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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NACCHO Aboriginal health news alert: Why Adam Goodes is an inspired and inspiring choice as Australian of the Year

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“Growing up as an Indigenous Australian I have seen and experienced my fair share of racism. It’s shaped my values and what I believe in today. Racism is a community issue that we all need to address.” 

“It is not just about taking responsibility for your own actions but speaking to your mates when they take out their anger on loved ones or minority groups or make racist remarks

From Adam Goodes Australian of the Year acceptance speech

Buddy and Adam

The chair of NACCHO Justin Mohamed on behalf of the board and 150 Aboriginal community controlled health organisation members throughout Australia congratulated Adam Goodes on his award for Australian of the Year and the support he has given NACCHO over the years.

Pictured above launching the NACCHO AFL indigenous all stars jumpers last year in Sydney with new team mate Buddy Franklin

The Australian Human Rights Commission today said it is “absolutely delighted” that its anti-racism ambassador, Adam Goodes, is Australian of the Year 2014.

“This honour acknowledges and celebrates the very significant contribution Adam Goodes has made to our understanding of human rights in Australia,” said Commission President, Professor Gillian Triggs.

“The award highlights Mr Goodes’ support for anti-racism initiatives such as Racism. It Stops With Me.

AG

“It also draws attention to Mr Goodes’ support for constitutional reform,” Professor Triggs said.

Mr Goodes is an ambassador for the Human Rights Commission’s Racism.It Stops With Me campaign. He also features in an anti-racism Community Service Announcement (CSA) the Commission produced in partnership with Play by the Rules.

The CSA quickly went viral after Mr Goodes took a stand against a racist incident during an AFL game in Melbourne last year. Almost 250,000 people have viewed it on the Commission’s YouTube channel and the clip remains available for media use.

Racism. It Stops With Me encourages people to think about what they say and to understand why racist comments are wrong,” Professor Triggs said.

“We are lucky to have the perfect ambassador in Adam Goodes. We congratulate him on his achievement and we thank him for his leadership.”

The Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, also congratulated Mr Goodes as the newly appointed Australian of the Year.

Dr Soutphommasane said Mr Goodes has delivered a simple but important message: that there is no place for racism in Australia.

“Adam Goodes’ stand against racism has inspired and empowered many Australians,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

Watch the Racism. It Stops With Me video clip.

FROM THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

The most ill-advised argument anyone could make right now is that Adam Goodes  was named Australian of the Year for calling out a 13-year-old girl at the MCG  in between chasing a piece of inflated red leather around a footy oval.

From: Andrew Webster Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

The most ill-advised question anyone could ask is what has the Swans  footballer done compared with those who have served and lost lives in  Afghanistan, or produced miracles in operating theatres?

It’s what Goodes can do over the next year that makes his appointment one of  the most inspired choices in years.

When it was revealed on Saturday night that the 34-year-old had received the  honour, the news was overwhelmingly applauded – yet also caused a predictable  ripple of discontent.

After all, he is just – gulp! – a footballer.

Moaning about the worthiness of the Australian of the Year winner is the  equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel for your standard Australian  whinger.

They’re the same people who complain about the heat in summer, and sand at  the beach, and the traffic during school holidays, and how bad Seven’s coverage  is of the tennis.

Goodes is the first sportsperson to win the award since former Australian  Test captain Steve Waugh in 2004, and before that the likes of Pat Rafter  (2002), Mark Taylor (1999) and Cathy Freeman (1998).

Some will point out that sportspeople often won during the tenure of  Australia’s little Wallabies tracksuit-wearing prime minister and sports tragic,  John Howard, but let’s just assume it was a coincidence.

With all due respect to those indigenous sportspeople who have gone before  him – including Lionel Rose (1968) and Evonne Goolagong (1971) – Goodes’  influence can be immense.

A footballer, yes, but so much more than that.

On May 24 last year, a picture of Goodes ran on the back of some News Ltd  publications, with him standing in the middle of the SCG on sunset, lifting his  Swans jumper and pointing to his dark skin.

He was dipping his lid to another indigenous hero, St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar,  who 30 years earlier had lifted his shirt and said, “I’m black and I’m proud”  after Collingwood fans had baited him with barbs such as, “Go and sniff some  petrol.”

Niccky

Iconic image: Nicky Winmar raises his jumper in response to racial taunts at  Victoria Park on April 17,1993. Photo: Wayne Ludbey

“That’s exactly what the photo symbolises to me,” he said of Winmar’s  remarks. “Even today, 20 years later, it highlights how every indigenous person  should feel about their heritage.”

The newspaper image of Goodes that day – that came at the start of the AFL’s  Indigenous Round – was almost as significant as the iconic picture of  Winmar.

Imagine, then, the grief Goodes must have felt when he was standing near the  boundary line at the MCG later that night when a 13-year-old Collingwood fan  called him an “ape”.

“People don’t understand how one word can cut me so deep,” Goodes says in a  video on the Australian of the Year website, before later adding: “I haven’t  always been a confident, young man. I was shy growing up. I learnt about  standing up for what you believe in.”

Now, there’s standing up for what you believe in, and there’s standing up in  front of tens of thousands of people at the MCG and watching on TV at home and  on the 6pm news for the next week.

But it isn’t about that moment that makes Goodes a hero.

It is about the next day, when he took a call from a distressed teenage girl,  and then asked via social media for the community to support her.

It is about how he handled Pies president Eddie McGuire a few days later  after he joked on radio that Goodes would be a good promoter for the King  Kong stage production.

It is about the way Goodes has used his own ugly, heartbreaking experience  and turned it in the best possible tool to wipe out the stain of racism that is  still there, even now.

It is about the GO Foundation he has formed with cousin and former Swans  teammate Michael O’Loughlin in 2009, providing scholarships for indigenous  students.

It is about the last year when he has been at the forefront of raising  awareness of the issue of domestic violence.

Adam Gilchrist, former cricketer and Australia Day Council chairman, said  last week: “People might debate if we made the right choice, but they can never  say we made the wrong choice.”

Goodes will further a debate this country has been having since Australia Day  1788, with so much more to go, and surely that makes him the right one.