an all-seeing eye and he wields it like a weapon. One shocking moment comes via vintage film shot in 1985 – a period interview with indigenous folk struggling with no water, no power and in appalling living conditions.
Yet the same conditions exist today. Time has stood still. For the Aborigines it is a way of life. For Pilger and some other white Australians it is a cause for embarrassment and deep, deep shame.
Utopia is on a staggered release and will be streamed live to some cinemas, with an interview with John Pilger, on November 18.
Star rating: ****