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A far cry from utopia

In Utopia, John Pilger looks at the continuing struggle of remote Indigenous communities. Image = supplied

John Pilger, veteran journalist and documentary maker, is in Australia for the release of his new film Utopia, which explores the social and political history of indigenous Australia.

In Utopia, Mr Pilger revisits the indigenous communities and issues that he delved into in 1985’s A Secret Country.

Mr Pilger said the production of the documentary was prompted by the Howard government’s Northern Territory intervention.

Utopia is actually long overdue. I had wanted to make a documentary film immediately after the so-called Intervention was announced in 2007,” Mr Pilger said.

“This was the latest assault on Aboriginal people, taking away their basic rights, threatening their land tenure and smearing them with false charges of child abuse,” he said.

Utopia takes its name from an indigenous community north of Alice Springs. The town is one of the most disadvantaged places in Australia.

“In the remote communities, the main issues are the degradation or lack of basic services – sanitation that doesn’t work, taps that trickle, tin shacks that bake in the heat, a lack of transport,” Mr Pilger said.

“In other words, poverty in the heart of rich Australia.”

Utopia also examines the issues surrounding the stolen generation and Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, indigenous activist and film actress, is from the Utopia community. She said her hometown had once been a viable community and the documentary had the potential to influence a response from government.

“Utopia used to be sustainable but in the last three decades, it has gone downhill because responsibility of that land was taken away from us,” Ms Kunoth-Monks said.

“[The film] is a factual expose of what has been our sad story. It might even make the government think about what policies are effective.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is holding a preview screening and panel discussion at the Veolia Theatre on Australia Day, January 26. Ms Kunoth-Monks will join Mr Pilger on the panel, as well as Tracker magazine editor Amy McQuire.

Mr Pilger said the MCA’s Australia Day preview of the film is in recognition of the struggles of Australia’s Indigenous people.

“The reason for showing it on Australia Day is because 26 January is, for the first people of our country, Survival Day and Invasion Day. It should be commemorated, above all,” Mr Pilger said.

Utopia goes to general release on January 30.