NACCHO Aboriginal health : Hostility to Utopia film a denial of nation’s brutal past -Sol Bellear and Adam Goodes

Adam

Put yourself in Aboriginal shoes for a minute.

Imagine watching a film that tells the truth about the terrible injustices committed over 225 years against your people, a film that reveals how Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from your people for their own benefit.

Now imagine how it feels when the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft – the people in whose name the oppression was done – turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it.”

Adam Goodes is the  Australian of the Year and plays AFL for the Sydney Swans.: “It takes courage to tell the truth, no matter how unpopular those truths may be.” Photo: Rohan Thomson

“Put simply, reconciliation hasn’t worked in Australia because as a nation, we  continue to refuse to face up to our real past. Just as you cannot have  reconciliation without justice, you can’t have justice without truth”

Sol Bellear  reviewing the movie Utopia (see below ) Sol is the chairman of the Aboriginal Medical Service,  Redfern and a long-time Aboriginal activist.

Hostility to John Pilger’s film a denial of nation’s brutal past-Adam Goodes

Read more: and read the 300+ comments

For the last few weeks, I’ve seen a film bring together Aboriginal people all over Australia. The buzz around Utopia – a documentary by John Pilger – has been unprecedented. Some 4000 people attended the open-air premiere in Redfern last month – both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians – and yet  little appeared in the media about an event that the people of Redfern say was a ”first”.  This silence has since been broken by a couple of commentators whose aggression seemed a cover for their hostility to the truth about Aboriginal people.

FROM THE MELBOURNE AGE VIEW

When I watched Utopia for the first time, I was moved to tears. Three times. This film has reminded me that the great advantages I enjoy today – as a footballer and Australian of the Year – are a direct result of the struggles and sacrifices of the Aboriginal people who came before me.

Utopia honours these people, so I think the very least I can do is honour Utopia and the people who appeared in it and made it.

It takes courage to tell the truth, no matter how unpopular those truths may be. But it also takes courage to face up to our past.

That process starts with understanding our very dark past, a brutal history of dispossession, theft and slaughter. For that reason, I urge the many fair-minded Australians who seek genuine prosperity and equality for my people to find the courage to open their hearts and their minds and watch Utopia.

There is a good reason why  Pilger’s film resonates with so many of my people and is the talk of Aboriginal Australia.

Put yourself in Aboriginal shoes for a minute.

Imagine watching a film that tells the truth about the terrible injustices committed over 225 years against your people, a film that reveals how Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from your people for their own benefit.

Now imagine how it feels when the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft – the people in whose name the oppression was done – turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it.

Frankly, as a proud Adnyamathanha man, I find the silence about Utopia in mainstream Australia disturbing and hurtful. As an Australian, I find it embarrassing. I also see an irony, for Utopia is about telling the story of this silence.

Some say the film doesn’t tell the ”good stories” out of Aboriginal Australia. That’s the part I find most offensive.

Utopia is bursting at the seams with stories of Aboriginal people who have achieved incredible things in the face of extreme adversity. Stories of people like Arthur Murray, an Aboriginal man from Wee Waa, and his wife, Leila, who fought for several decades for the truth over the death in police custody of their son Eddie.

Their quiet, dignified determination helped spark the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, a landmark inquiry that still plagues governments today.

Even before that, Murray  led a historic  strike of cotton workers and forced employers to provide better wages and conditions for Aboriginal workers. How is this achievement negative?

The film also features Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, a strong Aboriginal woman who proudly speaks of truth and a long overdue treaty.

The  work of Robert and Selina Eggington is also profiled in Utopia. After the suicide of their son, Robert and Selina created a healing centre in Perth called Dumbartung. Its aim is to stop the deaths and provide an outlet for the never-ending grief of so many Aboriginal families.

I reject any suggestion that by telling those stories, that by honouring these lives,  Pilger has ”focused on the negative”. Their achievements may not fit the mainstream idea of ”success” but they inspire me and other Aboriginal people because they’re shared stories. They are our courageous, unrecognised resistance.

Nana Fejo, another strong Aboriginal woman, appears in Utopia. She tells of her forced removal as a child. It’s a heart-wrenching story and yet she speaks   with a graciousness and generosity of spirit that should inspire all Australians.

Like Fejo, my mother was a member of the stolen generations. My family has been touched by suicide, like the Eggingtons. My family and my people talk of truth and treaty, just like Kunoth-Monks does. My family has been denied our culture, language and kinship systems, like all the Aboriginal people who feature in Utopia.  This extraordinary film tells the unpleasant truth.  It should be required viewing for every Australian.

 Utopia brought back were not pleasant, and  large sections of the film simply made me angry

sol

Sol is the chairman of the Aboriginal Medical Service,  Redfern and a long-time Aboriginal activist

As recently published in Fairfax Press

It’s the new mantra in Aboriginal affairs: get your kids to school.

Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were fond of saying it. So too  is Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

While I don’t accept that education alone, or rather a lack of access to it,  explains the desperate poverty in

But if it’s good enough for blackfellas, then it should also be good enough  for whitefellas.

Mainstream Australia has long lacked a real education about Aboriginal  people, about our shared history, and this nation’s brutal past.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way in – an opportunity to get a “punter’s  guide” to the truth about the treatment of Aboriginal Australians.

John Pilger’s latest film, Utopia – a 110-minute feature length  documentary more than two years in the making – should be required viewing for  all Australians, in particular lawmakers.

I watched the film recently and it brought back many memories for me.  Admittedly, a few of them were pleasant. The spirit of my people has always  helped to sustain and inspire me, and watching old warriors such as  Vince  Forrester, Bob Randall and Rosie Kunoth-Monks, for me at least, took the edge  off some of the hard truths in Utopia.

But many of the memories Utopia brought back were not pleasant, and  large sections of the film simply made me angry.

During the 1970s, I travelled the nation with Fred Hollows. We travelled  across Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, treating  Aboriginal men, women and children for trachoma and other eye diseases, problems  which still plague remote Aboriginal communities today.

The Australia I saw in Utopia this week is the same Australia I saw  with Hollows.

Very little has changed on the ground.

Attitudes in non-Aboriginal Australia, it seems, have not evolved much  either.

In one part of the film, Pilger is taken on a tour of Rottnest Island by a  local Aboriginal elder, Noel Nannup. But it’s not the tour tourists get –  despite “Rotto’s” history as a brutal concentration camp, today it is a resort  and luxury spa, with virtually all traces of its past erased.

The stories around deaths in custody; around an Aboriginal elder being  cooked, literally, in the back of a prison van; around government and media  deceit that led to the Northern Territory intervention; all made for infuriating  viewing.

But for me, Pilger’s interview with the former indigenous health minister,  Warren Snowdon, and the responses of white people on Australia Day who were  asked why they thought Aboriginal people didn’t celebrate January 26, were the  real nuggets in the film.

For Snowdon’s part, he was grilled about why, after 23 years in office, his  constituents were still among the sickest and poorest on earth. Snowdon’s  seething, bombastic response was to label the question “puerile”.

And then there were the vox pops from mainstream Australians on January 26,  2013. People were asked why they thought Aboriginal people didn’t celebrate the  date. Most seemed to have no idea that was even the case, and others were just  openly hostile.

To me, it’s these attitudes of indifference, and sometimes outrage when  challenged, that are the real elephants in the room for this country.

The denial of our history, and our collective refusal to accept the truths of  our past are the biggest hurdles to Aboriginal advancement.

I hope that people who see Utopia will have their consciences  pricked. Those who do might feel embarrassed or ashamed. But I hope that’s not  the only reaction. I hope, above all else, Utopia starts a long overdue  national conversation.

We can’t just sweep aside the truths in Utopia because they’re  uncomfortable. And we can’t let conservative commentators make it all about the  film-maker rather than the film, which is what often happens with Pilger’s  work.

I’m bracing myself for the inevitable focus on Pilger’s “style” and his  “bias”. So before it comes, let me give you one assurance: You’d be hard-pressed  to find many Aboriginal people with whom Utopia won’t resonate  strongly.

The reason why is simple: what John Pilger and his co-director Alan Lowery  have produced is a substantial work of truth, one which provides answers to many  of the questions Australians have been too afraid to ask.

Why is this happening? Why were there no reparations to the stolen  generations? Why do Aboriginal people still live in such grinding poverty? If,  as  Snowdon concedes in the film, the NT intervention was “wrong-headed” and  “stupid”, why did he continue and extend it under the Rudd and Gillard  governments?

The most pressing question from my perspective is why has reconciliation in  this country failed?

Pilger touches on this in his closing remarks. He makes the point that until  Aboriginal people are delivered justice, there can never be reconciliation.

I agree strongly. But I would add that the path to justice begins with the  truth.

That’s a reality that nations such as  Canada and South Africa recognised  many years ago, when they established their respective Truth and Reconciliation  Commissions.

Put simply, reconciliation hasn’t worked in Australia because as a nation, we  continue to refuse to face up to our real past. Just as you cannot have  reconciliation without justice, you can’t have justice without truth.

Through Utopia, Pilger sheds some light on those truths. It’s likely  to be very uncomfortable viewing for many Australians, and it will inevitably  cause pain.

But you’ll find the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal people are prepared  to watch Utopia, and feel the hurt all over again.

The real question is how many non-Aboriginal Australians have the courage to  watch this film, educate themselves a little, and feel the hurt for the first  time?

* Sol Bellear is the chairman of the Aboriginal Medical Service,  Redfern and a long-time Aboriginal activist.

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The importance of our NACCHO member Aboriginal community controlled health services (ACCHS) is not fully recognised by governments.

The economic benefits of ACCHS has not been recognised at all.

We provide employment, income and a range of broader community benefits that mainstream health services and mainstream labour markets do not. ACCHS need more financial support from government, to provide not only quality health and wellbeing services to communities, but jobs, income and broader community economic benefits.

A good way of demonstrating how economically valuable ACCHS are is to showcase our success at a national summit.

SUMMIT WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO

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